The forecasted rain held off, the poor air quality caused by Canadian wildfires had abated, and the world’s largest Pride parade stepped off without incident in New York City on the final Sunday in June.
It’s grown quite a bit since the last Sunday of June 1970, when Christopher Street Liberation Day March participants paraded from Sheridan Square to Central Park’s Sheep Meadow.
Seeking to commemorate the one year anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, when a police raid touched off a riot at the Greenwich Village gay bar, the event’s planners took inspiration from the organized resistance to the Vietnam War and Annual Reminders, a yearly call for equality from the Philadelphia-based Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations.
Parade co-organizer Craig Rodwell imagined a more freewheeling public event involving larger numbers than Annual Reminders, something that could “encompass the ideas and ideals of the larger struggle in which we are engaged—that of our fundamental human rights.”
In the lead up to the parade, Gay Liberation Front News reported that society stacked the deck against openly gay individuals, an observation echoed by a marcher in lesbian activist Lilli M. Vincenz‘s documentary footage, above:
At first I was very guilty, and then I realized that all the things that are taught you, not only by society but by psychiatrists are just to fit you in a mold and I’ve just rejected the mold. And when I rejected the mold, I was happier.
Look carefully for placards from various participating groups, including the Mattachine Societies of Washington and New York, Lavender Menace, the Gay Activists Alliance, a church, and gay student groups at Rutgers and Yale.
Estimates place the crowd at anywhere from 3,000 to 20,000. In addition to marchers, the parade drew plenty of onlookers, some voicing support like a uniformed soldier stationed at Fort Dix who says “Great, man, do your thing!”. Others came prepared to voice their vigorous opposition.
“He’s a closet queen and you can find him in Howard Johnson’s any night,” a marcher cracks when asked his opinion of a counter demonstrator brandishing a sign invoking Sodom and Gomorrah.
Presumably the second part of this marcher’s comment was not intended to signify that the gent in question had a powerful attraction to the venerable Times Square diner’s fried clams, but rather its upstairs neighbor, the all-male Gaiety strip club.
Compared to the flashy festive costumes and booming club music that have become a staple of this millennia’s Pride Marches, 1970’s proceedings were a comparatively modest affair. Marchers chanted in unison, processing uptown in street clothes – hippie-style duds of the period with a couple of square suits and fedoras in the mix.
A clean cut young man in a windbreaker and natty star-spangled tie expressed frank disappointment that Mayor John Lindsay and other political figures had kept their distance.
Younger readers may be taken aback to hear Vincenz asking him how long he had been gay, but gratified when he responds, “I was born homosexual, it’s beautiful.”
By the time the marchers reached the Sheep Meadow, a number of men had shed their shirts. The parade morphed into a pastoral celebration in which revelers can be seen playing Ring Around the Rosie, plucking weeds to decorate each other’s hair, and attempting to break the record for longest kiss.
A man whose bib overalls have been customized with iron-on letters arranged to spell out Stud Farm expresses regret that he spent so many years in the closet.
Co-organizer Foster Gunnison Jr.’s wish was for every queer participant to leave the parade with “a new feeling of pride and self-confidence … to raise the consciences of participating homosexuals-to develop courage, and feelings of dignity and self-worth.”
The march was a reflection of us: out, loud and proud.
Enjoy a glimpse of 2023’s New York City Pride March here.
– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.