This month celebrates the 50th anniversary of the June 28, 1970, Pride march, which took place in New York City. On the first anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion, a group of activists led by Craig Rodwell, Fred Sargeant, Ellen Broidy, Linda Rhodes, and Brenda Howard organized the event, which was formally named the Christopher Street Liberation Day March.
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Only a few thousand people attended the march, which had a path that spanned around fifty blocks. Hundreds more Pride parades that year were eventually inspired by the modest numbers of marchers in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles that year. We questioned attendees, activists, and organizers on how events have changed globally. For the purpose of brevity and clarity, interviews have been trimmed and reduced.
The Gay Liberation Day on Christopher Street March embodied all that was revolutionary and disorganized about our first year following the Stonewall riots. The march reflected who we are: proud, outspoken, and outgoing. Our plan was to march up to Central Park from Greenwich Village. Since we lacked a police permission, nobody was sure what would happen or what kind of force may be used against us. Thus, we took self-defense courses and developed our self-defense skills. I had to be extremely aware of how to respond and manage the marchers as a marshal in case we were assaulted. Upon arriving to 23rd Street, I scaled a pole and peered back to saw a throng of people extending as far as Christopher Street. As promised, we eventually arrived to Central Park, where we activists took a movement from a handful of ragged militants to thousands of members. That year, in the words of my buddy Jerry Hoose, “we went from the shadows to sunlight.” My original marshal’s badge is currently on exhibit at the Smithsonian.
The fact that the inaugural Christopher Street West Parade in Los Angeles began on June 28, 1970, was almost a miracle. Early in June, our organizing team was informed by the police chief, Edward M. Davis, a guy with outmoded attitudes and language, that an LGBTI march would “discommode the public” and that he would have to let “thieves and burglars” parade next. He then threw in a number of obstacles that seemed insurmountable, such liability bonds for millions of dollars. Legal or not, Davis was unable to halt the emergence of a fresh militant identity. With last-minute court clearance, a diverse group of precisely 1,169 people joyfully departed from Hollywood and Vine on June 28 at 7 p.m. We dressed our best drag, Halloween costumes, tie-dye T-shirts, or nearly nothing at all while chanting gay liberation chants. Handcrafted floats included a crucified gay guy and Vaseline jars. Amazons were mounted on horses. Ten people deep applauded as we yelled at them to come along. No one appeared even remotely “discommoded” during the brief moment we had the upper hand against the Ed Davises of the world.