In the political upheaval that is reshaping our society, including the LGBTQ+ community, there seems to be a national movement to “reclaim” Pride. This movement has taken various forms around the nation: marches being led by queer youth and people of color. Dyke and trans marches. It’s taken different shapes in multiple cities.
Boston won’t even have a Pride this year, while New York has several, including the original Reclaim Pride and the giant Heritage of Pride. Those of us who founded Pride in 1970 — there still are a few of us around who were part of or marshals for Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day — are watching as various groups have tried to reclaim our history. But the simple point is that you can’t reclaim what happened back then, which might be a good thing if you know your LGBTQ+ history.
So far, no reclaim march has actually understood that first march or the march that preceded it. Now some of you are starting to ask, “there was a march before 1970?” Yes, there was.
On July 27, 1969, one month after Stonewall and organized by Martha Shelly (who happily is still with us), Marty Robinson, and others, we marched from Washington Square to Sheridan Square, across the street from Stonewall. It was more in the tradition of what most think of as the first Pride, with no permits for marching, totally free of any rules, and a disregard for police presence. The reality of that 1969 march was, in fact, to protest the treatment of our community by police. By comparison, the 1970 Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day, 11 months later, was all about celebrating who we are.
The first Pride march came from Ellen Broidy, Craig Rodwell and their partners. Ellen, a member of Gay Liberation Front (who is also still with us and delightful as ever), actually wrote the manifesto explaining why we were marching. So while each of us has different views on this topic, the points of that first Pride were very easy to understand.
One year after Stonewall, we were celebrating the new LGBT community we had created, showing the city that we could be out loud and proud even outside of our West Village district, and marching openly across the city en masse and holding a “gay in” in Central Park. As long as you took pride in yourself and your community, you were welcome regardless of your background or political position.
So today, with many attempting to create a revisionist history to leverage into a political narrative, or with many simply frightened that someone on some committee might troll you, those simple points of Pride cannot be reclaimed. In 2022, they’re just not there anymore.
Any of us who were a part of that day will tell you about its joy. A fellow Gay Liberation Front member, Jerry Hoose stated, “we went from the darkness to the light that day.” Today, unfortunately, it seems those organizing these events don’t have that certain joy, and even if they have some level of joy, it is eclipsed by fear, including fear of those in their own community. For that, I am very sad. There should be joy in protest. Protest should bring a community together. For a long time, that’s what that day in 1970 represented; a united community, regardless of our differences.
And what were those differences? We were mainly GLF members, and if you know your LGBTQ+ history, we were the most argumentative group that has ever existed in our community. As I describe it, we were dysfunctional, but we had joy in what we were building. We built something irreplaceable.
As I’m proud to say at speaking events: “America’s best LGBTQ+ export is Pride.” Understanding Pride and what it originally stood for explains why we have been so successful as a community.
In 1969, only about 100 activists would publicly march for equality for homosexuality. One year later, at Gay Pride 1970, we were a united community that numbered anywhere between 3000 (according to the FBI report) to 15,000 (according to the NYTimes).
Today there are thousands of Prides worldwide, and the numbers are in the millions. There is strength in that one word, PRIDE. If you understand the history in the protest, you’ll find the joy.
Mark Segal is the founder and publisher of Philadelphia Gay News. He is also an author, activist and one of the founding members of the Gay Liberation Front.