A short 1970 documentary by Lilli Vincenz about the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade.
This is a guest post by Megan Metcalf, Women’s, Gender and LGBTQ+ Studies librarian and chair of LC-GLOBE, the official Library organization for LGBTQ+ employees and allies.
This month marks the 50th anniversary of annual LGBTQ+ Pride traditions in the United States. The first Pride march was in New York on June 28, 1970, on the first anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, the protests that occurred after a late-night police raid on the landmark gay bar on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village.
The Library collections demonstrate how this first Pride march – originally billed as Christopher Street Liberation Day — was planned and the reasons why activists felt so strongly that it should exist. Looking through the Library’s collections of pioneering gay rights activists Lilli Vincenz and Frank Kameny, researchers can find planning documents, correspondence, fliers and more. The march was meant to give the community a chance to “…commemorate the Christopher Street Uprisings of last summer in which thousands of homosexuals went to the streets to demonstrate against centuries of abuse…from government hostility to employment and housing discrimination, Mafia control of Gay bars, and anti-Homosexual laws,” according to promotional fliers.
So who came up with the actual idea to hold this first Pride march?
The concept came from the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations (ERCHO), which had been holding an annual July 4th demonstration known as the “Reminder Day Pickets,” at Independence Hall in Philadelphia from 1965 to 1969.
But after the Stonewall Uprising, ERCHO member organizations voted to organize a national annual demonstration. In the Homophile Action League Newsletter of January-February 1970, they adopted the following resolution:
“That the Annual Reminder, in order to be more relevant, reach a greater number of people, and encompass the ideas and ideals of the larger struggle in which we are engaged — that of our fundamental human rights — be moved both in time and location.
“We propose that a demonstration be held annually on the last Saturday in June in New York City to commemorate the 1969 spontaneous demonstrations on Christopher Street and this demonstration be called CHRISTOPHER STREET LIBERATION DAY. No dress or age regulations shall be made for this demonstration.
“We also propose that we contact Homophile organizations throughout the country and suggest that they hold parallel demonstrations on that day. We propose a nationwide show of support.”
As prominent members of the Mattachine Society of Washington, one of the earliest gay rights organizations, Vincenz and Kameny helped plan and promote this first Pride march along with activists in New York and other ERCHO groups.
When the march kicked off on Christopher Street around 2 p.m. on June 28, there were more than 5,000 marchers and an equal number of bystanders cheering them on. They filled the street, marching more than 50 blocks to Central Park. Dozens of organizations took part, including the Queens Liberation Front. This was a group that formed partially in response to attempts by some organizers to make drag queens march at the end of the parade.
This was a thorny issue. Since it was illegal to “crossdress” in New York in 1970, Pride organizers worried that police might target trans- and gender non-conforming marchers. Their fears turned out to be unfounded as not a single arrest was made. Many of the drag queens successfully “marched the entire three-mile parade route in heels,” Drag Magazine wrote in 1971. Smaller inaugural Pride events were held in Los Angeles and Chicago.
Due to the dedication of a countless number of activists and organizers, Pride is now celebrated nationwide and around the world. Last year, on the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, more than 150,000 people marched in WorldPride in New York, with hundreds of thousands more lining the route. (NYC Pride is cancelled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)
But for half a century now, LGBTQ+ people have continued to gather in June to march with Pride and demonstrate for equal rights. We invite you to learn more about LGBTQ+ history and culture by exploring the diverse collections at the Library.
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Thank you, Neely Tucker, for posting this piece about the first Christopher Street Liberation Day March. As a member of the New York Gay Liberation Front, I was a part of this march, and the planning for it. The idea for the march was generated by Craig Rodwell, the wonderful owner of the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookstore on Christopher Street, and Ellen Broidy, who was the first president of the gay student group at NYU and a member of the NY GLF. It was Ellen who brought the idea to the ERCHO meeting in Philadelphia; but it was the Gay Liberation Front which actually planned and put together both the first march and the week of activities around that first commemoration of the Stonewall Uprising.
As far as I know, and for that matter most people can remember, there was absolutely no intention at that first march to make drag queens, or as we called them “street transvestites,” march anywhere except where they wanted to march on that first march. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were both members of NY GLF, and they marched with us.
Thanks so much for writing. Megan Metcalf, the Women’s, Gender and LGBTQ+ Studies librarian, wrote this post. I believe the sentence in question is: “Dozens of organizations took part, including the Queens Liberation Front. This was a group that formed partially in response to attempts by some organizers to make drag queens march at the end of the parade.” I’ve forwarded your email to her and have asked her to respond. I’ll post that note here when she does.
But, upon reading it, with “dozens of organizations” taking part, with “some organizers” having an issue, it may be that this was a very early, very small objection that was dismissed early on, and thus didn’t gain wide currency. Megan, no doubt, will have a more complete answer.
I find it quite disturbing when the Library of Congress bases its account of Christopher Street Liberation Day on documents rather than talking with the people who organized the march or who took part. Perry Brass, who was a member of NY GLF long before I joined in late spring 1970, recalls far more about the march than this participant, but I recall no attempt to segregate transvestites. As for gender non-conforming, many of us in GLF pierced our ears. Some wore nail polish and women’s clothes, and a bunch of us were physically identifiable as “sissies.” I’d love to see proof that “gender non-conforming” people were asked to march at the back of the parade is absurd.
I also question this overly simplistic account, found elsewhere on the Library of Congress site:” In the weeks following Stonewall, activists in New York organized the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). A few months later, the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) was founded in December 1969. The GLF and the GAA took the position that the Mattachine Society and mainstream homophile movement were too focused on assimilation, rather than radical change. However, the policies and actions of NY Gay Liberation Front was still not quite radical enough- and people of color, women, trans people were again marginalized, and began to form their own organizations.”
Thanks so much for writing. Megan Metcalf, the Women’s, Gender and LGBTQ+ Studies librarian, wrote this post. I’ve forwarded your email to her and have asked her to respond. I’ll post that note here when she does.
Meanwhile, as the blog administrator, I can say that the “documents” she cites are from the collections of ERCHO and activists Lilli Vincenz and Frank Kameny, among others. While no records are universal, and personal memories seldom match in every detail, these would seem to be key documents, written at the time of the events, from some of the march’s key organizers.
Again, I’ll post Megan’s response.
Thank you for your comments and insight! This blog focuses on primary sources which are held in the Library of Congress collections, in this case the planning documents of the Christopher Street Liberation Day Planning Committee (comprised of 9 member organizations including GLF) as well as the documents of ERCHO. This blog is not meant to be a comprehensive history, simply a demonstration of the connection between the establishment of annual Pride traditions and the Library collections, more specifically the extensive papers of Frank Kameny and Lilli Vincenz, both of the Mattachine Society of Washington/ERCHO. Please see page 6 of the linked source above (Drag Magazine) which states that the planning committee (no specific individual or org named) asked members of the Queens Liberation Front to not “dress in drag” at the first pride parade, fearing this would invite police harassment/arrest because of the crossdressing laws. If you’d like me to share with you the non-digitized sources: committee planning files, the interviews with Sylvia Rivera and Lee Brewster, and/or other primary sources consulted in the writing of this post, kindly send me an e-mail at [email protected] and I’d be happy to oblige. I can’t attach files to a comment. All the best! Meg Metcalf
Ellen Broidy was one of the organizers of the 1970 March and should be contacted. I was a participant and do not remember that anyone was asked to march in the rear, separate from others. I was with some lesbian friends, and marching next to us was a guy from Pennsylvania. He was dressed in a bed sheet and had a red enema bag taped to the front of the sheet, along with the sign, “Penn Enema Club”–obviously advertising his sexual predilections. My friends and I agreed that no matter how “queer” he might seem to anyone else, he had as much right to be here as the rest of us.
Thanks so much for writing. Please see Meghan’s comment above. Also, Ellen and others are mentioned elsewhere in the Library’s collection on this issue at: //guides.loc.gov/lgbtq-studies/introduction.