Saturday, June 26, 2010

1970: A First-Person Account of the First Gay Pride March

"It was only after the march that these gay pioneers realized what might be possible. Of course, at the time, we could never have predicted that our efforts would lead to hundreds of millions of people gathering together around the world. Today, people celebrate Gay Pride from San Francisco to São Paulo, Melbourne to Moscow." - Fred Sargeant

Fred Sargeant is a retired lieutenant from the Stamford, Connecticut, police department. He appears in the documentary 'Stonewall Uprising'. Below is an excerpt of his personal account about the Stonewall Riots.

Fred Sargeant writes:
One year after the Stonewall Riots galvanized New York’s fearful gay men and lesbians into fighters, a handful of us planned our first march. We had no idea how it would turn out. We weren’t even certain we would be granted a permit. And now, here we were, June 28, 1970, with people gathered west of Sixth Avenue at Waverly Place. We wondered if we would be able to get them to move off the curb.

This was long before anyone had heard of a “Gay Pride March.” Back then, it took a new sense of audacity and courage to take that giant step into the streets of Midtown Manhattan. One by one, we encouraged people to join the assembly.

Finally, we began to move up Sixth Avenue. I stayed at the head of the march the entire way, and at one point, I climbed onto the base of a light pole and looked back. I was astonished; we stretched out as far as I could see, thousands of us. There were no floats, no music, no boys in briefs. The cops turned their backs on us to convey their disdain, but the masses of people kept carrying signs and banners, chanting and waving to surprised onlookers.

No one was more responsible for conceiving and organizing that first march on the last Sunday in June than Craig Rodwell. Craig had opened the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop on Christopher Street in 1967—two years before Stonewall. After we became partners, we ran the shop together. Craig and I had both participated in Stonewall, and the Oscar Wilde soon became Information Central. As the first gay bookshop in the country, we amassed something that proved to be invaluable for organizing a march: our mailing list.

What guaranteed its eventual success, however, was the transformation of the gay movement itself. Before Stonewall, gay leaders had primarily promoted silent vigils and polite pickets, such as the “Annual Reminder” in Philadelphia. Since 1965, a small, polite group of gays and lesbians had been picketing outside Liberty Hall. The walk would occur in silence. Required dress on men was jackets and ties; for women, only dresses. We were supposed to be unthreatening.

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1970: A First-Person Account of the First Gay Pride March