On November 2, 1969, just 4 months after the Stonewall riots Craig Rodwell, his partner Fred Sargeant, Ellen Broidy, and Linda Rhodes of the newly formed Gay Liberation Front proposed the first “gay pride parade” which was then called the “CHRISTOPHER STREET LIBERATION DAY MARCH.” to be held in New York City by way of a public resolution at the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations (ERCHO) which meeting in Philadelphia.
Using Philadelphia’s smaller Annual Reminder protest which happened every year on the Fourth of July in front of Freedom Hall Rodwell, Sargeant, Broidy, and Rhodes proposed the following to ECHO:
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.
All at the meeting voted in favor of the march except for the Mattachine Society of New York City, which abstained. (HYMN).
Meetings to organize the march began in early January at Rodwell’s apartment in 350 Bleeker Street not far from the site of the Stonewall bar. At first, there was major difficulty getting some New York organizations like the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) to send representatives. In the end, Rodwell , Sargeant, and Broidy, along with Michael Brown, Marty Nixon, Brenda Howard of the Gay Liberation Front, and Foster Gunnison of the Mattachine Society made up the core group
For funding Gunnison sought donations from the national homophile organizations and sponsors, while Rodwell and Sargeant solicited donations via the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop customer mailing list. Nixon worked to gain financial support from GLF in his position as treasurer for that organization. Believing that more people would turn out for the march on a Sunday they scheduled the date for Sunday, June 28, 1970, the 1st. anniversary of the Stonewall riots.
The parade route covered 51 blocks from Christopher Street to Central Park ending in a “Gay-In” in Sheep’s Meadow.
On the same weekend, gay activist groups on the West Coast held a march in Los Angeles on June 28, 1970, and a march and ‘Gay-in’ in San Francisco.
In Los Angeles, Morris Kight (Gay Liberation Front LA founder), Reverend Troy Perry (Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches founder), and Reverend Bob Humphries (United States Mission founder) gathered to plan a commemoration. They settled on a parade down Hollywood Boulevard. But securing a permit from the city was no easy task. They named their organization Christopher Street West.” But they had more difficulty with Los Angeles than New York City. Rev. Perry recalled the Los Angeles Police Chief Edward M. Davis telling him, “As far as I’m concerned, granting a permit to a group of homosexuals to parade down Hollywood Boulevard would be the same as giving a permit to a group of thieves and robbers.” Grudgingly, the Police Commission granted the permit, though fees were exceeding $1.5 million. After the American Civil Liberties Union stepped in, the commission dropped all its requirements but a $1,500 fee for police service. That, too, was dismissed when the California Superior Court ordered the police to protect as they would any other group. The eleventh-hour California Supreme Court decision ordered the police commissioner to issue a parade permit citing the “constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression.” From the beginning, L.A. parade organizers and participants knew there were risks of violence. Kight received death threats right up to the morning of the parade. Unlike what we see today, the first gay parade was very quiet. The marchers convened on McCadden Place in Hollywood, marched north, and turned east onto Hollywood Boulevard. The Advocate reported, “Over 1,000 homosexuals and their friends staged, not just a protest march, but a full-blown parade down world-famous Hollywood Boulevard.”
The first marches were both serious protests and fun, they served to inspire the widening activist movement. The marches were repeated in the following years, and more and more pride marches started up in other cities throughout the world. In Atlanta and New York City, the marches were called Gay Liberation Marches, and the day of celebration was called “Gay Liberation Day”; in Los Angeles and San Francisco they became known as ‘Gay Freedom Marches’ and the day was called “Gay Freedom Day”. As more cities and even smaller towns began holding their celebrations, these names spread and evolved.
In the 1980’s there was a cultural shift in the gay movement. Activists of a less radical nature took over, mostly due to the advent of big organizations like the HRC and also because of the AIDS crisis which took the lives of so many of the original activists. At this point many groups started dropping the original “Gay Liberation” and “Gay Freedom” from the names, replacing them with “Gay Pride”.
Watch the rare video below of the first Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade which took place on June 28, 1970.