Each year when I march in the New York Gay Pride parade—and that has become somewhat rare—I always say at the end, “Think this just might be my last one.” I said that four years ago, but there we were this past Sunday once again. But for us, it was somewhat special.
You see, the group that I marched with are the ones who created that march. It was our vision. Actually, Gay Pride was our idea, and this year we celebrated creating that march 44 years ago.
We used the march as an excuse to have a Gay Liberation Front reunion the night before. Very few know LGBT history, but GLF NY 1969–71 literally was the foundation that what we have today was built on.
There were homophile activists before us, but their agenda was equality for homosexuals. They wanted nondiscrimination. But GLF, which was created out of Stonewall, with many of us partaking in that monumental event itself, saw something different, and here is where we changed the world.
Overstatement? I don’t think so, since we believed not just in simple equality, but in an actual gay and lesbian community.
In that first year, we created the first organization to help solve problems of gay youth. We created the world’s first gay community center. We issued heath alerts, created community-wide media, issued the first gay history book, dealt with sexism and racism in our community and, way back in 1969, we even had a transgender arm, called Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. We were LGBT people taking care of our own, and we did all of it openly.
That might sound strange to you, but in 1969, the Mattachine Society, a homophile organization, would not allow anyone under 18 into their offices, afraid that the police would raid them. We organized our youth, welcomed them to our meetings, set up a suicide hot line, a speakers bureau that went to schools, and, when the Village Voice would not publish the word “gay,” we marched on them. The laws were wrong, we were not!
We wanted to celebrate Stonewall and our achievements in June 1970. So we organized what today is known as the Gay Pride parade.
Well, the reality is that doing so 44 years ago means that many of us are getting up in years. While about 40 came to the Saturday night reunion, only about 14 of us marched.
The crowd roared when they saw these 14 old women and men marching with a simple banner that read “Original Marchers June 28, 1970.” When we arrived on Christopher Street, the hub of GLF organizing 44 years ago, it was our street. As we made our way down, the crowd went wild, and then something very touching: The police officer in charge of that area came over to our contingent with his officers in toe, stopped, took his cap off and bowed before us, followed by his officers. The crowed erupted…44 years ago, these were the guys who were fighting us at Stonewall.