Gay activism is usually dated from the Stonewall riots that began in June, 1969. PRIDE parades began a year later. New York City’s is usually the largest in the country, and sometimes the world. As more initials were added to the list of sexual identities and proclivities and crowds grew larger, politicians came to lead the parade. Now governors and mayors are the first to step off. Other elected officials aren’t far behind.
The first PRIDE marches were quite raunchy, in a time when displaying pubic hair or female nipples was considered obscene and could lead to arrests.
Over the decades what was publicly acceptable changed. PRIDE marches became more like Mardi Gras with costumes, floats and flashy dressing.
There have been many schisms over the years. In 2019 the Reclaim Pride Coalition held its own Queer Liberation March three hours before the regular march. Describing itself as a “people’s political march — no corporate floats, and no police” it marched uptown, holding a rally in Central Park at the time that the traditional march was going downtown.
Cops were out. Shrinks were in.
These Delta dames were only in the traditional march.
Ditto for the T-mobile troubadours.
Only two labor unions marched, in the traditional parade.
Marchers were very creative. Some liked to dress up.
Some liked to dress down.
Some bodies were buff.
Some bodies were not.
Some were ready for their close-up.
Some let it all hang out.
Feathers were popular.
Beards were big.
Despite the heat, there was a lot of dancing.
Some dancers brought their own music.
Others followed the bands.
In the early PRIDE marches, Cops looked to arrest those who exposed too much.
Now the Gay Officers Action League is one of the biggest contingents in the NYC march.
Several groups had their own issues.
Counters said there were 150,000 in the official march with many watching from behind the barricades.
Reclaim pride claimed about 20,000 marchers. There were no barricades north of 14th St. It was sometimes hard to distinguish the watchers from the marchers.
As usual the venders were out in force, selling t-shirts, flags, and anything else that might find a buyer. Mixing causes, one t-shirt said “Eat Pussy. It’s Organic.”
Jo Freeman has published eleven books and hundreds of articles. She is currently finishing a history and memoir of working for SCLC in 1965-66. Copyright © 2019 Jo Freeman.