- ‘We are all participants in the most important gay event in history.’
50 years ago this weekend, the world’s first Pride marches took place in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The protests, to mark the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in 1969 – sparked a movement which has now spread around the world.
This amazing video from 1970 is now part of the US Library of Congress’ collection. Simply called Gay and Proud by Lilli Vincenz, it depicts the march in New York on 28 June 1970. Back then, it wasn’t called Pride but the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade.
The pioneers carried banners reading ‘Gay Pride’ and ‘Smash sexism. Gays unite now’. They marched chanting ‘Gay, gay, all the way’ and ‘Say it loud! Gay and proud!’
Meanwhile, the film shows a glimpse of the huge crowds the event attracted. The New York Times reported (on the front page) that the marchers took up the entire street for about 15 city blocks.
Just like Prides today it contains a mixture of genders, races, ages – and even a cute dog or two.
Love and liberation
Positively, the film focuses on LGBT+ people’s voices. Vincenz does find one bystander who describes the march as ‘disgraceful and disgusting’. But a counter-protestor with a Sodom and Gomorrah banner is dismissed as a ‘closet case’ who wears ‘pink’ underwear.
Meanwhile, many of the passers by appear to be bemused rather than angry. Indeed, the police are seen smiling, having given their consent to the march at the last minute.
But just like today, our community includes a variety of views.
The film records one debate between an LGBT+ man who says that men ‘dropping their pants’ in the park ‘gives us a bad name’ and a sex-positive protestor who argues that ‘women and men’ also ‘fuck in the park’.
Meanwhile many of the LGBT+ people refer to how their movement may help liberate heterosexuals too. One quips: ‘If nothing else we are good for the population explosion’.
Indeed, the filmmaker interviews one of the first ever straight allies at a Pride parade. He tells her his friends convinced him to join in and adds that homosexuality ‘definitely, definitely’ should be legal.
And just like Prides today, it ends in a party. The film shows protestors dancing and embracing in the park.
‘We are gay and proud. No-one can convince us otherwise’
If anyone asks why Prides exist, it is surely that the message of love and liberation is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago.
A message from the event Christopher Street Liberation Day issued to those taking part sums it up:
‘We are gay and proud. No-one can convince us otherwise. Degrading comments by hecklers or observers are not important enough to interfere with our goal and don’t deserve a reaction.
‘Everyone of us is important. We are showing our strength and love for each other by coming here today. We are all participants in the most important gay event in history.’