On June 28, 1970—the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall uprising—thousands of people came together in New York City to march. The Christopher Street Liberation Day March covered about 50 blocks, and while the word “thousands” may sound like a lot, it’s nothing at all compared to what a Pride march looks like now—or what it would look like in any other year. A Pride march or parade in this century is likely to include well-known political figures, elaborate floats from corporations, dance troupes and bands, drag queens and glitter, and lots and lots of activist groups and non-profits. Those early marches were brought about by activists, so even though a contemporary Pride march may also include, say, a Groupon Pride Float, protest and activism sit firmly in its heart. That’s something that this engrossing oral history on the early Pride marches from The New York Times makes abundantly clear.
Comprised of interviews with “organizers, activists and participants” from around the world, this piece is rich with detail, as the best such histories are. Take this, from Mark Segal, a marshal for the first Pride March:
We didn’t have a police permit, so no one knew exactly what would happen — no one knew the type of force that might greet us. So we held self-defense classes and learned how to protect ourselves. As a marshal, I especially had to know how to react and control the marchers if we were attacked. When we reached 23rd Street, I climbed up a pole, looked back and saw a crowd stretch all the way to Christopher Street. Eventually we made it to Central Park, just like we had promised — and us activists transformed a movement from a few ragtag militants to thousand strong. As my friend Jerry Hoose used to say about that year, “we went from the shadows to sunlight.” Today, my original marshal’s badge is on display in the Smithsonian.
Or this from James Green, who helped organize the first Pride march in Brazil:
A few years before, members of Argentina’s movement wore masks to shield their faces — and identities — during their parade in Buenos Aires. So we produced hundreds of colorful masks because we assumed that many of our people in Brazil would refuse to march openly. But on the day of the parade, 2,000 of us marched along the white sandy beaches of Avenida Atlântica in Copacabana — and no one wore a mask. The fear was gone.
As those two highlights probably indicate, the piece is well worth reading in full, particularly if you happen to be mostly unaware of the event’s history or have never been to a Pride march. And when the 51st anniversary rolls around, you’ll be ready to grab a boa or flag and a protest sign and celebrate.
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