Above: Clippings from The Advocate covering the parade.
Pride Is Born
Everyday life for a gay person in the ’50s and ’60s included the very real threat of being strangled, shot, jailed, blackmailed, evicted, fired, excommunicated, forced to undergo electroshock therapy on your genitalia, or, if you were one of the unlucky ones, going in for an analysis of your “sexual perversion” and coming out with a full frontal lobotomy.
So that night when the police raided the Stonewall Inn, they got a lot more than they bargained for.
“We were tired of being targets of manipulation and exploitation; tired of being maggot excuses for raids upon our assembly, tired of being someone else’s scapegoat for some other reason. Tired of being threatened and harassed and entrapped and told what we were, what to do, and how to do it, when to do it, how to feel, what to say, how to be, what to be..ya can’t be it outside, nor can you inside! We rioted because rich, or poor, young or old, we dared to be ourselves. We wanted to be ourselves, to be, to laugh and play in joy! We rioted to be gay.” — Christopher Street Liberation Day Committee member, 1974
A groundswell of deep systemic anger, defiance from a community on the edge of revolution, and the fervent freedom that comes with having nothing to lose came together to form the perfect storm that night. The fire had suddenly and spontaneously been lit and a new national gay civil rights movement had been given a pulse.
The Stonewall riots changed the direction of the gay movement, taking it from several independently run nascent organizations sprinkled throughout the country to becoming a full-fledged national social equality movement that people could identify with and organize around. Not wanting to lose the momentum gained from Stonewall, the newly empowered LGBT rights leaders in several different cities began mobilizing, trying to answer the question “Now what?”
On November 2, 1969, at the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations in Philadelphia, the first pride march was proposed by way of a resolution. The Christopher Street Liberation Day march was then held in New York City on June 28, 1970, marking the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots with an assembly on Christopher Street and a march covering the 51 blocks to Central Park.
On that same weekend in 1970, three other U.S. cities, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco, also held what would be the first Pride events ever in U.S. history. Los Angeles is credited as having the first official city-sanctioned Pride parade (as opposed to a march), as it was the only event that had a permit for street closures and an actual parade route. In 1974, Los Angeles added the first festival component, which is now a major part of Pride celebrations nationwide.
In 1970, walking in broad daylight with a sign saying you were a homosexual was not only terrifying but could prove deadly. Many of the marchers in those first Pride events were genuinely scared they might not make it to the end of the route. They had no idea where they were going to finish or if anyone would show up to march with them or if they would even make it halfway down the street without being mobbed by an angry, violent crowd.
As the march began that first year in New York City, 10 people became 100, and then 100 people became 1,000, and by the time the march ended, there were thousands marching in solidarity for a world where loving someone of the same sex could be as American as apple pie.
Above: Christopher Street Liberation Day flier — Christopher Street Liberation Committee Collection, property of ONE National Gay amd Lesbian Archives
The Early Years of the Los Angeles Christopher Street West Pride Parade
The first Christopher Street West pride parade in Los Angeles, 1970
The crowd holds hands at the Los Angeles Christopher Street West pride parade, 1971.
Men hold a "Black Gays Unite" banner at the Los Angeles Christopher Street West pride parade, 1975.
Lesbian couple at the festival following the Los Angeles Christopher Street West pride parade, 1975
Police officers holding hands at the Los Angeles Christopher Street West pride parade, 1972
Dykes on Bikes leads the procession at the Los Angeles Christopher Street West pride parade, 1978