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In late May 1970, Morris Kight called my home and asked if I had read an article in The Advocate about the Stonewall riots in New York City. I told him that I had, and he suggested we meet with Reverend Bob Humphries and see if we could find a way to memorialize them in Los Angeles. We met for coffee three nights later and discussed several ways that we could celebrate. I spoke up and said, "Why don't we just hold a parade?"
We went to the police commission to fill out an application for a parade permit. I answered questions in front of the police commission for about two hours when L.A.'s then-chief of police Ed Davis said, "Did you know that homosexuality was illegal in the state of California?" I said, "No, sir, it's not." We debated until he said, "Well, I'll tell you something, as far as I'm concerned, granting a parade permit to a group of homosexuals to parade down Hollywood Boulelvard would be the same as giving a permit to march to a group of thieves and murderers!"
To make a long story short, they debated, and in the end, the commission decided they would give us the permit if we could post two bonds, one for $1 million, the other for $500,000. I thanked them, and we went to the American Civil Liberties Union. Hubert Selwynn, a lawyer for the ACLU, took our request to the California superior court, which not only granted us the parade permit but also required the police to protect us as they would any other group.
On Sunday afternoon, June 28, 1970, the first LGBT pride parade in Los Angeles stepped off at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and McCadden Place. Over 2,000 people showed up to march, drive their floats, and walk their pets. I've never felt so empowered in my life (other than when I founded the Metropolitan Community Churches).
The parade was incredible for its time. While forming our parade, we learned that our gay brothers and sisters in New York had failed to get their permit and had to march on the sidewalks without any formation. We were exuberant to learn that they had gone on and marched anyway. We didn't get the bands that we wanted, so my roommate, Willie Smith, drove the parade route in his VW minibus, playing World War II German marches from an amplification system he'd hooked up. Willie's thinking? Since the Los Angeles police department treated us like the oppressed of WWII, they might actually enjoy the music and leave us alone. We had a little bit of everything. The Society of Anubis took the lead with its float. A young man with an Alaskan husky and a sign that read "We Don't All Walk Poodles" led the pet-walking section. Incidentally, a photograph of him and the dog wound up in a Time magazine article about the new gay militancy. The Gay Liberation Front of Los Angeles came down the boulevard carrying banners and shouting, "Two, four, six, eight...gay is just as good as straight." Even a pretty conservative gay group from extremely conservative Orange County brought a large sign that read "Homosexuals for Ronald Reagan." I heard a woman on the sidewalk say, "I can forgive them for being homosexual, but I will never forgive them for supporting Ronald Reagan."
After the parade I went to the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and McCadden Place with Carole Shepherd, president of the Daughters of Belitis, and Kelly Weiser of Homophile Effort for Legal Protection. We announced that we would sit there until someone from city government came and talked with us. I also announced to my church that I would fast until that happened.
Twenty minutes later the police came and arrested the three of us for "viciously and maliciously blocking a sidewalk to do harm." It was an old California law that was meant to stop unions from organizing during the Dust Bowl. Carole and Kelly were immediately bailed out. The next morning I was taken to the courthouse near downtown Los Angeles. The deputy city attorney tried to frighten me by telling me that I was not going to get out of jail without putting up bail. I told him that I could fast as well in jail as out, so I may as well stay in if that's how it was going to be.
After I was released, I was told the best place to fast without being arrested was in front of the Federal Building in downtown Los Angeles--only federal marshals could arrest me there.
For the next 16 days I just consumed water, no food. I had gone to the bathroom on that 16th day when city council member Robert Stephenson and his wife, Peggy, arrived and left a letter for me, inviting me to his office to talk about gay rights. He was the first of many allies to come to the defense of our community over the years.
That first LGBT parade in Los Angeles put a political edge on our fight. Never again would the police or anyone who tried to stop our movement frighten us. Our community made up its mind that year that the most important thing that we could do was to encourage people to come out of the closet by joining parades and demonstrations. And we have never looked back.
Today at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and McCadden place is a bronze plaque that says, "Christopher Street West. On June the 28th 1970, the first Gay Pride parade in Los Angeles stepped off from this corner. The city of Los Angeles closed Hollywood Blvd. for the parade which was the first such action in America. The organizers of the event were, Rev. Troy Perry, Rev. Bob Humphries, Mr. Morris Kight." It's one of the few memorials dedicated to a LGBT pride parade anywhere in the world.