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Over the past 42 years annual gay pride parades have become tradition in dozens of cities worldwide. They have evolved from radical marches into festive parades with elaborate floats and notable participants including politicians and well-known entertainers. In most cities, the parades are part of a larger celebration known as Pride week, typically filled with events celebrating the diversity of LGBT communities such as Pride Idol, film festivals, dance parties, and "best dressed in drag" contests. The annual celebrations have become a pivotal way of celebrating LGBT history and diversity. This year on June 26th, New York City will be celebrating its 42nd gay pride march with an estimated 500,000 participants.
In June of 1970, the nation's first parade commemorated the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots -- the nearly week-long uprising between New York City youth and police officers following a raid of Stonewall Inn. Stonewall was a popular gay bar located on Greenwich Village's Christopher Street, and the uprising helped bring the LGBT civil rights movement into the national spotlight. A year later, activists celebrated the uprising with the "Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day" march.
Several participants in the parade were wary of the potential public reaction to gay men, women and drag queens walking in solidarity through the streets of upper Manhattan. Everyone involved knew that homophobia remained rampant in society. "In those days, the idea of walking in daylight, with a sign saying, 'I'm a faggot,' was horrendous," says Doric Wilson in Stonewall Uprising. "Nobody, nobody was ready to do that."
In the Stonewall Uprising documentary, attendees of that first parade describe their fear and trepidation that day. John O'Brien admits that there had been nothing planned for the rally in Central Park, since the group could not rely on making it the entire way. Yet as the original marchers left Christopher Street to walk uptown, hundreds -- and then thousands -- of supporters joined in. The crowd marched with growing joy and gusto from Greenwich Village into uptown Manhattan and Central Park, holding gay pride signs and banners, chanting "Say it clear, say it loud. Gay is good, gay is proud."
The unlikely success of the "Christopher Street" parade became a catalyst for local organizations throughout the U.S. and across the globe. By the 1980s, most major U.S. cities had their own parades, and outside the U.S., pride parades have occurred in some fairly unlikely places such as Moscow, Tel Aviv and Nepal. In a Presidential proclamation delivered earlier this month, President Obama officially designated June to be LGBT Pride Month. The growing number of pride parades is an indication of the broadening social acceptance of LGBT people and culture. "In every gay pride parade, every year, Stonewall lives," says LGBT rights activist Virginia Apuzzo in the film.
On June 13, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE will rebroadcast the documentary Stonewall Uprising to remember the riots that inspired the modern LGBT civil rights movement. Have any viewers of AMERICAN EXPERIENCE ever been to, or participated in a pride parade? Do the parades still have an impact in the modern LGBT movement? I'm interested to see any references to Stonewall in pride parades throughout this month.
Bianca Wythe is a student at Northeastern University and is currently an intern at AMERICAN EXPERIENCE.
Photo Credit: Lilli M. Vincenz
Category: Then & Now