NYC Pride – Then and Now
Before the Stonewall riots, gay bars and serving alcohol to gay patrons were illegal under New York State’s Liquor Authority that banned “disorderly” conduct. Police officers regularly patrolled the local bar scene, harassing patrons and arresting people wearing less than three gender appropriate clothing items based on a criminal statute. Stonewall was a popular bar for gay people; the bar offered shelter for homeless youth and offered a safe place for the local drag queens who were harassed or stiffed at other bars.
On the morning of June 28, 1969, police raided Stonewall and arrested the patrons. The arrests drew a crowd as the patrons were forced to wait outside for squad cars. Glass, bricks, and pennies were thrown at the officers and a riot broke out as hundreds gathered to watch the arrests. The crowd also set fire to the brigade and the fire department and Tactical Police Unit were called to disperse the riot. Thousands came to Stonewall in the next few days to show solidarity with the LGBT community.
Five months later, activists at the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations (ERCHO) in Philadelphia suggested an annual march to commemorate the one -year anniversary of the raid. It was proposed to be the last Saturday in June, and the march would be different than the other protests for gay rights because it was open to all ages, and people could dress as they want, as opposed to jackets and ties for men and dresses for women.
ERCHO had the plans, but Brenda Howard, a bisexual activist, put it to action. She met with Rodwell at his apartment and Oscar Wilde’s Bookshop on Christopher St. to plan the event, which at the time was called the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, including putting the word out through the bookstore’s mailing lists. She also suggested making it into a week-long celebration, an idea many cities follow to this day.
On June 28, 1970, the first march was from West Sixth Avenue to Sheep’s Meadows in Central Park, 51 blocks long. One to two thousand people marched as a political statement: there were no floats, no music, just gay and trans people showing their visibility to a city that made them feel invisible.
This years weeklong Pride festivities include the biggest Pride celebration in the world, the Pride March, on Sunday, June 24th starting at noon. The grand marshals are Billie Jean King, Kenita Placide, Tyler Ford, and LAMBDA Legal. Projected floats include, for the first time ever, all major sporting organizations including the NFL, MLB and NBA.
This year between W 8th and W 13th St on University Pl is PrideFest. PrideFest is a free event that hosts community and corporation booths, music, and food. Many booths offer free samples in the form of buttons, free samples, and small vendors selling goods. There’s also a stage event hosted by RuPaul’s Drag Race Ross Mathews, with performances by Alex Newell of the Tony award winning Broadway musical Once on This Island and Parson James singing the National Anthem. PrideFest is Sunday June 24th from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Next year is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and New York City will be hosting World Pride.
For more details, please check out NYC Pride’s official website.
Donasia Sykes is a freelance writer, avid podcast listener, and nail polish collector. She graduated with a BA in English/ Creative Writing and she currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. Follow her Instagram and Twitter.