Saturday, June 28, 2008

Christopher St. Liberation Day March for Equality

Happy 38th Anniversary!

On this date in 1970, the first ever MARCH (not parade) was held in New York City. We were a relatively small group of a few hundred - nothing like the extravaganzas of today. This was not a celebration, but a march for civil right for GLBT people. It was a scary experience, actually. We were given one lane of Sixth Avenue to march up to the sheep meadow in Central Park while traffic whizzed past us a foot or two away.

People joined the march along the way, but we were still apprehensive because the cops were taunting and spitting epithets at us all the way. We drowned them out by chanting Gay Pride affirmations and singing. There were no floats, no bands, no advertising by supportive companies because they didn't exist. It was only us - alone - vulnerable - afraid, but not willing to run anymore.

The real surprise and most exciting visual I remember, is that when we arrived at the Sheep Meadow, there were already hundreds of people there (too afraid to march perhaps, but supportive enough to be present for the culmination of the day.

As I stood there, I was amazed by the number of people who continued to stream into the park. I felt so proud. It was quite a day.

NYPD was present in the riot gear of the time, and they were stunned by the speeches and responses of the crowd. There would be no discord in that place that afternoon. They weren't happy, but they listened and some understood what they had done to us for so many years.

I lived in SoHo at the time and I remember walking home; staggering as if drunk. I had never felt so loved or empowered as on that day. This was the beginning of a community the likes of which had never been seen before in modern times.

I marched every year after that until it became a "parade" and taken over by beer and liquor companies which was well into the 1980s. When it lost direction as a march for equality and became a celebration of commercial consumption, I no longer felt welcome.

Many of those who join the "parade" today have no idea of it's beginnings. No knowledge of our history and how we got to this point. Really. Sad. They have no clue as to the many shoulders they stand upon to be where they are today.

And so it goes.

1 comment:

  1. I marched, not paraded, in 1974 when I was 23, a kid just off the farm. It was exactly as you've described it, lonely and frightening. My clearest memory is the shocked expressions of a bunch of tourists from New Jersey on a day trip. No one from my seminary (at least 1/3 Gay) dared to march, but I considered it my duty to God.

    Today's carnival atmosphere is progress, even if it's forgetful. We don't want Pride Day to be a time of fear. Longer memories would help, though.

    Thanks for posting your recollections. Happy Anniversary!


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