“Audacity And Courage”: Remembering The First Gay Pride March Of June 1970


One year after the Stonewall Riots galvanized New York’s fearful gay men and lesbians into fighters, a handful of us planned our first march. We had no idea how it would turn out. We weren’t even certain we would be granted a permit. And now, here we were, June 28, 1970, with people gathered west of Sixth Avenue at Waverly Place. We wondered if we would be able to get them to move off the curb.

This was long before anyone had heard of a ‘Gay Pride March.’ Back then, it took a new sense of audacity and courage to take that giant step into the streets of Midtown Manhattan. One by one, we encouraged people to join the assembly. Finally, we began to move up Sixth Avenue. I stayed at the head of the march the entire way, and at one point, I climbed onto the base of a light pole and looked back. I was astonished; we stretched out as far as I could see, thousands of us. There were no floats, no music, no boys in briefs. The cops turned their backs on us to convey their disdain, but the masses of people kept carrying signs and banners, chanting and waving to surprised onlookers.[…]

After nearly a year of 1960s-style back-and-forth consciousness-raising, it’s no wonder that by the time we finally started walking, we were already spent. But, like everyone else that day, we were filled with a new energy and hope.

It was only after the march that these gay pioneers realized what might be possible. Of course, at the time, we could never have predicted that our efforts would lead to hundreds of millions of people gathering together around the world.”

Fred Sargeant, the first manager of the now-defunct Oscar Wilde Bookshop and a participant in the 1969 Stonewall uprising, recalls organizing the first pride march to commemorate the riots in a 2010 Village Voice article.

Photo: Fred Sargeant/Village Voice

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  • Kevin

    This is a great story. However,(you knew this was coming) One thing not recognized: A few years back I met someone who also marched on that day in 1970. He stated most of what was said in the article but he also spoke about the fear everyone had that they might get killed that day. They were seriously fearing that a sniper might open up on them. Or that gangs of opposers would rush them. But nothing happened and he said that as they walked others joined in the march from the streets. Gays and straights alike.

  • Daniel-Reader

    It is awesome that people around the globe, especially in smaller towns and villages, have been inspired to join with family and friends to march for their human rights. Now if only we can get everyone in the USA, not just 60%, to come out to their parents we’d be even more advanced.

  • Fred Sargeant

    If I might make one correction, while I was the first manager of the bookshop I was not the founder of the Oscar Wilde (Memorial) Bookshop. That distinct honor goes to my then-partner, Craig Rodwell.

  • bigomega73

    This (or other eyewitness accounts) should be read at the opening of every gay pride event so that we never forget where we came from, pay homage to those brave souls who started a movement, and not take for granted how far we’ve come

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