Monday, July 12, 2010
Pioneers reclaim Pride
by Mark Segal
This year, Gay Pride seems to be going on and on — especially for those of us who marched or help plan the first Gay Pride March in New York City on June 28, 1970.
While we knew it’s historic importance at the time, we often think that others have forgotten us, the reasons for that first march or its true significance.
Last Sunday proved to be a catharsis for many of us. On the 40th anniversary of the first parade, those of us who marched, marshaled or planned that event marched as a group with the banner “Original Marchers June 28, 1970.”
As we gathered at our assigned spot in the parade — first section, seventh group — we were a small group of 10. Many have died in the 40 intervening years, others have moved far away. In front of us was a very large group from Delta Airlines, which included a car decked out like a Delta plane, pilots and flight attendants pushing food carts. Behind us was a contingent from Kiehl’s skin products. The irony of sandwiching us, the original anti-establishment, anti-corporate people, in-between two major corporate sponsors was obvious.
As our little group of older men and women waited to march, we watched as the other two groups in front and behind put on their matching outfits with logos, put their props in order and filled their pockets and carts with items to give away to the crowds. We looked at each other in our regular marching clothes, jeans and a comfortable shirt, and prepared to carry our banner.
Then, the organizers asked us all to prepare to march. Each group got in “march order.” For us, that meant just unfolding our banner and holding it up. As we did so, something amazing happened. Even before we started to walk, people came over and wanted to shake our hands and say thank you. It was almost too much to bear. Our group had been fighting the good fight for 40 years and, in most cases, barely got a thank you. It was overwhelming.
By the time we had walked out of 40th Street onto Fifth Avenue, the cheers were overwhelming. The organizers of the parade, “Heritage of Pride,” who are known for running a tight ship and were worried about our conforming to their standards, were gracious enough to realize that this was important and allowed us the unusual favor of marching at our own pace, which also allowed the crowd to be able to read the banner.
Each of us who marched looked at the others as people yelled out, “Thank you” or tried to get through the police lines to shake our hands.
Entering Christopher Street, our home, the crowd was immense and the cheers were deafening. We decided to make the point clear on what this march/parade was about. So, at the Stonewall, we stopped the parade and arranged ourselves with our banner in front of the Stonewall. That one gesture stated it all. That night, the Gay City News top story was “Take Back Pride.” To its credit, Heritage of Pride even appreciated the emotion in that moment.
Barbara Gittings once said I was the baby of the pioneers. For me, that means I fit in between both groups: pre-Stonewall and post-Stonewall. These groups have had their differences over the years. And, at times, I’ve been on one side or the other, but in recent years, I’ve attempted to build a bridge.
So it’s with great honor that this Sunday, I’ll be in a car with Frank Kameny and Randy Wicker (both pre-Stonewall) with a banner on each side stating, “Gay Pioneers” in the Fourth of July parade that passes by Independence Hall.
Our history and struggle is beginning to be recognized and accepted. How sad it was that the New York Times used a photo of a lesbian pole dancer as its graphic for Sunday’s New York Pride. The photo didn’t represent a majority of this year’s marchers, let alone the march’s history. Gay Pride is about the struggle for equal rights. How appropriate that we pioneers and founders attempted this year to make that point. Take note, New York Times, Gay Pride is a remembrance of the struggle for equality. Our work is not done and this photo makes that point clearly. Simply put, would the Times use a similar graphic for the Puerto Rican, Irish or other group’s parade? No question mark needed here. The answer is no. While we’re very proud of how far we’ve come, we realize there is still work to be done.
Mark Segal is the publisher of Philadelphia Gay News <http://www.epgn.com/> . He is the nation's most awarded LGBT media commentator having just received the 2009 Columnist of the year award from the 2000-member Suburban Newspaper Association. He is also the dean of the gay press, (1970) He also was a founder and president of both the National Gay Newspaper Association and The National Gay Newspaper Guild.