What the 1st NYC Pride Was Like from Someone Who Was Actually There5 min read

The first NYC Pride was Gay Liberation Day, summer 1970, which commemorated the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.

Recently, there has been a lot of concern about the commercialization of the Pride Parade. Many are concerned that we have strayed from the roots of our earlier events in the 1970’s and have sold our “souls” to Corporate America.

 

When I arrived, there were hundreds, just hanging out, listening to street performers and I noticed all the smiles. We have never seen so many of us in one place – EVER! I believe it is the first time that we all recognized that we are not alone.

 

As someone who attended and photographed OUR first Gay Liberation March in the summer of 1970 in New York—I kind of agree. There was such camaraderie, freedom and pride without bangles and floats.


We gathered, joined up and share moments of Pride in Washington Square and Central Park. I hope these images will give you a peek at what WAS.

 

Memories of a gay man from the summers of 1969 and 1970

From 1966 – 1968, I was always a guest of my best friend and his lawyer in the Pines on Fire Island. I loved being out there. This was before the houses had room shares and flat mates. Each home was privately owned and it was like visiting relatives.

peter j robinson fip 1969

Peter J Robinson in Fire Island Pines, Summer 1969

In the spring of 1969, my partner Burr and I had decided to take a share in a hotel in Cherry Grove near the Ferry pier for the summer. Our share started Memorial Day Week and each weekend we made the best of the sand, sun dining and disco.

burr fire island pines 1969

Burr in Fire Island Pines, Summer 1969

Early Sunday morning on the 29th of June, there was such a rumbling on the boardwalk with hundreds of guys heading for the boats. We asked what was going on. It was the first time I heard of the Stonewall riots happening in the city. Guys seemed outraged and angry and were desperate to get back to Manhattan. The ferries were filling up. Burr and I discussed going back to the city but I felt we had spent so much money on our share and the beach was so beckoning that we should stay and head back to the city later that evening.

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When we got back to our apartment in the city, everyone we knew was talking about what happened over the weekend and how they were participating. I was afraid that I would lose my job as I was still in the closet. Time passed and the next summer, there was talk about having a gay march to mark the year anniversary of the riots. The Gay Liberation Front announced a march on Sunday June 28, 1970.

Gay Liberation Day— Sunday June 28th, 1970, New York

 

The freedom was incredible. Guys were taking off their clothes and congregating. I moved through the enormous crowd with such pride that given the number here there could be no fear that we would ever be alone again.

 

I must admit to having survivor guilt in regards to the riots. I chose to stay on the beach when my brothers and sisters were fighting for respect from our city and its officials. In the Spring of 1970, I bought my first serious SLR camera and decided that at least I could join the march at Washington Square and march to Central Park.

It would be a great opportunity to make use of the camera and share coming out of the closet with others. I had no idea how many people would be participating and if the march would go smoothly. I must admit to some trepidation and fear. But I went and glad I did.

At the time, I had four gay friends that I did almost every thing with – bar hopping, etc. None of them wanted to march so I headed to Washington Square on my own. When I arrived, there were hundreds, just hanging out, listening to street performers and I noticed all the smiles. We have never seen so many of us in one place – EVER! I believe it is the first time that we all recognized that we are not alone.

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Not knowing anyone there, I walked around the Square snapping portraits – of those I found interesting – and then noticed some of the drag that was present, and not particularly female drag including Rollerrina who was quite a celebrity in the community. Some one in the crowd announced that we were ready to march to Central Park and the crowd drifted towards Fifth Avenue and headed north.

It was so amazing. We marched with such camaraderie and pride. Spectators were few and far apart and I was amazed as they joined us in the march. I was so taken by this that I realized I had not photographed a single step of the March. When we got to the park, it was like I entered OZ and reached for my camera again and started photographing what I saw.

The freedom was incredible. Guys were taking off their clothes and congregating. I moved through the enormous crowd with such pride that given the number here there could be no fear that we would ever be alone again.

And with that, I headed back to the avenue and headed home with a new sense of myself and what it meant to be Gay.