New York's 1973 Pride March by John D’Emilio
I had just graduated from college in June 1970 and was living in Manhattan. I knew about the Stonewall riots the year before, and I had heard that a march and demonstration were going to be held at the end of June, going from Christopher Street to Central Park. I mentioned this to my new boyfriend and two of his friends, who were all about 10 or so years older than me and had been gay in New York since the late 1950s. The idea of, in the words of one of them, “fags marching in the streets” made them laugh wildly; they just couldn’t imagine it. So, I dropped the idea, and didn’t go to what turned out to be the first NYC Pride March.
Three years later, in 1973, I was still with the same boyfriend, but I was also involved in a relatively new group, the Gay Academic Union, that had started meeting early in the year, and was very dynamic and exciting. As a group, we decided that we’d participate as a contingent in that year’s March [I’m actually not sure it was called a “Pride March” then]. That year, for the first and perhaps only time, the march didn’t start in Greenwich Village and head north to Central Park. Instead it started at Columbus Circle on the edge of Central Park and marched down Broadway to the Village, where we eventually assembled for a rally in Washington Square Park.
Of the march, mostly I remember a feeling of excitement – getting to Columbus Circle and looking for my group of friends/comrades. The faces I remember from that day, though I know there were more, were Richard Gustafson, Seymour Kleinberg, David Roggensack, and Jonathan Ned Katz, all of whom were active in the GAU. I remember linking arms for part of the way. I remember the thrill of marching in the street down Broadway, through the theater district, and there being crowds, and then the crowds of onlookers shrinking as we got further downtown.
The rally was mind-boggling and I was completely unprepared for the uproar that exploded on the stage in Washington Square Park. Vito Russo was the emcee. I’m not sure about the order in which this happened, but I remember Jean O’Leary, a lesbian feminist activist, speaking very strongly and angrily about drag queens and transvestites and how they were mocking women. And I remember Sylvia Rivera getting up and in an intensely emotional way, defending herself and other drag queens and explaining what their lives were like. She was both crying and screaming. I didn’t quite know what to make of it all – at the time, they both seemed right, but then they seemed to be yelling at each other. At some point, Bette Midler arrived on the stage and started belting out a song, which seemed to shift the tone. It was all very dramatic, and between the march, the rally, and the emotions, I was exhausted by the time I got home.
I went to marches every year after that in New York [except for one year in San Francisco], until I left NY the day after Pride Day, 1983.