by Tommi Avicolli Mecca
Once upon a time and long ago in a place not far away, pride used to be called “Gay Pride” and it wasn’t a whole month, it was a day, a very special day to commemorate a riot that happened during the last weekend of June in a city called New York.
Queens and fags and dykes rebelled on that long hot night. When the cops didn’t get their regular payoff from the Stonewall Inn in the West Village, they raided the place, but the queens and their friends pelted them with coins and stones and stuff and made them know that business as usual was coming to an end.
It wasn’t the first time queens had acted up and caused a scene. They did it a decade before in Los Angeles (Cooper’s Donuts), then in Philly (Dewey’s, 1965) and finally San Francisco (Compton’s, 1966). But that night in June a revolution was born, a queer revolution that spread throughout the country like wildfire. Its name was Gay Liberation and its first manifestation was the Gay Liberation Front.
It wasn’t surprising. Oppressed groups had already begun their own revolutions: Blacks, Latinos, women, hippies, farmworkers, students and others were chanting a line from a movie that hadn’t been made yet: we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.
A few months after the Stonewall Riot, folks from various gay and homophile groups gathered, as they occasionally did (after all, there was a movement before Stonewall), and decided to replace their annual Fourth of July picket around Independence Hall in Philly (which had a strict dress code: men in suits and ties, women in dresses, and no transgender folks allowed) with a march to commemorate this monumental event. Thus began what we now call pride.
That first march was a rowdy affair, with no dress or gender restrictions. It was nothing like the slick production that happens these days, especially in places such as San Francisco. No top name entertainers, no glad-handing politicians, no million dollar budgets (only the $150 collected at that drag benefit that helped get some flyers and posters printed).
And no corporate sponsors. No liquors companies or banks or real estate companies put their names in the pride guide or gave money to underwrite the event. There was no pride guide.
No police contingents, gay Republican clubs, or church congregations joined us in those first marches. Just a lot of queens and fags and dykes with long hair, jeans and sneakers and makeup and feather boas and such. Folk songs (played by genuine folk singers) and poetry was featured on the stage, along with fiery speeches from activists who knew how to kick oppressor butts (when we weren’t invading the offices of publications that printed anti-gay articles, we were zapping homophobic politicians, or even disrupting the CBS news broadcast with Walter Cronkite).
We weren’t asking for marriage, military service or a house in the suburbs with a lavender picket fence and 2.8 kids. Our demands were fierce and in keeping with the times, such as an end to the Vietnam War, capitalism and the oppression of all oppressed groups. We were out to change the world, not the decor at the White House.
I really miss those marches.