Monday, June 28, 2010

Perry Brass: Lost Gay New York: Gay Pride, 2010

Original Marchers in front of the Stonewall Inn, June 27, 2010
(l to r:) Bob Spiegel, Roberto Camp, Rick Landman, Jim Fouratt, Mark Segal, and Perry Brass.
Back right: John Knoebel with the GLF Banner.
(photo courtesy: Mark Segal) 

Yesterday was the Gay Pride Parade in New York, and I marched in a contingent known as the First Marchers. We were men and women who had marched in the first gay pride march on June 28, 1970. The contingent was organized by one of my Gay Liberation Front brothers Rick Landman, who took it upon himself to organize us in last year’s march, the 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, and this year for the 40th Anniversary of the Gay Pride Parade, which started out as the Christopher Street Liberation Day March to remember Stonewall.

We carried two banners: one provided by John Knoebel was a replica of the first banner GLF had carried in the first march; the other banner, provided by Mark Segal, publisher of Philadelphia Gay News, said, it all: “Original Marchers June 28, 1970. Christopher Street Gay Liberation Gay. Gay Liberation Front.”

Marching with this group, and these banners was a total joy. People cheered us and thanked us, and we cheered back and smiled, and sometimes cried remembering all those years between the first march and now, and who was there and who will never be here again.

I remember that first march very well, but remember even better the Gay Liberation Front meeting, in the spring of 1970, when Bob Kohler brought up an idea that had started with Craig Rodwell, the owner of Oscar Wilde Bookstore, to have such a march and to name it for Christopher Street, a street whose associations had become as clear and evident as other New York street names, like Broadway, Wall Street, Seventh Avenue, or Madison Avenue.

Christopher Street meant gay and lesbian, meant being open about this, meant feeling good about yourself when the rest of the world despised and rejected you, meant not letting the cops or the church or your disapproving family control you.

It meant having a new family, as the Gay Liberation Front had been to me.

So we discussed having the march, and it was going to be a “march,” a real political demonstration, confronting the police, showing that we were not afraid of the sunshine, of daylight, of being ourselves, and of coming out.

So suggestions came up:

“We should have signs that tell people who we are and a banner for GLF.”

“We should bring bells and whistles and make noise.”

“We should invite everyone to be there who wants to be there.”

“We should do this every year.”

Then someone said:

“But suppose the bars take it over? Suppose they bring in floats and go-go boys and loudspeakers and all the political messages are drowned out in the usual commercial stuff?”

“Then someone else said,:

“It’ll still be political because we'll be there. We will make sure that the bars don’t take it over. We will make sure that our message is clear and that no one co-opts it.”

So the last week in June was designated Christopher Street Liberation Week, and we organized teach-ins (in those days you had to have teach-ins), rallies (we had some at Washington Square Methodist Church, which had been an epicenter for anti-Viet Nam War activities), and a dance the night before the march at Alternate University on 14th Street near Sixth Avenue. The press came, but hardly the New York press. I remember talking to journalists from Australia and Austria; the Village Voice had minor coverage, and I took notes for Come Out!, the GLF newspaper that I wrote for.

We had the march that Sunday, starting off at Christopher Street and Sixth Avenue, walking up Sixth Avenue to Central Park, where it would end in the Sheep Meadow.

It was amazing. People just came out. Men, women, kids. Not just GLF people, but from the Gay Activists Alliance, and radical once-closeted gays and lesbians who had been hiding inside anti-war and feminists groups, and some just-budding gay church people, and then people who merely thought it was a wonderful, hip, and outrageous thing to do. About 5,000 people came out for this march, which had not been announced in any mainstream papers, but had been in all the radical underground newspapers and media (like WBAI Radio) of the period.

We had volunteer marshals and were orderly, marching up one lane of Sixth Avenue, as cars wizzed past us in other lanes. Hard-hard construction workers stared at us from sidewalks and up in construction sites, some giving us the finger, others shaking their hips like they thought queer boys did. A few sidewalk preachers ranted. We handed out leaflets telling onlookers who we were and what we were doing. Some people started off thinking we were just another anti-war protest until they read the leaflets. Then they stopped and stared in disbelief, like a ton of bricks had been dropped on them.

They couldn’t believe it. This many gay men and lesbians, drag queens and gender-fuckers (gender fuck was an older version of what may now be called “radical trannies”): They couldn’t believe it—for real. In broad daylight. I remember Jerry Hoose shouting, “We’re not in some dark bar anymore. We’re not in the shadows. We’re outside in the daylight. In the streets. Be PROUD!”

We shouted, “Join us! Join us!” to guys we thought were gay. Some smiled, but few joined. We passed the old McBurney Y on 23rd Street and chanted, “Out of the showers and into the streets!”

We shouted: “Two, four, six, eight! Gay is just as good as straight!” or “Smash monogamy, smash the State!” or “End Sexism, End the War!” or “Love our sisters, love ourselves!” Or just: “Gaaay men! Gaaay men!”

We had a great time doing this. I was embarrassed to be shouting things on the streets: I was shy, but loved it, too. We all did. Inside, we loved it.

Then things got a bit dicier as we passed the Sunday-deserted corporate towers of the upper 40s and 50s. Cops started shouting, “Out of the streets NOW!”

The march broke up. We took to the sidewalks—basically empty of people—and began running. Rumors flew: the cops were going to arrest us; they got wind that we had no real permit to be in the streets (untrue: we had a permit); paddy wagons were being hauled out for us. I remember running up Sixth Avenue for about 15 blocks until we reached the park.

We were safe entering the Sheep Meadow.

Then it was fantastic. Nothing had ever happened like this: all you could see were gay people. Thousands. All over the grass—some smoking grass—enjoying the spectacle of ourselves. People brought instruments, played music, but nothing had been planned. No P.A. system was rented. No celebrities. No speeches. We were just there, all of our sisters and brothers, thousands of us. And we were so happy, hugging each other, and forming chains of hands snaking around the area, reforming as chains broke. Lesbians were singing about sisterhood; guys were joking and smoking and talking to their affinity groups (another wonderful term from the period: people you felt close to, because . . . well, just because) or pairing up or making out.

I was with men from my own GLF inner family, my close friends, then I saw a guy I’d known from the bars and streets named Jonathan, tall bearded sweet Southerner who had a thing for lumber jacks and dresssed like one in cut-off jeans and boots. He walked up to me and lifted his arms we started kissing, making out there in the Sheep Meadow, which would have been unheard of only a few hours earlier. We continued for a while, then stopped, and I said good-bye to him. Then I rejoined my GLF brothers and we made plans for what else we would do that afternoon. 

You can learn more about 3-time IPPY Award winner and gay activist Perry Brass at his website, . You can order his new book The Manly Art of Seduction from Amazon in regular paper format or on Kindle. You can also learn more about his books at SmashWords, the complete Internet marketplace for all things EBooks and otherwise, and on his Author Page at Amazon. The Manly Art of Seduction was recently named a gold-medal winner of an IPPY Award for 2010, from Independent Publisher. You can reach him at 


  1. I forgot to mention that at the time of the first Christopher Street Liberation Day March, how old I was: 22. Most of my friends in GLF were in their early to mid-20s. A few were in their 30s and 40s. It was a great time to be young and a part of history.

  2. Well, Perry, you remember this event better than I. I devoured a few tabs of acid on that day. I was supposed to save one for my friend Dianna who had to be stay focused to take pix. I ended up taking hers too. OUT OF THE CLOSETS AND INTO THE STREETS! Took some nerve back then.

  3. I was 19. I'm glad to note that your refer to it as Christopher Street Liberation Day. June 28. Gay Pride is great but this was the day we declared our freedom and equality. Indeed, our Liberation Day! Yay! I seem to remember some 'Sunshine' and swimming in the lake in the park with a lovely man I'd met from Philly...

    I don't think construction workers were there for the March. Unions don't let men do construction on Sundays. I do remember them from other demonstrations though. It seems there was at least one a week for one reason or other (remember Dial a Demonstration?).

  4. Thanks for the history lesson and I am amazed at the courage you folks had.

  5. Perry, I am the only one in the photo for whom you do not list a last name: Bob SPIEGEL. I was 17 years old in June 1969. Thanks.