Published June 22, 2023

Commemorating PRIDE

In this episode, you will learn the history behind the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, which we replicate, in various ways, during PRIDE Month.

And have you ever wondered why we use the word PRIDE to celebrate LGBTQ joy in the first place? Listen in as we explore and celebrate the past, present, and future of PRIDE.

Please note, the primary source content you will hear in this episode captures the language of the time and does not reflect modern terminology.

Commemorating PRIDE

This History UnErased podcast is funded by the New York City Council. It was developed by History UnErased and produced and edited by Dinah Mack; Kathleen Barker; and Deb Fowler. 

You can also find this episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, iHeartRadio, or anywhere you get your podcasts!


Hello, and welcome to UnErasing LGBTQ History and Identities — A Podcast for Teachers. I’m Deb Fowler, executive director of History UnErased.

In Season Two, my colleagues Kathleen Barker and Dinah Mack have introduced you to a few of the characters featured in our Intersections & Connections curriculum and some fascinating - and empowering - backstories. 

In this final episode of Season Two, Kathleen will unpack the history behind the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, which we replicate, in various ways, during PRIDE Month. Please note, the primary source content you will hear in this episode captures the language of the time and does not reflect modern terminology. 

To start us off, here is a quote from the group that has been leading the New York City PRIDE March since 1987. We reached out to them and asked, “Why do you march?” and this was their response:

“For all those we have lost, all we have gained, and for the battles yet to come, we march in mourning, in defiance, in celebration, and in PRIDE.” - Siren’s Motorcycle Club


Kathleen Barker: Do you know why June is PRIDE Month? Have you ever wondered why we use the word PRIDE to celebrate LGBTQ joy in the first place?  Today we often associate PRIDE with parades and celebrations. But how do our current PRIDE celebrations compare with the first PRIDE march? What do PRIDE celebrations look like in other parts of the world? This episode is all about, you guessed it…. PRIDE. Listen in as we explore and celebrate the past, present, and future of PRIDE. 

PRIDE is actually an acronym for Personal Rights through Defense and Education.

It was the name of an organization formed in Los Angeles, California, in 1966 by Steve Ginsburg, who created PRIDE in response to the raid of a gay bar in California. He wanted to harness the energy of young activists, and create a group that was less conservative than many existing organizations. PRIDE worked to provide safe gathering spaces for the LGBTQ community, among other services and activities, and held its meetings, called PRIDE nights, in a local bar. The organization also published a newsletter beginning in 1966 called PRIDE Magazine, which rapidly evolved into the publication The Advocate

While the Stonewall Inn in New York City was the site of one of the most important events in the history of LGBTQ rights, the uprising that took place there in June of 1969 wasn’t the first public pushback against LGBTQ discrimination and harassment.

The Coopers Do-Nuts riot, which took place in Los Angeles in 1959, is considered by historians to be the first LGBTQ uprising in the United States. Coopers Do-nuts was a cafe that was popular with the gay, lesbian, and transgender community. During this riot, protesters threw food and garbage at the police officers who were harassing the shop’s gay and transgender patrons. In 1966, a group of transgender women at Gene Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco pushed back against continued police violence. 

According to the story, tired of the constant harassment, one patron threw a cup of coffee in an officer’s face, which prompted a riot. While this was an important moment of trans resistance, it wasn’t until 2006 that there was a marker at the cafeteria, thanks to the work of a dedicated group of historians. On New Year's Eve 1966, police entered an establishment called the Black Cat Tavern in Los Angeles and began arresting and beating same-sex couples as they rang in the new year with a kiss. In February 1967, over 200 of the Tavern’s patrons marched in a peaceful protest in front of the tavern to shed light on police brutality and harassment. 

Another of the earliest organized demonstrations for LGBTQ rights were the Reminder Day pickets, which took place in Philadelphia in the late 1960s. Thirty-nine individuals gathered in front of Independence Hall on July 4th, 1965, for that first picket, marching quietly in neat, single-file lines, holding signs with messages that emphasized equal treatment under the law, employability, and calling for an end to discrimination. Event organizers Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings required that all participants dress neatly–with men in jackets and ties, and women in dresses–as a tactic to project respectability, and employability - “we look just like you!” In the words of Barbara Gittings, 

Barbara Gittings: “It was sponsored by a group of gay organizations on the east coast and it was done as what we call the Annual Reminder Day on Independence Day, July 4th, to remind the public that there is still a significant minority of Americans who do not benefit from the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It was, there were very few people who really felt comfortable about being in one of these demonstrations because you just didn’t know what the consequence could be whether you might lose your job if your employer saw you on the television news clip or somebody saw you in the street. It was rather scary. If you could believe that the very first gay pickets had maybe ten, fifteen at the most twenty people who could afford to get up in public and do this. And yes, we were apprehensive, but proud.” 

KB: The Reminder Day pickets continued through 1969, but the events that took place on June 28th to July 3rd at the Stonewall Inn, as well as on the nearby streets were about to make history in profound ways. 

When police officers raided the Stonewall Inn early on the morning of June 28, 1969, they had no reason to suspect that their efforts to harass and humiliate the bar’s gay clientele would be met with resistance. But unlike previous raids, the crowd gathered in and around the bar fought back! They refused to disperse as police arrested the Stonewall's employees and patrons. The crowd grew increasingly angry as the morning went on, and their chanting soon transformed into more physical forms of protest: throwing pennies, beer cans, and even a parking meter at police, who were forced to retreat back into the bar. Over the next several nights, hundreds of people gathered outside the Stonewall Inn to protest, chanting slogans like “gay power” and “we shall overcome”. Activists took advantage of the moment to spread information about the growing demand for LGBTQ rights and equality.

The Stonewall uprising had an immediate impact, not just on those who participated, but also on members of the LGBTQ community and their allies around the world, who fought to raise awareness of the discriminatory laws, policies, and cultural practices gay people faced. On July 4, 1969, just one day after the uprising ended, a group of protestors staged what would be the final Reminder Day march in front of Independence Hall. Filmmaker Lilli Vincenz recalled that something about this event was different from previous years, when she remarked: “Normally a small, conservatively dressed and rather sedate group, the marchers - about twice the usual number - now were boisterous, wearing jeans and T-shirts and brimming with excitement about the previous week's events. It was clear that things were changing. People who had felt oppressed now felt empowered. They were ready to insist on their rights rather than just ask for them.”

Commemoration of the historic events at Stonewall began almost immediately. One month after the uprising, on July 27, 1969, a group of activists staged a march from Washington Square Park in the heart of Greenwich Village, to the Stonewall Inn. One year later, marches were held all over the United States. Craig Rodwell, owner of the East Coast’s first gay and lesbian bookstore, the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop, led the effort to organize the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, which took place on June 28, 1970. That morning, more than 2,000 people gathered in front of the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village and marched up Sixth Avenue to Central Park, where the march ended with a “Gay Be-In” in Sheep’s Meadow. 

Similar marches were held on the same weekend in Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, where the marches were called Christopher Street West, a specific reference to the Stonewall’s location at 51-53 Christopher Street.

Herb Selwyn was the driving force behind the Los Angeles March. Selwyn had a long history of supporting the LGBTQ community, beginning with his time in the military in the 1940s. He earned a law degree after World War II, and soon worked with the American Civil Liberties Union (or ACLU) of Southern California, representing two men arrested for lewd conduct at the 1966 Black Cat Tavern raid. In his defense of the men, Selwyn did not deny that his clients were gay. Instead, he asserted the right of equal protection under the law for gay men to kiss in public. In 1970, Selwyn collaborated with the ACLU of Southern California again when Los Angeles Police Commissioners, who issued parade permits, tried to impose financial and other conditions on the organizers of the PRIDE march, such as requiring a $1 million liability insurance policy and payment of a $1,500 fee for police services. Other groups did not have to meet these conditions in order to obtain a parade permit. Calling out this discrimination, Selwyn argued the case before Los Angeles Superior Court just days before Christopher Street West was scheduled to happen. The judge decided in favor of Selwyn and the organizers. Thanks to Selwyn, thousands of marchers and spectators gathered along Hollywood Boulevard on June 28,1970, to participate in L.A.’s first PRIDE March!

Prior to the Stonewall uprising in 1969 there were only a handful of gay groups in America. By the early 1970s there were over 2,000 groups. And that, argued activist Frank Kameny, was the impact of Stonewall. Kameny said, "By the time of Stonewall, we had fifty to sixty groups in the country. A year later there was at least fifteen hundred. By two years later, to the extent that a count could be made, it was twenty-five hundred. And that was the impact of Stonewall." Many gay people who previously contributed to Women's liberation, the Peace Movement, and Black liberation shifted their efforts to Gay liberation; in fact, Trans women of color were at the forefront--and on the frontlines--of this burgeoning social movement.

The impact of Stonewall was felt not just across the United States but across the world.  The first gay pride rally in the United Kingdom took place in London on July 1, 1972.  The first gay pride March was held in Paris that same year. It was organized by the first gay rights organization in France. In Germany, the first documented lgbtq pride march took place in Munster on April 29, 1972, and Berlin hosted its own Christopher Street Day event on June 30, 1979; the title of the event was once again a direct reference to Stonewall’s street address. Likewise, the first march in Switzerland was staged on June 24, 1978, in Zürich, and was called "Christopher Street Liberation Memorial Day.”

Other parts of the world would have to wait a bit longer to host marches and events commemorating Stonewall and the fight for LGBTQ rights. The first such event on the African continent took place in South Africa on October 13, 1990. The first Pride marches in Asia were held in 1994. On June 26, 1994, LGBTQ community groups in the Phillipines organized a protest in Quezon City to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. Tokyo held its first Pride March, the first in Japan, two months later, on August 28, 1994. Beirut Pride, which first took place in 2017, is the first and only LGBTQ pride march in the Arab world.

Regardless of where in the world PRIDE marches and events are held, they often include a diverse range of people and organizations. The Sirens Women’s Motorcycle Club is the oldest, largest women’s motorcycle club in New York City. Founded in 1986, its current membership is over 70 women, trans women, and non-binary individuals. The Sirens have been leading the New York Gay Pride March since 1987 … with one exception. In 2022, the Sirens yielded their spot at the head of the march to Planned Parenthood, in solidarity with the organization and in protest of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. 

What organizations are represented in a PRIDE event near you?

Today, many places across the globe celebrate PRIDE month. From Copenhagen to Buenos Aires, and Paris to Taipei …

Yet we must not forget that PRIDE is in peril in many parts of the world, and sometimes even in our own backyard…

While same sex relationships were already illegal in Uganda, the Anti-Homosexuality Act passed in May 2023 created extremely harsh penalties for LGBTQ people. The bill calls for life in prison for Ugandans who engage in same-sex sexual acts, and 10 years in prison for those who attempt to have same-sex sexual relationships. Anyone even advocating homosexuality can be sentenced to 20 years in prison. 

Closer to home…Across the United States, state and local legislators have introduced hundreds of bills that call for harsh punishments for those who provide gender affirming care, give educators the right to override students’ pronouns, make drag shows felony offenses, ban books that validate diverse gender identities, and prevent trans individuals from receiving even basic legal recognition. According to the 2023 Trans Legislation Tracker, at the time of our podcast writing, there are currently 556 anti-trans bills in 49 states. 82 have passed, 369 are active, but 105 have failed. 

Since the inception of PRIDE, Personal Rights through Defense and Education, we have witnessed many reasons to celebrate as we commemorate Stonewall. But…the commemorations started as a march, and we’re still marching today. In the words of the Sirens Motorcycle Club: For all those we have lost, all we have gained, and for the battles yet to come, we march in mourning, in defiance, in celebration, and in PRIDE

It started as a march … we’re still marching.

Why are YOU marching?

The Stonewall Inn was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999, designated a National Historic Landmark in the year 2000, and on June 24th, 2016, Stonewall became the first United States National Monument dedicated to LGBTQ rights and history.

DF: Kathleen Barker is History UnErased’s program director and is a library and information specialist and public historian with 20 years of experience as a museum and library educator. 

This podcast is funded by the New York City Council. It was developed by History UnErased and produced and edited by Dinah Mack, History UnErased’s youth equity program director.

Our theme music is “1986” by BrothaD via Tribe of Noise. 

I’m Deb Fowler. Thanks for listening.