The Two Radical Lesbians and Two Gay Men Who Started Pride

So often, “Gay Pride” becomes synonymous with gay men. But the truth is that Pride was founded by two gay men and two lesbians looking to honor the entire community who fought for liberation before, during and after the Stonewall riots. The plan was for a 51-block march to be held on the one-year anniversary of the night gays and lesbians fought back against a violent but sadly routine police raid.

Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. “Ellen Broidy (also known as Ellen Bedoz), with “Lavender Menace” t-shirt, Dolores Bargowski (in the middle, with t-shirt) and Rita Mae Brown (in uniform), march in the Christopher Street Liberation Day march, 1970″ Photo courtesy of The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1970. 

Ellen Broidy was in her early 20s when she and her then-partner Linda Rhodes were involved with New York University’s Lesbian and the Gay Student Union. Together, they joined gay activist Craig Rodwell and his partner Fred Sargeant to hold the first-ever gay Pride parade in 1970. They took the proposal to the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations in Philadelphia that November, Ellen presenting the following:

That the Annual Reminder, in order to be more relevant, reach a greater number of people, and encompass the ideas and ideals of the larger struggle in which we are engaged-that of our fundamental human rights-be moved both in time and location.

We propose that a demonstration be held annually on the last Saturday in June in New York City to commemorate the 1969 spontaneous demonstrations on Christopher Street and this demonstration be called CHRISTOPHER STREET LIBERATION DAY. No dress or age regulations shall be made for this demonstration.

We also propose that we contact Homophile organizations throughout the country and suggest that they hold parallel demonstrations on that day. We propose a nationwide show of support.

The voters were unanimous in support, although notably, the Mattachine Society abstained. (Fred Seargent would later write that the older more conservative members of the group did not want us drawing attention to ourselves. This part of history with the old guard taking on the new revolutionaries is quite fascinating and not so different from today.) Ellen, Linda, Craig and Fred returned to New York to make plans for the remembrance of the Stonewall Riots, calling themselves the Christopher Street Liberation Day Umbrella Committee (CSLDUC).

Brenda Howard of the Gay Liberation Front and Judy Miller were also integral in helping to find donations and organize the first-ever Pride parade, which was a daunting but inevitably rewarding task. Brenda, who identified as bisexual, is now often referred to as “The Mother of Pride” for all of her coordinating efforts in Pride’s beginnings, and for being one of the first to refer to the events as “Pride.”

“You needed some kind of help organizing some type of protest or something in social justice? All you had to do was call her and she’ll just say when and where,” Brenda’s late partner Larry Nelson told The Advocate in 2014.

That same weekend, a “gay-in” was held in San Francisco. Los Angeles had a march of its own, though initially asked to pay $1.5 million in fees for permits, later getting help from the American Civil Liberties Union to march freely, peacefully and for only $1500 to secure police for the event promoting liberation from homophobic authorities and law enforcement, an irony certainly not lost on all who attended.

“It was a good time to kid ourselves that there was going to be a revolution,” Ellen Broidy told Out Front in 2011. “We didn’t control our own spaces. They were controlled by the mafia and could be raided at will. There were all kinds of reasons you could lose your job, your housing, or even your child–everything the younger generation of Glee and Ellen may take for granted.”

As more cities began to celebrate in coming years, it wasn’t until the 1980s when the events became collectively known as “Pride.” Up until then, it was variations of Gay Liberation Marches, Gay Freedom Marches or Gay Liberation/Gay Freedom Day.

What Ellen remembers of the first parade was that it “looked wonderfully home-grown and handmade. We were screaming, ‘Join us! Join us!’ and people were coming off the sidewalks and joining.”

While that may be how some Pride celebrations look in smaller areas of the United States, many Pride parades have turned into fantastical displays, which some feel has shifted the awareness from a demonstration of our struggle to an all-out party. Perhaps that’s why Ellen said in that interview she hasn’t been to a Pride parade in several years.

“I think it has a different meaning. A large portion of the things the community thinks are important are still not available,” she said. “It’s not my revolution anymore, and I’m smart enough to know it’s no longer my time. Even if it were 40,000 people dressed like Lady Gaga, that’s what needs to happen. … We were heavily into smashing the patriarchal, warmongering, racist state. Now we’ve kind of embraced the state.”

Ellen, who is now married to her wife, another well-known activist and writer Joan Ariel, was also part of The Lavender Menace group of lesbians who fought for inclusion in feminist spaces like the National Organization for Women who sought to keep lesbians out. The Lavender Menace (also known as Radicalesbians) manifesto, “The Woman-Identified Woman,” was integral to the push for heterosexual women to let gay women be a part of the feminist movement.

The work of these women in gay and lesbian history can often get lost in the colorful fun of Pride, but it’s important to know why and how we are celebrating every June, and whom we have to thank for it. Thank you, Ellen, Linda, Judy, Brenda and the others who we owe so much to.

If you’re looking to know more about these women or some of their work, I highly suggest David Carter‘s Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution, the 2015 documentary She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry and reading Karla Jay‘s memoir Tales of the Lavender Menace.