L.A. Pride: How the World’s First Pride Parade Got Its Start

history board
Part of the CSW Board in 1976: Lower foreground, Sharon Cornelison, president; Terry “Spider” Luton, vice president. On steps, left to right, John Toy, raffles chair; David Schwinkendorf, circus coordinator; Pat Rocco, carnival and circus chair; John Walsh, food concessions chair; Sharon Tobin, secretary; Morris Kight, parade theme chair, and Patricia Underwood, treasurer. The photo was by Steve Fleming, assistant coordinator of carnival lot decor.

With more than 400,000 people descending upon 1.9 square miles, Los Angeles Pride is the largest gathering of LGBT people and allies in Southern California. The parade, which has long been the centerpiece of Pride weekend, was the first of its kind in the world when it began in 1970.

It was fast approaching one year since the Stonewall riots of June, 1969, when Reverend Bob Humphries (United States Mission founder), Morris Kight (Gay Liberation Front founder) and Reverend Troy Perry (Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches founder) gathered to plan a commemoration. They settled on a parade down Hollywood Boulevard. But homosexuality was still illegal in the state of California at the time, so securing a permit from the city was no easy task.

Rev. Perry recalled the Los Angeles Police Chief Edward M. Davis telling him, “As far as I’m concerned, granting a permit to a group of homosexuals to parade down Hollywood Boulevard would be the same as giving a permit to a group of thieves and robbers.” Grudgingly, the Police Commission granted the permit, though there were fees exceeding $1.5 million. After the American Civil Liberties Union stepped in, the commission dropped all its requirements but a $1,500 fee for police service. That, too, was dismissed when the California Superior Court ordered the police to provide protection as they would for any other group.

All that negotiation left the team with only two days to throw together a parade before the June 28th anniversary. In other cities, the anniversary was marked with marches, rallies, and demonstrations, but in Los Angeles, the parade was the display of Pride, complete with a float from The Advocate magazine, loaded with men in swimsuits, and a conservative gay group clad in business suits. Soon, there was talk of making it an annual event. It would become the model for Pride celebrations across the nation.

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1971-2009

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After controversial parade entries in 1971 and 1972, and internal disagreements, the parade went on hiatus in 1973. But it was back in 1974, when pioneering gay filmmaker Pat Rocco came up with the idea for a festival to accompany the parade. The first festival was a carnival with rides, games, food, and information booths held in a Hollywood parking lot at Sunset and Cherokee. But continued LAPD hostility, as well as redevelopment in Hollywood, led Pride to move to what would become the city of West Hollywood in 1984. The parade and festival have found a welcoming home there ever since.

In the 1970s, the focus was largely on sexual liberation. In the 1980s, the community was primarily concerned with empowerment in the face of the emerging HIV/AIDS epidemic. In the 1990s, Pride was a platform for social equality. Marriage equality has been a major issue in the 2000s, along with family and relationship equality.

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2010-2013 and beyond

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In 2010, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa opened the doors to the Getty House, the official mayor’s residence, for the first-ever LA Pride Garden Party. Then, in 2011, he declared June as LGBT Heritage Month in the city of Los Angeles. That year, the Pride parade also included more than 350 students from the Los Angeles Unified School District, the largest youth group contingent ever. The decade has seen increasing diversity in Pride, with the addition of the Latino Carnival and the Purple Party, Friday night’s soiree devoted to women.


8 Comments
  1. That’s cool that the first Pride Parade was on Hollywood Blvd. What was the route? It looks like they’re starting on Hollywood Blvd for the #ResistMarch instead of the LA Pride Parade this year.

    1. Yes, it was cool, but also scary. I remember because I was in it. We started at Grauman’s Chinese Theater and ended at Hollywood and Vine. My ‘husband’ Gary and I owned a black 1963 Lincoln convertible and I drove it in the parade that day. We had the top down with Dr. Rodger Harrison, sitting up on the back with two other church friends. They sat up on the trunk with their feet on the back seat. FYI, Pastor Harrison started the first branch of the MCC Church, with Troy Perry’s blessings, in Costa Mesa, California and was invited to ride on the parade. Gary rode ‘shotgun’ in the right front seat and another church member rode in the middle between us. Rodger is long retired and living in Cathedral City, California near Palm Springs. Church members still have a gathering each year at his home where we eat and sing songs.

  2. I rode in a convertible representing “The Falcons Lair” along with Lucky, the owner; Rodney Sellers, bartender; and three others whose names I can’t recall. I don’t recall being scared nor hearing any incidences of violence. For me as with the 1,000 others, it was a stand worth taking.

  3. My name is Carl Ljungquist and I drove our 1967 Lincoln Convertible in the world’s first gay parade down Hollywood Blvd in June 1970 with my partner Gary Conway. We joined the parade at the request of Roger Harrison, pastor of the MCC church in Costa Mesa, Ca. where we attended services and joined in potluck dinners. There were six of us in the car during the parade. Roger sat in the center rear with two others. We put the retractable top down so they could sit up top with their feet resting on the back seat. Gary rode “shotgun” and I drove. We had another church member between us. Best I can remember we started just west of Grauman’s Chinese Theater and drove east to Hollywood and Vine. We were close to the front of the parade with a ‘barely decorated’ flat bed truck behind topped with guys in varying levels of dress dancing to loud music. Plans for the parade were put together with very short notice so little time was available to prepare. As a result decorations were wanting, to say the least. As I drove I felt more and more uneasy. People on the sidewalks were simply staring at us. I couldn’t tell if they were in support or angry. I realized later they were probably just stunned and staring with disbelief. I recall seeing a short stout man in the doorway of a jewelry store, probably the owners, who appeared, to me, to be holocaust survivors with his arms crossed just staring at me as we passed by. I always wondered what he was thinking. Did he, of all people, understand our hunger for freedom?

  4. Way back then I happened by a yard sale at an old wooden house on McCadden Place (just south of Hollywood Bl) and the gentleman running the sale was Morris Kight. I don’t recall if he mentioned that he lived there however.

  5. New York did have a parade that same day. However, New York was not — that first year– successful in gaining the necessary permit. New York had to march on the sidewalks (and the NY leaders later congratulated LA). Los Angeles took over Hollywood Blvd. Homosexuals gathered on McCadden Place and for the first time in history, they wore their “gay” out loud and proud. They walked north toward Hollywood Blvd. and they had no idea what awaited them. It was quiet. The first parade was very quiet. Oh, it was outlandish, but they were still scared.The police had prepared for a riot. Instead they created a traffic jam and the LAPD proved to the best promotors of the parade (unwittingly, of course).

  6. Not true that L.A. was the first. The same thing happened that Day in New York a few hours earlier. Christopher Street Liberation Day on June 28, 1970 marked the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots with an assembly on Christopher Street and the first Gay Pride march in U.S. history, covering the 51 blocks to Central Park.

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