PRIDE WAS A PROTEST
CREATING PRIDE IN LOS ANGELES AND NEW YORK CITY
Throughout the United States, whether on the East or West coast, various people were getting together to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people. In this oral history, we see the varied perspectives, arguments, as well as the shared experiences found between influential figures in the movement who were crucial to the organization of the first Pride Marches in Los Angeles and New York City and the greater fight for civil rights.
Cast of Characters
Martha Shelley started with the Daughters of Bilitis, a lesbian assimilation group. She was too radical for the Daughters of Bilitis and went on to co-found the Gay Liberation Front in New York, the pioneering activist group formed in the aftermath of the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion. She also participated in the now-famous Lavender Menace Zap at the Second Congress to Unite Women because they refused to have out lesbians on their panels.
Perry Brass was an early member of the New York Gay Liberation Front and co-edited their magazine Come Out!. He co-founded the first gay health clinic on the East Coast, which has since transitioned into Callen-Lorde, a healthcare network LGBTQ people that provides services to over 18,000 people annually.
Ellen Broidy, from New York, proposed having an annual Pride March in New York City at the 1970 Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations. She also participated in the Lavender Menace Zap.
Dr. Donald Kilhefner was an early member of the Los Angeles Gay Liberation Front. He co-founded the LA LGBT Center, the largest center globally with 800 employees and a $172 million annual operating budget. He went on to co-found the Radical Faeries, an international network dedicated to exploring queer consciousness.
Reverend Troy Perry founded the Metropolitan Community Church in 1968. The Metropolitan Community Church is the largest LGBTQ-friendly church globally, with 222 member congregations spanning 37 countries on every continent but Antarctica. He was an early celebrator of gay marriage.
August Bernadicou: What does the first wave of Gay Liberation represent to you all? Maybe you can start, Dr. Don.
Dr. Donald Khilhefner: You have to remember that Gay Liberation was a revolution. It wasn't an event, it wasn’t a party, it was a revolution. The revolution was that gay people were fighting back for the first time. Until that time, the homophile effort throughout the country was an emancipation movement saying, "Give us our freedom. We're just like you. Accept us. Accept us."
Gay Liberation changed the methodology. We emphasized self-acceptance, fighting back, and creating community. That, for gay people, was a revolutionary act, a revolutionary event. Troy Perry creating a gay-friendly church was a revolutionary act. We have to remember that the time we're talking about today, 1969, 1970, and 1971 was a period of revolution for gay people, and this revolution is still needed today.
Rev. Troy Perry: I agree with Don. One of the biggest things that happened to me was holding demonstrations in LA before Stonewall. I had tried to go to some of the homophile groups, but I didn't fit in. I was too young for them at that time. I noticed nobody used their real name. My real name is Troy Perry. I didn’t want to change into somebody I'm not. I was called to start leading demonstrations. One of the first things that happened in LA was a young gay brother was beaten to death by our police department at the old Dover Hotel, where men went to have impersonal sex. When I went to the trial, I listened to the police talk about how they beat this young man to death, and then the jury justified it.
Within three months of that, a young, transgender, African American man, Larry Turner, was murdered by the police. I went to his church and funeral, and I made sure they knew that I was a gay man and that I was there. I was very thankful his family took up for him. Those were revolutionary acts. As Don said early on, you could be murdered for standing up for yourself, whether in New York, Los Angeles, or anywhere else in this country.
Ellen Broidy: When I reflect on the earlier days of Gay Liberation, I'm proud, I'm elated, and I'm also somewhat embarrassed about my previous thoughts on the homophile movement, which came before us. The homophile movement that Dr. Don talked briefly about was reformist. It was not revolutionary, but the older I get and perhaps the farther away from it I get, I realize how much we owe to people like Barbara Gittings and Frank Kameny. We literally are standing on their shoulders. My hope for the future is that the people in the vanguard of this revolutionary movement now will turn around and wave and acknowledge us in a way that I personally did not do to people to whom I believe we owe an enormous debt of gratitude.
Perry Brass: Wow. Ellen, that's so perfectly true. Part of the instance of being revolutionaries is, unfortunately, not honoring the people who came before us because we had to create a world of our own. What I wanted to talk about—we're talking about how Pride was a protest, and I've been thinking about that, and I realize that it was even more than a protest. It was an act of complete defiance. That first march, the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, was such an act of defiance. What we were defying was our fear. People cannot imagine basically 2,000 years of fear of us.
I was told all kinds of things that would happen to me if I got involved with Gay Liberation. I was told I'd never be able to get a job, I'd never be able to teach at a public school, I'd never be able to have any employment involving the US government, I would not be able even to rent an apartment. For so many of us, these fears were so traumatizing, and yet, still defiantly, we did that first march, and we stayed at it for years later.
Now, it's tough for young people to understand that level of defiance. There may be some protests, some self-revelations, good times involved with Pride Month, but to understand how important that defiance was—I think we still need to have some of that defiance now. There is still certainly, within the gay community, the LGBT community, there's still a need for defiance, there's still a need to counteract the conformity that corporations push us into, that our own society pushes us into, that I see more and more. I will say this, and I've said it for a very long time, as much as I do love what goes on every year with the Gay Pride Parade and the Take Back Pride Parade, I would give all of it if people just smiled at each other more or just were kinder to each other more, just recognized each other more, just recognized that we are brothers and sisters. I would love that. That's the defiance I want.
Martha Shelley: I've been marching against the Vietnam War since 1963 and was involved with stuff like that. Another thing is we had a march prior to that 1970 Christopher Street Liberation Day March. That was one that I organized. It was 400 people, and it happened exactly one month after Stonewall.
For those people who showed up, it was the first time for many of them that they were out in public, out in the sunshine letting the world know that they were gay and standing up. It took a lot of courage for all of us who were there, all 400 of us, to show up and do that. That became larger and larger and larger through the efforts of the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activist Alliance. There were thousands of people there in 1970.
August Bernadicou: Can you talk about going from the Daughters of Bilitis to co-founding the Gay Liberation Front?
Martha Shelley: I was bored with the Daughters of Bilitis. We would have these meetings, and there would be a lesbian couple from New Jersey who would show up and tell us how to make our lesbian marriage work as if all we wanted was a little house in the suburbs with a white picket fence. Then, a woman psychologist came to tell us that we weren't crazy.
I wasn't worried about losing my job. I had one lousy secretarial job after another, and I always figured I could get another one. I had become the public spokesperson for the Daughters of Bilitis because I was the only one in the organization who was willing to go out there and be on radio, TV, etc. I was already the radical in that group, except for this other woman who had been a communist in Europe for many years. Nobody knew that except one other person and me.
When the Stonewall Riots happened, I called the woman who was head of the Daughters of Bilitis who was running things from behind the scenes and was not out in public because she was afraid to lose her computer job and said, "We have to have a protest march." She said, call Dick Leitsch, head of Mattachine Society, and if Mattachine agrees, we'll have a protest march. I called Dick Leitsch, and he told me to come to a big meeting that they were having.
I did propose the protest march, and all of the members agreed. A few of us got together and had a meeting at Mattachine Society headquarters in part to talk about how to organize it. We put an ad in the paper to let people know, and so on. My job was to call the police and ask if we needed a permit. I hated that part. I didn't tell them what the permit was for, but they said we didn’t need one unless we had a sound system. We didn't need a sound system. We didn't expect thousands and thousands of people. At that first meeting, the name “Gay Liberation Front” came up. I haven't the faintest idea who said those words, but I started yelling, "That's it, that's it. We're the Gay Liberation Front!" We called ourselves that, and we became that. The radicals who were in the gay movement, who were being told to keep their radicalism quiet because we all should want to assimilate, joined us. We all came together.
Video interviews featuring Dr. Don Kilhefner, Reverend Troy Perry and Ellen Broidy from Some of Your Best Friend by Ken Robinson, 1972.
August Bernadicou: Reverend Troy Perry, can you talk about the marches before Stonewall that you mentioned? How were you able to combine Christianity with Gay Liberation and fighting in the streets?
Rev. Troy Perry: It was very easy for me. When I founded Metropolitan Community Church—I always tell people—the short story is I tried to kill myself. I tried to commit suicide. I cut my wrists and went to County General Hospital. The night I was there, I really prayed for the first time in a long time. I said, "I know you're not going to hear this prayer, God. I know you hate me. The church has told me that repeatedly, but here I am." The next day, I felt what I'd felt the night before, which was very good. Immediately, all at once, as we call it in our church, I had a revelation. I tell people that I argued with God and said to God, "You can't love me. I'm a gay man; that hasn't changed."
I say that God spoke to me in a still, small voice and said to me, "Troy, don't tell me what I can and can't do. I love you. You're my son. I don't have stepsons and daughters." With that, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I could be a Christian and a gay person. I immediately started planning. I tried to go to a church. The first Sunday, everything went well. The second Sunday, "Are you married?" "Well, we're getting a divorce.” “Well, I'm a homosexual." They threw me out of the group immediately. They didn't want me to come back again.
I was dating a young man in Huntington Park, California. His name was Tony Valdez. Tony and I went down to the only dance bar in LA County, or, pardon me, in LA City, called the Patch. My date said something funny, and my friend, Bill Hastings, said something funnier. With that, Bill reached over and slapped Tony on the rump. We all know what happened after it happened. They were both arrested for lewd and lascivious conduct.
This was a first for me being around—I knew how bad my gay friends had told me that the police were, but to actually see it. This event, actually, in some ways, sparked my church. When we went to the police station, Lee Glaze, who owned the bar, walked in with flowers. There were about 12 of us with him. He walked up to the police behind the counter and said, "We're here to get our sisters out of jail." The cop behind the counter said, "What’re your sisters’ name?" He said, "Tony Valdez and Bill Hastings." We scared the cop, and he called for backup. That taught me a lesson right then. You don't have to be afraid of the police department. Stand up for what you really believe—we got mad.
I took Tony back to my house. He was very upset and crying and said that one of the cops kept talking about his homosexuality in Spanish and told him they would call his parents and tell them all about his homosexuality, that they would call his employer. I said, "Oh, they're just trying to bluff you. They're not going to do that." Well, they did.
Immediately, I said, "Tony, look, even if I am not convinced that people care, I'm convinced God cares." Tony laughed in my face and said, "Troy, God doesn't care about me. When I was 15 years old, I went to my priest and told him how I felt. He ordered me out of Catholic Sunday School. He asked me not to come back." He continued, "No, Troy, God doesn't care about me. Would you take me home?"
After I had taken him home and came back, I said, okay, God, you called me to preach when I was 13 years old. I was licensed to preach in the Southern Baptist Church at age 15. I went to my Pentecostal pastor when I was 18 and told him about these funny feelings I was having. Immediately, after about an hour, he said, "Oh, I know what you're trying to tell me. You just need to marry a good woman, and that'll take care of that problem." Well, when I married his daughter, it wasn't so funny five years and two kids later when we went through the divorce procedure; but, on October the 6th, 1968, 12 people showed up in the living room of my home—nine friends, three strangers. After the church service was over, the treasurer of my church said to me, "Troy, you preach like there were a thousand people in church this morning." I said, "There will be." A year and a half later, we ran over a thousand in attendance in our worship services.
We've all got to stand up. We've all got to do this. I thought everybody would want to demonstrate with me. Finally, someone said, "Well, we could die; somebody could kill us." I said, "Yes, but we don't believe this life is the end as Christians. To be absent from this body, as the Apostle Paul said, is to be present with the Lord.” If they kill you or me, others will stand up and move forward, and we'll win our freedom. That's the way I handled it in those early days.
August Bernadicou: Perry and Dr. Don, do you mind talking about how you got involved with the Gay Liberation Front in New York and Los Angeles?
Perry Brass: I got involved because I had been going to the dances at Alternate U. I was extremely apolitical up to that point. I decided to go to my first GLF meeting in early November of '69, shortly after my 22nd birthday. I felt like everyone there was talking in another language. They were talking about things like patriarchy, sexism, male chauvinism, all of these terms that I had no idea about.
Then suddenly, Bob Koehler, who was like the elder statesman of GLF—I was 22, and Bob was 44—got up and said, "Sisters and brothers." Sisters and brothers, in GLF, we always had women first. We thought that women were more oppressed than men. It was always women and men, sisters and brothers. I thought, "This is it. This is the family I've always wanted." I couldn't dive in deep enough. For the next three years, GLF took up my life. I was going to—as any GLF person would tell you, you end up going to four or five meetings a week, and then you do the work during the daytime.
It really changed my life, and we changed the world. My biggest question at that point, and I think that Martha even stated it, was why wasn't everybody in GLF? Why wasn't every damn queer person in New York in GLF? It took me about 30 or 40 years to answer that question, to realize that there was too much for them to protect, for people to protect. There was too much fear that I talked about—defiance and fear, there's still too much fear.
The number of people involved with the LGBTQ movement, as we call it now, we just called it the gay movement—the number of people involved with our movement compared to the whole population is still very small. To me, not being involved with GLF was completely unquestionable. There was no question about it. There was no way that I could not do it.
August Bernadicou: Go ahead, Dr. Don, please.
Dr. Donald Khilhefner: Yes. First, I'd like to respond to something Ellen said, where she mentioned standing on the shoulders of the homophiles. We have to remember that the homophiles were a very conservative manifestation operating basically between 1953 and 1969—most of their leaders were Republicans. They did not believe—challenge the structure as it was. We have to accept what we have here, and we have to adjust to it. I have respect for the homophiles, I knew most of the leaders in Los Angeles, but we also have to go back further than the homophiles to the Mattachine Society, 1951 to 1953 in Los Angeles.
The Mattachine Society was started by Harry Hay and other activists. It’s part of our heritage as gay, lesbian, and trans people that we come from a radical beginning. We have to remember that Gay Liberation was not a tea party, it was a radical social change movement. Changing it into anything else is a distortion of history. I don't need to tell that to these people here, they already know that, but I think many, many gay people do not and must know that their roots with the Mattachine Society was a radical beginning.
The seven men who created the Mattachine Society were what we would today call progressive people. If anybody is interested in this history, I wrote an essay called Understanding Gay and Lesbian History in Los Angeles. If you go to the laprogressive.com archives, you'll be able to find that article where it discusses this in more detail, but the homophile movement was basically an assimilation into the conservative movement. Now, what was the question you asked me about this?
August Bernadicou: How did you get involved with the GLF?
Dr. Donald Khilhefner: I was a doctoral student at UCLA at the time there, getting a doctorate in African and Islamic History. I was involved with the Peace and Freedom Party here in California, a grassroots, progressive, political movement. When I heard about Stonewall, all of a sudden, it was like, "Oh, my God.” I could not find radical gay people who were organizing. They just didn't seem to exist, and suddenly, with police cars overturned, stones thrown, and windows broken, I thought, "Oh, my God, we're fighting back."
Immediately, I sought out the Gay Liberation Front in Los Angeles. It was founded by Morris Kight, who is an important figure in gay history in Los Angeles and nationally. Both Morris and Harry Hay were my teachers. I went to my first meeting, and I was struck by the political consciousness there. I walked in the door, and Morris talked about the sorts of the age-old questions, and I thought, "Ah, I'm home."
I attended a few more meetings, and then I began as an organizer, which I was with the Peace and Freedom Party. I began to see that there were problems. Every week in 1969, we moved to a different location, so I found us an office on Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles. We had an office, a phone, a sign, and a place for meetings for the first time. The Gay Liberation Front in Los Angeles grew from a handful of people to a room full of people to a street full of people. That was my involvement in early 1969.
August Bernadicou: Let's go to Pride now. Ellen, can you talk about proposing the idea at the Eastern Conference of Homophile Organizations and the response to having an annual Pride March in New York City?
Ellen Broidy: Yes, certainly, but I actually want to respond to a combination of things that Don and Perry said. As Dr. Don was speaking, I reflected on how geographically large and diverse the United States is because, going back to my point about standing on the shoulders of the people in the homophile movement, I thought they were extraordinarily brave, even though they were conservatively dressed—men wearing suits and ties, women wearing dresses. Every year, they would have a demonstration in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. To take a phrase from Martha, they would do this in the daylight. Yes, they may have had conservative, reformist politics; still, they were out there in a way that made a statement, and I think the statement was important.
In terms of the first march—I was not in the city when Stonewall happened. Oddly enough, I was on Fire Island with several women in the Daughters of Bilitis, Barbara Gittings, Kay Tobin, and Stonewall happened on that weekend. That Monday morning, the ferryboat, F-E-R-R-Y, from Fire Island to the mainland, to Long Island to get back into the city, felt so incredibly different. We didn't have the internet, YouTube, and Instagram. We had telephones. By the time Monday morning rolled around, hundreds of people knew that Stonewall had happened, and the ride on that boat back to Sayville just felt different. People felt like they were going to be seen in some way, shape, or form.
I went to the Gay Liberation Front maybe in September. Before that, I had been chair, I think we called it President even, of the NYU Student Homophile League. Later, it became NYU Gay Students Liberation. In that capacity, I was a delegate at the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations, which was being held in Philadelphia in November 1969. The night before the conference, my then partner Linda Rhodes and I were at dinner with Craig Rodwell, the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop’s founder, and his partner, Fred Sargeant. Anytime we got together, the conversation always turned to what was going on in the gay/homophile movement. We talked about ways that things might move forward.
There was almost an energy. The more we talked, the more it became apparent that we could use the meeting in Philadelphia to discuss the direction we thought the homophile or gay movement should take. We wrote a statement to change the annual Independence Hall demonstration into a full-blown march, honoring what had happened at Stonewall and what we hoped would happen moving forward. I've often described this as being absolutely at the right place at the right time.
I presented the proposal at the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations because Craig, who I absolutely adored, was a lightning rod. There were groups of people who were not particularly fond of him, and our concern was that they would look at the messenger and not hear the message.
It was freezing cold in Philadelphia that day and raining. 23 years old, not exactly loving public speaking, I stood up in the middle of the circle and made the original proposal. There was a vote. Everybody voted in favor of it, all the organizations, except for the New York Mattachine Society—the New York Mattachine, actually abstained from that vote, but we did take it forward from there. The Christopher Street Liberation Day committee was formed, and the rest is history. I wasn't scared in the least. We did our work. As Perry said, we went to four or five meetings a week. It hit me on the day of the march, what we had actually accomplished, and for the first 20 minutes, I debated with myself, am I going to walk down this block to participate in something that I had a role in participating, excuse me, in creating. I'm awfully glad that I did.
Perry Brass: I have a question, Ellen. Why do you think the Mattachine abstained?
Ellen Broidy: Well, most of the people are no longer with us, so I can probably say this now. I suspect it was in a reaction to Craig that there were—
Perry Brass: He had been in Mattachine.
Ellen Broidy: What?
Perry Brass: That Craig had been in Mattachine.
Ellen Broidy: Yes, he and Dick Leitsch and Randy Wicker did the—
Perry Brass: The Sip-In.
Ellen Broidy: Sit-ins at Julius's and other places.
Perry Brass: Yes, the Sip-In, what they call the Sip-in.
Ellen Broidy: Yes, the Sip-In, but there was tension, and I think Mattachine felt that we were being too radical. We were stepping out of line somehow, and I think somebody even said it would set us back rather than move us forward. Nobody felt a 23-year-old who had been in the anti-war movement in SDS at NYU—
Perry Brass: This might have been through Dick Leitsch.
Ellen Broidy: I suspect that it was.
Perry Brass: Yes. I think that Dick, with all due respect to him, and Dick and I became really close later, but when I was in GLF, we used to call him Pig Leitsch, remember? We were terribly against Dick Leitsch, terribly against Jack Nichols, who also became one of my closest friends. I always said about Jack Nichols that he was the closest thing to a gay man of destiny. Dick felt like he had been for a while—Dick was the only "open homosexual in America." That was his distinction. It was Dick Leitsch and Allen Ginsberg. I think Dick felt like he had more coming to himself, and GLF, and people like us, would just push him out of the way. I'm sure he felt resentful about that.
Ellen Broidy: I think he did, and I think it was in reaction to not so much to what was going to happen, but perhaps what was going to happen to him.
Perry Brass: I was at the meeting where the GLF discussed having the march, and I'm pretty sure that Craig Rodwell came and spoke to Bob Kohler. What was interesting about that meeting was that several women in GLF were very much against the march.
I think, now, Ellen may be able to correct me, but I think Linda Rhodes was one of them, and Ellen Shumsky was another. Their objection was that the bars would quickly take over the march and have floats and gogo boys. Bob Kohler and other GLF men decided that this would never happen because we would control the march. It did happen later on that we did end up with bars and gogo boys.
Ellen Broidy: It certainly wasn't Linda because Linda was one of the four people who put together the original proposal. It would surprise me if it were Ellen Shumsky. However, there might have been people concerned because I still struggled with the sexism and male supremacy within the Gay Liberation Front. These were legitimate concerns, but they did not keep us out of the street.
Northwestern University gay, anti-vietnam war delegation, 1970s.
August Bernadicou: Reverend Troy Perry, you, with Morris Kight, who both you and Dr. Don talked about, and Reverend Bob Humphreys were the three movers recognized for organizing Pride in LA. Can you talk about how you all came together to create that? Maybe some of the hurdles you faced from the city of Los Angeles. Then after that, Dr. Don, can you talk about the Gay Liberation Front's involvement with the organization of Pride?
Rev. Troy Perry: It was very, very interesting. Morris called me and told me—he also spoke like Perry just said, everybody was brother or sister. He called me Brother Troy. He said, "We want to come over to your place and talk to you. I've got a letter from New York City that I want to talk to you about." He and Bob Humphreys came over, we started talking, and he said, "Do you remember what happened in New York last year?" I said, "Yes, I read the article in the Advocate.” There was just something about that article that I loved, that people had fought back.
Morris said, "Well, I've received this letter from New York City,” and continued, "let’s hold a demonstration." I said, "Morris, no, we don't want to do that. We've done those. Let’s do something a little different. Let's hold a parade. This is Hollywood. My God, we have the Christmas Parade, we have the Rose Bowl Parade.”
Saying let’s have a parade and doing it were two different things. We had a discussion. We decided to call and find out what it took to hold a parade in LA. Just as the sister said if you had sound equipment—not true in LA. They wanted to make it rough here.
Immediately, we made phone calls. They told us that we would have to come and appear in front of the police commission. They were in charge of giving people permission to hold a parade in Los Angeles. We went down to the police commission and filled out the paperwork. It was in the name of Metropolitan Community Church. We thought that would be easier. Our church was non-profit, so we thought, okay, we will work around this.
Once we arrived, it was very—someone said to me, "If you don't need to, don't use the word homosexual or gay." I said, "Well, I won't unless they start," and they started very quickly. It was very obvious to me they knew who we were. Finally, after about 30 minutes of browbeating me, they asked, "Who do you represent?" I said, "We represent the homosexual community of Los Angeles."
Well, you would've thought I shot them in the face. They were so upset, they didn't know what to do—the fact that I actually had the guts to say that. With that, the chief of police, Edward M. Davis, immediately told the commission, "If you're going to let these—I'd prefer having thieves and burglars march down Hollywood Boulevard than to have this group."
Then, they started making fun of us. That didn't work. We were not leaving, not until we knew the verdict. Finally, they said, "We want you all to leave. We're going to give you a chance to talk among yourselves. If you'll be back in an hour and a half, that'll give you time to have lunch and be back." That's exactly what we did. While we were sitting at lunch, Morris spoke up and said, "I don't trust them. We better get off our asses and get back in there. They'll hold the meeting, then announce we didn't show up on time. That's the end of it.”
We went in, and sure enough, they were in the room laughing it up. "Okay, you can hold your parade if you do this. You're going to have to put up a bond of $1 million to pay the businesses that will have their windows broken out when people throw bricks and rocks at y'all. Number two, you're going to put up a cash bond of a half-million dollars to pay the police overtime who are there to protect you, and you've got to have at least 5,000 people marching." We thanked them profusely and left the meeting. We knew there was no way in the world we could come up with that kind of money for the City of Los Angeles.
We immediately returned, and Morris, who was very bright, said, "Let's call the ACLU." He used them many times, and he called them and said, "This is Morris Kight. We need an attorney," and they assigned Herb Selwyn, one of the best attorneys in the City of LA who also took progressive cases.
He called us on Monday morning, met with us, and said, "I'm calling the police commission. We're going to be back down there this coming Friday. We all need to go down there." We went back on Friday. He said to them, "The city charter says we've got to appear before you twice before we can sue you. This is number two. I want you to know now that this is ridiculous," and he talked to them.
Well, they asked us to leave again, but it took 15 minutes this time. Then, we came back in, and they said, "Okay, we've dropped the 5,000 people marching, but you have to put up the two bonds." Herb thanked them profusely. We left, and he said, "We'll be in court on Friday.”
On that Friday, the judge listened to our side of the case, and he listened to the police commission. He banged his gavel and said, "These people don't have to put up any bonds. They're citizens of this city. They pay taxes like everybody else. I don't care if you have to call out the National Guard. You're going to protect these people." My God, that Sunday morning when we got there, my biggest fear was that no one would come. That really bothered me. I kept thinking, "Will anybody come to watch the parade? Will anybody be in the parade?" because we really had three days to plan the parade.
We honestly thought we would lose, and we didn't have a parade planned. With that, we started calling every gay and lesbian organization in Southern California, which wasn't many, and said, we got to start getting ready now. We've won, and we've got to have this parade together. We made sure everybody knew. We wanted people who wanted to demonstrate in the parade and wanted people who wanted a lot of joy in the parade. We didn't care.
I can tell you that we didn't get people in suits and ties in that first parade. We had all kinds of floats. We had a pet section. We told people, bring your pets and march with them, and people did. A picture of the young man walking his Alaskan husky with a sign on each side that said, "We don't all walk poodles," ended up in Time magazine. He wanted to make sure that they knew there were people like them in the parade. Everybody that wanted to be in the parade was in the parade.
Dr. Donald Khilhefner: In April of 1969, excuse me, 1970, April 1970, Morty Manford from the Gay Liberation Front in New York contacted Morris Kight, and Morris asked us in GLF to be a part of a parade for the first anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion. Other cities were also invited. It was unanimous that we would join, and Morris and I made an agreement: Morris would take care of the organizing if I took care of the day-to-day affairs at the Gay Liberation Front, which I agreed to. About a month later, we didn't have much time. It was April, May, and June, a couple of months to organize a major march here. Everything that Troy said there is absolutely true. One thing he did fail to mention was the Saturday before the March, the Los Angeles Times ran a big article on what had happened and that the parade was going to happen the next day. Much of the attendance at the event was because of the article in the LA Times, which reached close to a million people at that time.
In addition to the march that the Gay Liberation Front was helping to organize, the Gay Liberation Front also organized, on the Saturday of that weekend, a West Coast Gay Liberation Conference. This task fell on my shoulders. It was my suggestion. In MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, we held the first West Coast Gay Liberation Conference. We had about a hundred people, and those hundred people became the nucleus for Gay Liberation activities in their cities. It was important for several reasons. It was kind of like Noah's Ark. We had one or two people from every city and town on the West Coast: San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, San Diego, Tucson, Phoenix, and on and on and on.
For example, the people who organized the first Gay Liberation March in San Diego had attended that conference. On the day of the march, and let me just say here, much of the organizing fell on the shoulders of Morris Kight and Troy Perry. They both did an outstanding job in that community organizing, outstanding.
We had about 35,000 people attending the march. Almost every organization that was known in LA was represented in the march, and Gay Liberation Front was there with two floats. We had a vice cop chasing the fairies and arresting the fairies with their little wings as gorilla theater. We also made a huge paper mache replica of a Vaseline jar. Vaseline, at that time, was the major lubricant used by people for sex. It was outrageous, and many people criticized it, but we had a great time with that large jar of Vaseline marching down the street.
This is what I call the period of reaction to heterosexual supremacy. I respectfully suggest we get rid of the word homophobia. It doesn't represent what really is happening to us. It really is hetero supremacy. This started a period of reaction. For about a year and a half, we had demonstrations of all kinds, sit-ins, takeovers, what have you. Then beginning about mid-1970, we started the proactive phase of Gay Liberation here in Los Angeles, which meant building, creating, and out of that proactive period came the Gay Community Services Center, which today is known as the LA LGBT Center, where we created a community, an actual community for the first time in Los Angeles. That first parade was inspirational and really motivated us to continue organizing.
The Vaseline jar at the first Pride March in Los Angeles by Ken Robinson, 1970.
August Bernadicou: Martha, at the first Pride March, did you think about how you were able to start an organization and then, within a year, create this movement or the beginnings of a movement where you eventually had thousands of people coming together for a common cause?
Martha Shelley: Oh, no. I was what, 25 years old, 26 at the 1970 march. At that time, I thought, having been raised with the civil rights movement and then the women's movement, and so on, I thought we were going to have a revolution in this country, and I just thought we were part of it and it was going to grow. I had no idea that—it just didn't seem like a big surprise to me. I was enormously happy and excited.
August Bernadicou: Reverend Troy Perry, you mentioned that you would have to acquire a $1 million bond. It seems now that JP Morgan Chase would be happy to throw that out to have the Pride Parade. Obviously, it was a slow transition to what they now call rainbow capitalism, but what are all your thoughts on the new spirit of Pride? Let's all wear skimpy clothes, have some fun in the sun, and go to a circuit party that costs $200. What are your thoughts on that?
Rev. Troy Perry: You're right. The banks today would be only too happy to write checks, but when you talked about the $200 for circuit parties—some days, I shake my head. I want people to have a wonderfully good time, but I want serious things too. I want us to be a movement that truly brings about change. I'm not terribly concerned about young people today, but I see this.
I don't know if it's the pandemic or what, but in the city of Los Angeles, it looks like we may have three Pride Parades this coming year. Our LA Pride is leaving West Hollywood, and West Hollywood announced they're going to hold a parade. That's happening a lot around the country. I'm watching as division takes place and fights happen over the Gay Pride Parade, the rainbow flag, etc.
I feel that everything can change. I trust young people to know what works and doesn't work, just like when we were young when all of this started. I continue to watch what's transpiring and happening with them. It's not—even though I'm an elder in our movement—it doesn't really matter what I think. I can remember and tell young people what it was like then, but back then, it was not like it is today. Today, we have people in front of Congress, people who testify, we have people who run, who will be our partners in the struggle and fight for liberation in this country, for all of our gay movements. I'm thrilled to death to see it all at once too.
Finally, we're getting together, and our leadership has started talking to the leaders of other groups. I can't tell you how important that is. Los Angeles has really grown up. We have a majority of Hispanics in our city council. I could go down the list, but I've been very fortunate in my fight. I've been invited to the White House by three presidents. I've been honored by communist Cuba for my work in human rights against homophobia and transphobia. I would've never thought as a young teenager, who didn't know there was anybody like me in the world, who was very lonely, that I would grow up and have this incredible, incredible life. Having my partner, Phillip, my husband of 36 years—how thankful I am. He and I own our home up in Silver Lake in Los Angeles, up on top of the hill, and I come from a generation where those kinds of things were important, and he and I did it.
We're assimilationists, probably more than the early liberation movement. I do believe in donating money to the Democratic Party, making sure that I donate to progressive GLBTQ organizations that make a difference. I'm thankful some organizations can get the president to come and speak. I really am. Those are important too, just like we remember those early homophile leaders, as my sister said, that we were on their shoulders. As Don said, people like Morris Kight and others here in Los Angeles made a difference for us.
August Bernadicou: Would anyone else want to discuss this?
Martha Shelley: Yes, I'd like to say something. I see it differently. My wife and I own our home, fine. I'm not an assimilationist, though. We have a handful of individuals, like maybe three to five in this country, who own more than half the population—maybe 60% to 80% of the population doesn't even own as much as those people. I'm seeing that it's not just a question of gay people getting into office or getting invited to the White House or having parades. We're living in an empire that's collapsing just from the economic point of view. Also, we're living in a world that is possibly dying from our behavior, our—what would we call it? I'm trying to think of the word right now. Ecocide. We're killing off nature. These issues are more important to me right now than anything else. I'm thinking about our kids and grandkids, and what will happen to them. What kind of a world are we leaving them? Yes, I've had a really good life, but will I leave kids to be serfs where they have to work three jobs and still not be able to pay the rent? I see it in my city everywhere I look, more and more people on the streets, homeless, living in tents, living in their vans. This country is collapsing, and I have been a student of history for a long time, not just our current history but going back to ancient Assyria and all of that. Other civilizations have collapsed—what's happening to us now. To me, this is really primary and more important to me than anything else.
Perry Brass: That's so GLF, Martha. That came right out. That's just embedded in us from that experience of the Gay Liberation Front. Everything you said. There's no way we can't share it. It is such a part of us. We really did think that we were on the cusp of revolution.
Dr. Donald Khilhefner: Gay Liberation was a revolutionary movement. We can be on the cusp of a revolution today. Today, the revolution for us as gay, lesbian, and trans people is how we identify ourselves. For the last 50 years, we've gotten a clearing in the forest where we can survive.
What we have to look at is the identity that's been laid on us by hetero supremacists. They have defined us as a sexual act. Most gay people today live that out, play that out. Today, it's not a negative sexual behavior, but it's still defined by the way hetero supremacists want. I suggest that the revolution staring us in the face is a gay-centered understanding of what it means to be gay.
What is the role that gay people play in society? Why have we existed for millennia after millennia in society doing what we're doing? What are we doing? It was why Harry Hay and I co-founded the Radical Faeries to explore the question of who are we and what are we contributing to society. We're not a sex act. We're something much larger than that. That's where the cusp of the gay revolution is today, I suggest.
Perry Brass: I totally agree with you, Don, completely. I've always said that the whole question about what we call, even the term "gay," is not big enough for what we are. The real question that we have is, who will save your life? How will we save the life of the community? Those are the big questions in front of us. The sex act itself or sex acts themselves are a part of it, but they're only a small part of our equation.
Ellen Broidy: We practiced intersectionality before intersectionality was an academic buzzword. We fought for that first march in New York. It was not a parade; it was explicitly a march for liberation. It was the start of something universal and wonderful, and this was the way we could play our part in it. Everything that Martha mentioned, compounded with a kind of sexism that still permeates our society, worked against us. I still consider myself a revolutionary. I'm an old, tired revolutionary at this moment.
August Bernadicou: I want to end it with future visions and advice. Can everyone maybe answer in a few sentences what advice they would give people who will be out in the streets this weekend as it relates to extending the work that you all have done?
Perry Brass: Smile more. Connect more with people. Connect with strangers who are still your brothers and sisters.
Ellen Broidy: Remember that this movement does not stand on its own back to intersectionality—make alliances, build bridges, and open doors. There are lots of other things that those of us on this panel are working on that are not LGBTQ specific. Always make the connections, make them firm—support, and you will get support.
Dr. Donald Khilhefner: I focus on the work that I do in developing intergenerational consciousness in our community. There needs to be a dialogue between young people, adults, and elders, and bringing ancestors into this dialogue. Young people—I spend half of my time dialoguing with young people, and I keep hearing them say, where are the elders? When we need elders, we can't find them, they're invisible. One of the elements that needs to come into the community is that intergenerational sense of responsibility. Age apartheid thrives in our community and impoverishes it. That's work that I'm doing.
Perry Brass: Don, you’re right about that. I love the term age apartheid. It's a beautiful term.
Martha Shelley: I would say that the one bit of advice I could give to young people is to do the right thing even if you're afraid. That first march that I organized with 400 people, I was scared. I was afraid I might get shot. I had been in Harlem when Martin Luther King Jr. got killed. We may win things, we may lose things. I think about Greta Thunberg and what she's done as a young person. It doesn't mean you're going to win. If you try, you might win, you might lose, but you will definitely lose if you don't try.
Rev. Troy Perry: My advice for young people is to keep standing up. I'm so proud of the young people today in the straight gay alliances in high schools. There's a generational shift where everybody young knows somebody LGBTQ. They have their friends and know the lies their churches tell. Take up for your friends, and make a difference as all of us community members stand up this weekend.