Longtime San Francisco LGBTQ+ historian and curator Gerard Koskovich knows that there are still plenty of misconceptions out there about the birth of the Pride movement.
“The community and allies often imagine the movement being a lot of cis-gendered white men,” says Koskovich. “Or there’s the story about Stonewall that it was entirely led by people of color.”
The GLBT Historical Society’s latest Pride-related exhibit, “Labor of Love: The Birth of San Francisco Pride 1970–1980,” co-curated by Koskovich and professor-authors Amy Sueyoshi and Don Romesburg, aims to finally set the record straight.
The virtual multimedia retrospective chronicles how Pride developed from a small and scrappy DIY affair in 1970 to a tourist, commercial and civic institution within a decade.
One of the most foundational items in the exhibit is the “Gay-In” flyer from 1970 when Pride was still called Christopher Street Liberation Day— in commemoration of New York City’s 1969 Stonewall riots.
The first Pride featured a 30-person protest march followed, the next day, by a picnic in Golden Gate Park. Tragically, the Gay-In was ultimately broken up by equestrian officers from the San Francisco Police Department and a number of the participants were later detained.
A photograph of the event’s co-organizer, radical gay liberationist Leo Laurence is also included in the exhibit along with an excerpt from an interview he gave the Berkeley Barb just after the ill-fated picnic, where he calls for “armed revolution” if police continue persecuting minorities.
“How many people think of organizers of Pride saying, ‘Let us have our parade or we’ll launch an armed revolution?’” says Koskovich. “But that’s a real reminder of something many people have forgotten or never knew, which is that those early parades took place in a context in which sodomy was still illegal in California and the police persecuted queer folk at every turn.”
By 1978, what was then called Gay Freedom Day, had become a city-sanctioned event, drawing a couple hundred thousand people. Del Martin, co-founder of the pioneering lesbian advocacy group Daughters of Bilitis, delivered a rousing post-parade speech about equality at Civic Center.
“Labor of Love” showcases index cards Martin used during her address along with a vivid color photo of her mid-speech, taken by gay photographer Crawford Barton.
Viewers will also see a satirical flyer from the following year printed by Gays Opposing Discrimination that reads: “Official Parade Drag: gray business suits?” The handbill mocks the debate that started happening almost immediately among Gay Freedom Day organizers, about whether the community would hurt its cause if it allowed naked people or drag queens to take part in the parade.
But nudists and drag performers weren’t the only groups who were marginalized during the first decade of the gay movement. People of color, lesbians and trans people also expressed feelings of disenfranchisement during this period. Not wanting their invaluable contributions during Pride’s formative years to be lost to history, the exhibit’s co-curators made a point of highlighting many of them in the show.
“We hope that folks viewing the exhibit can see the relevance of Pride in its first 10 years to Black Lives Matter today,” says co-curator Sueyoshi, dean of the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University. “Perhaps the most obvious piece is the 1972 guide to Pride in which the logo of the celebration very prominently featured a raised fist, most certainly borrowed from the Black Power movement.”
“What the history shows is that there’s always been a real diversity of people involved,” adds Koskovich. “Early on, we began to see organizers saying that we need to structure Pride in a way that it supports a diversity of opinions and politics and makes space for people to bring forth their arguments and concerns in a way that’s respected and heard. So our goal was to honor that.”
Labor of Love: The Birth of San Francisco Pride 1970–1980 runs through Nov. 1 at https://www.glbthistory.org/labor-of-love.