LA Pride 2018: History of the parade, hostility from Los Angeles police

WEST HOLLYWOOD —  In 1970, gays and lesbians faced hate and were mercilessly persecuted by Los Angeles Police.

Police entrapment was common, and undercover vice squads terrorizing and arresting gay and lesbians was a fact of queer life.

Saying enough was enough, three men decided to do the unthinkable — They formed a Gay Pride parade.

Rev. Bob Humphries (founder of the United States Mission), Morris Kight (a founder of the Gay Liberation Front), and Rev. Troy Perry (founder of the Metropolitan Community Church) came up with the idea as a way to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.

LA Pride History

Los Angeles Police Chief Ed Davis was very hostile to the LGBTQ community in the early 1970s, as evidenced in this letter. Photo: ONE Archives at USC Libraries.

LAPD persecutes gays, lesbians

But the organizers tried securing a permit, they encountered hostility and numerous attempts to squash the parade from the Los Angeles Police Commission and Police Chief Ed Davis, who publicly called gay people “fairies.”

Cities authorities required organizers to post $1.5 million in bonds as well as $1,500 in cash to pay for police who would be dispatched to protect parade attendees.

The organizers were also required to recruit a minimum 3,000 participants to receive permission to march in the streets. If they failed to meet that number, marchers would have to remain on the sidewalks.

LA Pride Parade 1970

The crowd at Los Angeles’ first Christopher Street West pride parade in 1970. Photo: ONE Archives at the USC Libraries.

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Gay community defeats LAPD

Perry didn’t accept those demands and went to the ACLU. The same day, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ordered the police commission to issue a parade permit to organizers, refund their $1,500 security payment, and drop all other requirements.

In delivering his decision, the judge said that all citizens deserve equal rights and protection under that law. He also ordered law enforcement to protect spectators and marchers.

On June 28, 1970, the first LA Pride Parade marched along Hollywood Boulevard. More than 1,000 people lined the boulevard to cheer participants, which might not seem like a lot of people, but consider the amount of discrimination and persecution queer people faced in California, it’s amazing that these brave and courageous people showed up. 

LA Pride Parade Troy Perry

Rev. Troy Perry, left, waves to the crowd at the first LA Pride Parade in 1970. Perry helped organize the nation’s first gay pride parade. Photo: ONE Archives at the USC Libraries.

LA Pride moves to WeHo

The LA Pride Festival started in Hollywood in 1974 in a parking lot at Sunset Boulevard and Cherokee Avenue.

Both events moved to West Hollywood in 1979, partly because the enclave had a large gay and lesbian population and was considered more gay friendly.

The festival also moved because it had outgrown its Hollywood site, and the police department continued its hostility toward gays and lesbians.

This weekend, about 150,000 spectators are expected to watch the parade and 70,000 people are estimated to attend the festival on Saturday and Sunday.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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