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How The Stonewall Riots Influenced San Diego Pride

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This year’s Pride festivities are not only celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, but it’s also saluting how far Pride has come in San Diego.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 This year. San Diego Pride is not only celebrating the 50th anniversary of the stonewall riots, but it's also saluting how far local pride has come from the humblest of beginnings. Now the San Diego Pride Parade and festival draws more than 200,000 people. And one of the people who's been there from the beginning is Jerry dill know who helped plan the first pride parade in San Diego and is one of the community grand marshals for this year's parade. And Jerry, welcome to the show. Hi, good to be here. What was that first official pride march like in San Diego back in 1979? Well, um, I think we must've had about three or 400 people. We met downtown at a place called Hobo Park, which is now a condominium, but down, down near the foot of Broadway. And we walked up sixth avenue and came up to the park and, uh, had a little stage and uh, had a couple of guest speakers, uh, nationally known.

Speaker 1: 00:56 Actually. Uh, Barbara getting, so was a, a pioneer in the LGBT movement and Alan Spears, who at the time was an openly gay senator from the state of Minnesota, a state senator. So, uh, we had pretty good speakers and, um, people just sat around on the grass and we had a picnic and sang some songs and that was about it. Was it hard to get a permit? Uh, no, it wasn't that hard, but it was, the city of San Diego hadn't, did not have a civil disobedience unit like many other large cities did. And this was in the 70s where a lot of protests were going on. So when we went down to, to get a permit, and I had, I'm a San Diego native, but I had been living in Philadelphia and, and had worked on a parade there and they had, you know, whole civil disobedience department, but they didn't have anything like that here in San Diego.

Speaker 1: 01:46 And so we went down there and they were looked a little confused and we told them we wanted to have this March and they, uh, they finally figured it out and we ha we got on a permit now 75 was a few years after the stonewall ride in new, yeah, yeah. Was 69 with a run now, where were you back in 69. And what was your reaction when you heard about the uprising? Well, I was actually still living in San Diego. I moved to Philadelphia in 1970. I don't think I really heard much about it here on San Diego. But when I got to Philadelphia, which was closer to New York, and that was also part of my political coming out, I started going to some, um, LGBT classes and met Barbara getting, so there's a nationally known leader and some people from New York came down and said, you know what, we need to have these marches in all major cities.

Speaker 1: 02:33 So [inaudible] people in Philadelphia have to have a march. We said a lot. So I was involved in the planning of the first march in 72 and Philadelphia and, uh, we, uh, March down broad street and down to the Independence Square and we had a about five or 600 people. So that was, that was sort of my direct relationship to, to stonewall. Um, that my first experience and I, as I say, was really out more as an activist at that time. Now, what was the atmosphere like back then here in San Diego for the people organizing and participating in San Diego Pride and I'm going to 1975, 76, that kind of, well, a lot of people thought we were crazy, that we were going to be out in public. San Diego has at least at that in that time period had a reputation of being a very conservative city and they just, people were all worried about their jobs and things like that.

Speaker 1: 03:26 And, uh, I was working at the center at the time, so I didn't have to worry about my job, but, uh, you know, so trying to get people, first of all to get the information out. We didn't have, we tried to do it by radio and TV and nobody would interview us. So we had to do it primarily by word of mouth, going out to the bars and other gatherings, places with, with flyers and talking to people. And, uh, most of them looked at us like, you gotta be kidding, I'm not gonna walk down Broadway Street. So, um, uh, but we did manage to get, oh, I would say upwards of 200 to 300 people. Now was there a backlash? No, I don't, I don't recall that there was any, any strong backlash. Um, people on the Saul's coming down Broadway were kind of, I dunno, amused or, you know, they, they had never seen such a thing and it wasn't like a, you know, like you have today with cars and floats and all that.

Speaker 1: 04:22 It was just a group of people walking down the street with the signs, handmade signs. And so some people cheer this Mo and most people just kind of looked and stared and seemed a little surprised. Now, now, nowadays San Diego Pride is one of the biggest events in San Diego of the year. When did things start to turn around with the larger community supporting the parade? It was sort of a gradual thing. It's hard to pinpoint one particular year, uh, but just each year it got bigger and better and uh, uh, bell ballpark had a, some revisions going on and they, because of a rock and roll race and everything, they didn't want to have a lot of things going on in the summertime in the park. So they have a moratorium now that goes from a Morial date, uh, to, um, labor day that no, no, no new events can happen and uh, and no large events can happen and three groups were grandfathered in and one of them.

Speaker 1: 05:18 So that shows you that we had been gaining some, uh, credibility. Now as the pride festival has grown and grown, are you concerned about any aspect of that growth? For example, activists in New York? I have complained that all the corporate sponsors for pride are diluting the real message of the parade and festival. Well, I think that's a problem across the country with the sort of the corporate influence. But I don't think we've had that difficult to hear in San Diego yet. And we might. But, uh, we have regulations about what kind of corporate person can, uh, be in the parade. They have to be a company that gives back to the, for instance, Qualcomm, uh, donates money all year long to, uh, very to the center and various other activities. So, and they have a huge gay and lesbian organization within their own company. So, you know, we don't, we don't let people in just because they're going to sell something.

Speaker 1: 06:16 But, uh, you know, I personally feel that if there are, uh, a company that supports our goals and, and is willing to back that up with financial contributions, then I think they, they should be allowed to march. But we don't, we don't allow them to do advertising, you know? I mean, it's not like a promotional thing for them. Now. The LGBTQ community has had so many successes in recent years from same sex marriage rights to a major presidential candidate now who is openly gay with all those gains. Why is it important for private events to continue? Well, uh, you know, why is it important to have Columbus Day parade? Why is it important for the St Patrick's Day? I mean, it's a celebration. It's a, you know, it's become a big weekend of fun and celebration as well as, uh, it has a political side to it. Uh, we, we are going to be, uh, highlighting the fact that the government will not allow transgender people in the military. So that's, there are still issues that we have political issues that we have to address. Uh, and not as maybe as not as many before, but uh, certainly there are things that we try to educate people about. I've been speaking with Jerry deal, no, one of the community grand marshals for this year's pride parade. Jerry, thank you so much. Oh, you're welcome. San Diego Pride officially kicks off tomorrow at six with the spirit of stonewall rally in Hillcrest. The San Diego Pride Parade is on Saturday, beginning at 10 for more information about pride events, you can visit

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.