The Gay Freedom Day Parade 1976

A Facebook friend of mine was in San Francisco at this time last year. And he was checking out the Pride Parade. And he mentioned how surprised he was at all the corporate participation in the parade. Bank of America and McDonald’s and god knows who else. And I guess that surprised me a little, too. It reminded me of how quickly things can change in this world.

In a way, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  Because what was “underground” culture to one generation is often “mainstream” culture to the next generation.  But still, it’s amazing how fast things can change.  As recently as 1972 you could legally be fired from your job in San Francisco simply for being gay.  And back then, to a large percentage of the American public, being gay was looked at as either criminal or a form of mental illness.  So to stand up in the middle of a city street and publicly declare oneself as gay took more than a little courage back then.

I went to my first Gay Freedom Day Parade (as it was called back then) back in 1976 as a wee lad of 19. Actually, I didn’t go to the Parade. I was living on the streets of San Francisco back then, so it was more like the Parade came to me.

Anyways, the one thing I vividly remember was this big, flatbed truck slowly tooling down Market Street. And there were about 20 practically naked guys who were chained to all these wooden posts. And these other guys, shirtless and wearing black leather chaps, were pretending to whip them on their backs. At least I think they were pretending. It was pretty frenzied scene. Most of the guys looked like they were buzzing on speed and had been partying non-stop for several days. And there was this palpable wildness in the air. You could see it on the wild eyes of the smiles of all the people buzzing up and down the streets of San Francisco.

Anyways, I don’t remember that particular float with the guys in chains being whipped bearing any particular corporate sponsorship. I guess those were different days.


One thought on “The Gay Freedom Day Parade 1976

  1. Thanks for this post!
    I came out as gay in 1975 in Oakland California at the White Horse Inn and my first Gay Freedom Day parade was in 1976 in San Francisco. The only thing I really remember about it was that we all met for the festival part of it all at Mark’s Meadow in Golden Gate Park. There was some entertainment, pot smoking, flamboyant costumes, men who look butch and in leather drag, and some of us still in our hippie phase.. I had a large Afro!
    Some of the lesbians got upset as we laid on the grass because one gay man started going down on another gay man and there was lots and lots of nudity both male and female. It was a real eye-opener for me and it served as a beginning for Gay and social justice activism for me.

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