New York City Drag March
|NYC Drag March|
|Frequency||annual, Friday prior to last Sunday in June|
|Location(s)||New York City|
|Inaugurated||June 24, 1994|
|Organized by||Grassroots collective|
|June 26, 2020|
The New York City Drag March, or NYC Drag March, is an annual drag protest and visibility march taking place in June, the traditional LGBTQ pride month in New York City. Organized to coincide ahead of the NYC Pride March, both demonstrations commemorate the 1969 riots at the Stonewall Inn, widely considered the pivotal event sparking the gay liberation movement, and the modern fight for LGBT rights.
The Drag March takes place on Friday night as a kick-off to NYC Pride weekend. The event starts in Tompkins Square Park and ends in front of the Stonewall Inn; it is purposefully non-corporate, punk, inclusive, and largely leaderless.
In 1994, while preparations for Stonewall 25 were taking place in New York City, it was made public that event organizers were not going to include leathermen or drag queens in the official ceremonies. Activist Gilbert Baker, creator of the Rainbow Flag, aka Sister Chanel 2001 with the drag activist troop Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, recently moved to the city from San Francisco, and Brian Griffin, aka Harmonie Moore Must Die, created the alternate event. Baker, who was busy creating a mile-long rainbow flag for the parade, the world’s largest until he made an even bigger one in 2003, came up with the idea, while Harmonie, working in Baker’s shop, had grassroots organizational skills from work with ACT UP and Women's Health Action and Mobilization (WHAM), to organize the drag march. Harmonie was also a member of Church Ladies for Choice, an activist drag troop that countered the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue. The Church Ladies were inspired by the San Francisco-based Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who didn’t yet have a New York house, to collect and parody church pamphlets advertising the march with the slogan “Jesus Loves Drag,” they passed out the materials in gay bars.
Participants were directed to Tompkins Square Park as the starting point, chosen to honor the rebellious spirit of two previous riots that had taken place. The Tompkins Square Park riot of 1988 where city officials attempted to remove squatters and punks who had been living in the park, and the Tompkins Square Park riot of 1874, over a hundred years prior where “thousands of unemployed New Yorkers demonstrated to demand that the government establish public works programs following the Panic of 1873 and the ensuing depression”.
The first drag march had an estimated 10,000 participants spread over ten blocks. The start was marked by The Church Ladies singing "God Is a Lesbian," another new tradition. During the march the participants chanted sometimes absurd organizing calls, and at one point the entire march sang “Love Is All Around”, the theme from The Mary Tyler Moore Show opening sequence, a tradition that has continued. The organizers painted a “It’s just a drag march, you may applaud” banner, and Stonewall 25 tourists joined in from across the nation. At the Stonewall Inn the entire march again joined in song for gay icon Judy Garland’s “(Somewhere) Over the Rainbow”, her signature song from 1939’s The Wizard of Oz. Garland is considered a gay icon. and her death (June 22, 1969), and funeral held in New York City, both happened days before the Stonewall Riots although reports uphold that the riots were spontaneous and not related to her passing.[note 1]
1995 to present
Harmonie continued to organize the event for the next few years before moving out of state, New York City Radical Faeries stepped in with Hucklefaery, a Radical Faerie and Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, becoming involved in 1998. The Faeries added rituals and centeredness. Hucklefaery stated, “we are unifying our intentions: to honor our ancestors; to celebrate those of us present at the March; and by being present, we are catalysts for a future yet unrealized.”
Baker died in March 2017, and that year’s march was dedicated to him.
The 25th Drag March took place June 28, 2019, coinciding with Stonewall 50 – WorldPride NYC, the largest international LGBTQ event in history. The following year the Drag March had a notably smaller scale due to the coronavirus pandemic.
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- In the years since the riots occurred, the death of gay icon Judy Garland earlier in the week on June 22, 1969 has been attributed as a significant factor in the riots, but no participants in Saturday morning's demonstrations recall Garland's name being discussed. No print accounts of the riots by reliable sources cite Garland as a reason for the riot, although one sarcastic account by a heterosexual publication suggested it. (Carter, p. 260.) Although Sylvia Rivera recalls she was saddened and amazed by the turnout at Garland's funeral on Friday, June 27, she said that she did not feel like going out much but changed her mind later. (Duberman, pp. 190–191.) Bob Kohler used to talk to the homeless youth in Sheridan Square, and said, "When people talk about Judy Garland's death having anything much to do with the riot, that makes me crazy. The street kids faced death every day. They had nothing to lose. And they couldn't have cared less about Judy. We're talking about kids who were fourteen, fifteen, sixteen. Judy Garland was the middle-aged darling of the middle-class gays. I get upset about this because it trivializes the whole thing." (Deitcher, p. 72.)
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- Duberman, Martin B. (1993). Stonewall (First ed.). New York. ISBN 0525936025. OCLC 26854943.