By Jeanne Fleming
Before Pride, there was Halloween. 1973. It was a night when everyone could COME OUT and strut their stuff in a safe environment that included the gay community within the community at large. Halloween, the gay community of New York, and the Halloween Parade have been intricately intertwined since the parade’s origins in 1973. Along with, and sometimes dominating, the array of puppets, creatures and other attractions, the gay community seized the day to display its creativity, outrageousness, love, and pride—so much so, that the Halloween Parade became known as the Gay Parade.
With the onset of AIDS, the parade became a political forum for gay rights activists and groups such as ACT UP, Dykes on Bikes, and the Radical Fairies. I remember, in particular, ACT UP’s Kiss In! And there was always the Big Apple Corps (still, to this day!) It was not long when I began to notice that folks who I would see year after year were no longer there… Lou Reed’s song Halloween Parade said it all…and as AIDS took its toll, the demographic of the parade changed as well.
Out of it all came PRIDE—a vibrant, creative and political forum where folks could channel their energy and direct their purpose. Though LGBTQ folks still came to the Halloween Parade, the community had found a clearer format to express their concerns as well as their creativity.
The last large demonstration in the parade came in 1998. Matthew Shepard had been killed just weeks earlier, and a very large contingent of folks marched in his honor to draw more attention to LGBTQ issues. It was a memorable and expressive night, as tensions in the city were at an all-time high.
Over the years the parade has had, and been dedicated to, grand marshals from the community: Artie Strickler, Greg Millard, Machine Dazzle, Basil Twist, Billy Porter; and this year it will be Randy Rainbow.
After Pride, there is still the Halloween Parade—which, as always, welcomes everyone with open arms and hearts! (As long as you are in costume!)
Jeanne Fleming is the Artistic and Producing Director of New York’s Village Halloween Parade.