“We’re Going to Do a Parade. This Is Hollywood.”

Reverend Troy Perry, the surviving founder of L.A.’s 45-year-old Gay Pride Parade, looks back on starting a global tradition

Reverend Troy Perry, 75, was the founder of L.A.’s LGBT-friendly Metropolitan Community Church when he sat down with Gay Liberation Front founder Morris Kite and Reverend Bob Humphries in the spring of 1970 to discuss a new way to bring the local gay community together.

Morris received a letter from New York City [activists] saying, ‘Last year we had the Stonewall Riots, and we wanted to write and see if y’all were willing to do something on the West Coast to commemorate that date along with us.’ We said absolutely.

Morris wanted to do a demonstration, like New York was going to do, and I said, “No. We’re going to do a parade. This is Hollywood.”

We decided I would go to the police commission to get permission. I filled out the paperwork in the name of Metropolitan Community Church, but it was very obvious that they did not want us to hold a parade in Hollywood. They kept asking, “Who are you people?” So finally I said, “We’re the homosexual community of Los Angeles.” The tenure of the conversation quickly deteriorated. [LAPD Police Chief] Ed Davis told the police commission, “If you’re going to let this group hold a parade, then you should let thieves and burglars parade, too.” We kept pressing it.

The commission kept going back and forth between members, and finally they said we could hold a parade, but they started putting restrictions on the way it would be. First: we had to put up a bond of one million dollars to pay overtime to the police who would protect us. Second: we were to put up a half-a-million-dollar cash bond to pay merchants for the windows that would be broken by people throwing rocks. I said, ‘Oh, just like in Germany,’ talking about what happened in Nazi Germany when Jews were fined for trying not to get hit by rocks and had to pay to have the glass that broke [as a result] replaced for German stores. They said, “That aside, that’s what you’re going to do and you’re going to have at least 5,000 people marching.”

We couldn’t have done those things, and there were several other requirements, but we thanked them profusely. Then I went immediately to the ACLU, which assigned us an attorney.

The group ended up in court on the Monday before the parade was scheduled.

A lot of people didn’t believe that we would win, but the judge ruled for us. He said he didn’t care if the city had to call out the National Guard, [the LAPD] was to protect us and we didn’t have to pay anything—that we were taxpayers just like every other citizen and they were gonna have to let us hold the parade.

Reverend Troy Perry (left) at the first Gay Pride parade in Los Angeles
Reverend Troy Perry (left) at the first Gay Pride parade in Los Angeles

Because we were all involved with the court case, we really didn’t have much of a parade planned! Well, we got on the phones and started calling everybody. And, my goodness, that Sunday afternoon when we marched—thank God—we had a lot of people marching. We had about 50,000 people on the sidewalks. I had never seen more people with hats and dark shades on in my life. I was surprised that more of them didn’t get in the streets with us, but people were worried. They had jobs. They were concerned about being on television, being photographed. And yet, it was the best feeling in the world.

To honor his long history of work for L.A’s gay community, Perry has been named the Grand Marshall of this year’s parade.

It’ll be pure joy to be in the parade again. I hope to make it to the 50th year and to be able to look back then. But to be able, after 45 years, to see what we accomplished…

If I could send back a message, it’s never give up. We had no way of knowing 45 years ago that we would affect the world by giving people the wherewithal to speak up in their own cultures. The majority of gay pride celebrations [around the world] are now gay pride parades. The bittersweet thing is, ‘Oh, if Morris [Kite] could have lived to see gay marriage before the Supreme Court.’ It’s funny to look back think that so much of this started from a gay pride parade in Los Angeles.