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Sacramento’s early gay pride parades

The year 1979 was pivotal for Sacramento’s gay community. In March, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. banned discrimination against homosexuals in state employment, via executive order. On March 11, Sacramento police raided the Upstairs/Downstairs, a gay disco located at 1225 K Street (previously known as Hickory House and the Underground Shingle), requesting identification from each patron but not disclosing any offense committed by the bar. The next night, police returned to check whether the bar was violating its alcohol license, limited to beer and wine only. Police opened every bottle in the building to check them for liquor, effectively destroying the bar’s stock of beer and wine.

In July 1979, copy shop owner Norvell Giles founded the River City Business Association (RCBA), with Mom…Guess What…! publisher Linda Birner as vice-president. The installation dinner for the new association was held on July 30 at the Cafe de New Orleans, 400 L Street, two days after a drive-by shooting into the patio of Bojangles, a gay bar on Folsom Boulevard. This event drew media attention and highlighted the risks taken by businesspeople of the gay community. The installing officer at the dinner was Sacramento city councilmember Anne Rudin. RCBA was a short-lived organization, lasting only about three years, attributed to a lack of support from local bars for the fledgling business association, but it represented an important step for the neighborhood’s emerging small businesses.

Sacramento’s first gay pride parade took place on June 17, 1979, marching from the Way Station at 14th and I Streets to J Street, ending in Capitol Park. The theme of the march was “It’s About Time,” and this march became the first of many marches following the same pattern as other groups to the steps of the State Capitol, the public forum of civil rights activism for the people of Sacramento and the state of California. Held to commemorate the Stonewall riots of 1969, the parade consisted of equal parts celebration and activism, demonstrating how far the community had come but also highlighting barriers that had yet to be crossed.

The locally based and celebratory Pride Parade, held in a warm Sacramento summer, was followed six months later by a winter march on Capitol Mall on January 13, 1980, organized by statewide lesbian/gay rights organization California Human Rights Advocates (CHRA). A major storm hit Sacramento the day of the march. Despite the weather, about three thousand marchers filled the eastern end of Capitol Mall as the most visible portion of a weekend-long event. CHRA provided the framework for the march, including an advocacy day and a meeting of its board of directors, but ad-hoc committees around the state coordinated transportation to Sacramento, and Sacramento’s fledgling gay organizations coordinated these ad-hoc groups. The March on Sacramento for Lesbian and Gay Rights brought statewide attention to Sacramento as the hub of political change. After the march, Mom…Guess What…! editor James Graham noted that the march included many from California’s larger cities but appreciated the presence of representatives from smaller cities and rural communities who, presumably, faced larger risks in their hometowns for participation in the march. The second annual Gay Pride Parade, held on June 22, 1980, drew one thousand marchers, with the theme “Gay’nin Progress.” Mayor Phil Isenberg formally declared the week of June 15–22 Sacramento Gay Pride Week.

Images for this article were provided by Sacramento’s Lavender Library Archives and Cultural Exchange and Sacramento Public Library.


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