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    ‘Mother of Pride’ Importance Disputed by Early NY Gay Liberation Front Members

    Do a quick Google search for “Brenda Howard” plus “Mother of Pride” and some 30,400 results are generated. They include sources such as the Legacy Project Chicago, The Advocate, the organization LGBTQ History, and, more recently, this very publication.

    According to the Cove Collective, “Brenda Howard was a bisexual activist who was one of the organizers for the New York City Pride parade. She was also integral to coining the term ‘Pride’ to represent the LGBTQ+ movement. She was arrested many times throughout her life as an activist but kept moving forward with gusto and pride. She was most vocal about bi rights, though she did fight for LGBTQ+ rights in general, human rights, and rights for people who contracted AIDS. Howard was central for making LGBTQ+ rights heard and accepted.”

    The History Channel also emphasizes Howard’s importance to the LGBT movement:

    Much more has been written about Howard’s contributions, particularly to the foundations of Pride as we know it, but her legacy (she died in 2005 at age 58) turns out to be as controversial if not more so as her activism was during her lifetime.

    Some of the controversy has to do with the commonly used descriptive phrase “Mother of Pride,” as revealed in this letter recently received by the San Francisco Bay Times:

    We, the undersigned, are very distressed by your most recent article extolling Brenda Howard as the “Mother of Pride,” and giving her credit for everyone else’s achievements. We have no idea where you got your information. There are accurate histories available, and some of us who actually did the work are still alive.

    Here are the facts: immediately after the Stonewall riots, Martha Shelley—then public spokesperson for N.Y. Daughters of Bilitis (the local lesbian organization)—called on DOB and the Mattachine Society (the gay men’s   organization), and proposed a protest march. When both organizations agreed, she formed a committee to organize the march. That committee consisted of Ms. Shelley and a few men from Mattachine and immediately became the Gay Liberation Front (GLF).  Brenda  Howard  wasn’t part of it then. The march itself took place in Washington Square one month after the riots, and ended with a rally in Christopher Park, across the street from the Stonewall Inn. Ms. Shelley    and Marty Robinson spoke at the rally.

    The Christopher Street Liberation Day march took place one year later. Ellen Broidy and Craig Rodwell first proposed it at the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations (ERCHO) in the fall of 1969. The idea was accepted. Once the proposal was approved, numerous groups and individuals started the arduous process of bringing   this idea to life. Ms. Howard was one among many who participated in this planning activity.

    The Gay Liberation Front planned a whole week of activities before the march in June, 1970; these included workshops, panels, and receptions. They were headquartered at Washington Square Methodist Church where a GLF food committee also fed out-of-town people. Ms. Howard might have been involved with the food committee or some of the other week-long activities, but she was by no means the “Mother of Pride.” We also want to correct your comment that she was the person who popularized the word “Pride.” The slogan, “Gay Pride,” was in common use well before the June 1970 March. It had spread like wildfire throughout the community and there is no documentation of its origin.

    In our recollection, Ms. Howard attended GLF meetings and some demonstrations, just like any other member. We each worked on what projects were important to us, and where our skills could best be used, and we didn’t have official leaders.

    Signed, Members of NY Gay Liberation Front 1969–1972

    Perry Brass, Ellen Broidy, Steven Dansky, Karla Jay, John Knoebel,              Mark Segal, Martha Shell, Allen Young

    What then can be concluded about Howard’s life and legacy? Should these early members of the NY Gay Liberation Front have the last word on the matter? Firsthand sources and accounts such as theirs hold tremendous value, and we only wish that Howard were still with us to share her personal account.

    While it does not resolve the aforementioned, documentary footage exists of the first Christopher Street Liberation Day march held in New York City. View it and learn more at this Library of Congress site:

    Published on June 24, 2021