In June of 1970, one year after the Stonewall riots, thousands of demonstrators marched up Sixth Avenue in New York from the former Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street to Central Park where a "gay-in" was held. It was called the Christopher Street Liberation Day and it was the beginning of Gay Pride celebrations as we know them. Now, each year in June, Pride festivities across the country serve to commemorate the birth of the modern gay and lesbian civil rights movement as well as affirm our lives in the context of the larger community.
During the 1970s, in conservative, steel-town Buffalo, a closeted gay community acknowledged Pride privately and unofficially. Participants describe a gay community largely divided along gender lines with separate dances and picnics for men and women; the men held their dances on Fridays, while the Sisters of Sappho danced on Saturdays.
By the mid-1980s, Gay Pride activities in Buffalo were more focused and more centralized. In 1988 the Buffalo Gay & Lesbian Community Network was founded by Carol Speser and Larry Peck and the Network sponsored the Lesbian and Gay Pride Unity Fest (LAGPUF) for the next four years. The 1988 Pride Unity Fest, organized under the theme "Power through Unity with Diversity," included a day of workshops, a Miss Buffalo Boat ride sponsored by Gay and Lesbian Youth of Buffalo (GLYB), a concert by the City of Good Neighbors Chorale, the DYKETONES at the Tralfamadore Café, and a talk by transgendered activist Leslie Fienberg for Workers World and The Other Sex, a gay and lesbian film festival sponsored by HALLWALLS.
Other events from the 80s which became hallmarks of local Gay Pride celebrations included the annual AIDS Memorial Candlelight Service hosted by the Interfaith AIDS Network, the Hall of Shame Awards (1990 nominees included "Hizzoner Jimmy Griffin" and school board member James Comerford), the annual womyn's dances sponsored by GROW and SHADES, the Frontrunners annual Gay Pride Run, the Queen City Softball Day at Front Park and the famous Gearing Up for Summer Party at Ellicott Creek Park.
The first Candlelight Wish Celebration, held behind the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society, was the centerpiece of the 1991 Lesbian and Gay Pride Unity Fest. This was the first major Pride event in Buffalo to be held outdoors in a public place. This unique event, with its secluded outdoor setting and non-denominational spiritual element, offered a graceful transition between private and public celebrations of Gay Pride. Highlights of the evening included appearances by Common Council President George K. Arthur and Lance Ringel, first director of the NYS Office of Lesbian & Gay Concerns. The second annual Candlelight Wish Celebration featured a message from then Governor Mario Cuomo, a moving address by (straight) Buffalo News columnist Donn Esmond and a male drag chorus line made up of performers from rival bars. Another high spot of the 1992 Pride lineup was a performance by Lea Delia, again at the Tralf.
In 1993, at least 500 Buffalonians traveled to Washington for the April March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Equal Rights and Liberation, one of the largest civil rights demonstrations in history. The activist spirit brought home by local organizers from this extraordinary event resulted in Buffalo's first ever Gay Pride Parade. The parade and other Gay Pride activities were produced that year by the Pride/Western New York Committee of the Community Network.
In 1998, fearing the effects of a loss of continuity an ad-hoc committee of dedicated persons came together to coordinate the Pride Parade and celebration. From this group, Pride Buffalo, Inc., an independent community group was born. The group incorporated as a not-for-profit 501(C)(3) organization in order to lay a permanent foundation for future Pride celebrations and to ensure a smooth succession of leadership.
In 2010 Pride Buffalo, Inc. allowed the event to be absorbed into the annual programming of another LGBT focused not-for-profit, the Pride Center of Western New York. This move was made to ensure the furthered stability and continuity of Buffalo’s annual Pride festival. The Pride Center board of directors made the decision to relocate the festival to the emerging downtown waterfront at Canalside in 2011. The location change proved to be successful as attendance grew from 2,500 to a staggering 15,000. The Allen Street Festival was also added to Pride weekend in 2010, giving Buffalonians the opportunity to dance in the streets of their historic gayborhood. The Dyke March & Allen Street Festival planning committee helped reinvigorate both events with additional volunteer activism. In 2011, a full-time staff person was hired to oversee the volunteer management, planning and execution of the Pride Festival.
With continually growing crowds and supporters, the Pride Center of Western New York expanded the Pride festival once again in 2013 to encompass an entire week of events. The week of celebration included a Flag Raising Ceremony, Gay 5K, Chroma (an art opening hosted in memory of longtime LGBT supporter Jim Rolls), the Dyke March, Allen Street Festival, Pride Parade, Pride Festival at Canalside and a beach day event.