ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The roots of Rochester Pride date back to Sunday, May 16, 1971. At a time when protesters would conduct sit-ins, the Rochester Gay Liberation Front organized a social called a “gay-in”at Genesee Valley Park — 300 people attended.

While June is celebrated as Pride Month around the world to honor the Stonewall Riots on June 28, 1969, Rochester continues to celebrate Pride the second weekend in July. This allows for visitors from across New York state, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Vermont and Canada to attend Rochester Pride. Follow the rich history of Rochester Pride:

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Original 1971 post-Pride announcement, directions to 1972 picnic, 1975 advertisement.

Starting in July 1972, the then annual gathering was billed as the “annual gay community picnic." Picnic attendance grew to 2,000 in 1983 and 4,000 in 1995. The last Pride picnic was held in Genesee Valley Park in July 2015. In 2016, the picnic was consolidated into festival weekend at Cobb’s Hill Park. The picnic returns this year in 2018 at the Beach Party & Picnic on Sunday July 15 from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Ontario Beach Park. Admission is free.

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“Thirsty frolickers,” Rochester’s vice-mayor Midge Costanza socializes with GBR’s Kevin Seahill, GBR leaders and Empty Closet staffers gather around the grill at the 1975 picnic / The Empty Closet

A Pride Parade was added to Rochester Pride’s annual observance in 1989. That first parade was held on a portion of East Main Street early in the evening of Wednesday, June 28, 1989, on the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City. Organizers made that choice to let the community know, “We’re in the community; we live here.”

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From Susan Jordan’s article: Between 300 and 400 people marched from the Liberty Pole to Genesee Crossroads Park on June 28. They carried banners reading “Gay and Grateful,” “Stonewall Means Fight Back,” and “The Gay ‘90s are Back and I’m Tickled Pink.”

That first parade route started from Genesee Crossroads Park also known as Charles Carroll Park on the west side of the Genesee River eastward down East Main Street to the Liberty Pole. By 1991, the parade moved to its current route along the city’s Park Avenue. This year, the route is from Alexander Street to Brunswick Street (one block before Culver Road).

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Top story on front page of The Empty Closet, 1991 / The Empty Closet

In July 1996, a same-day Pride Festival was added after the Pride Parade. The festival has been held in several locations over the years. In 2014 and 2015, for example, it was held at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park at Manhattan Square.

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Photos from the July 1996 issue of The Empty Closet.

In July 2016, Rochester Pride Fest became the first festival that the city of Rochester ever approved to be held at Cobb’s Hill Park. Pride organizers chose the site because it was greener, more accessible and was a larger venue which was needed to accommodate the growing number of participants.

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From 2006: The Rochester Pride Parade on July 8 was titled “Flower Power in the Flower City.”

2018 will mark the third consecutive year the festival will be held at this location. Event hours are Saturday July 21 from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday July 22 from 12 p.m. 6 p.m. The festival is produced by the Out Alliance with several volunteers serving on decision-making committees for various activities of the annual observance.   

What’s new this year is Youth Village, a separate section with free admission for children age 16 and under with face-painting, arts and crafts, magicians and separate concessions.

For more information, visit

Click here to view our list of Pride Week's top 10 events.

Our thanks to Rowan Collins of the Out Alliance for historical details and items.