From the first LGBTQ+ Rights marches in the city to largescale Pride festivals that take place today, take a look back this Pride Month on the past 50 years of Pride celebrations in Albany. 

Known as the largest Pride celebration in New York State outside of New York City, Albany’s Capital Pride Parade and Festival dates back to 1997. But events leading up to this annual celebration began 25 years prior when the oldest, continuously operating pride center in the nation, the Pride Center of the Capital Region, first opened its doors in 1970. 

Pride in Albany, which is celebrated in Washington Park during the second weekend in June each year, has grown during its decade’s long history. Today, In Our Own Voices collaborates with the Pride Center to create a main Pride Weekend with Say it Loud! BIPOC Pride on Saturday and the Capital Pride Parade and Festival on Sunday. 

Festival organizers work to build upon the celebration each year, but it has always remained the same at its heart: a chance for people from all over to come together and celebrate in a safe, fun, loving, and supportive space.

“It’s the feeling of family, the feeling of seeing yourself reflected around you,” explained Executive Director of the Pride Center, Nathaniel Gray. “It can’t be overstated the importance of us seeing ourselves.”

Copy of Capital Pride 2023

In June 1969, just three hours south of Albany in New York City, the Stonewall Uprising inspired a more visible and widespread LGBTQ+ rights movement across the United States. A leader during Stonewall visited Albany and spoke with members of the LGBTQ+ community who formed the Tri Cities Gay Liberation Front. Within a year they established the organization that would eventually be known as the Pride Center of the Capital Region. The group found a home at 332 Hudson Avenue in 1974 where the Pride Center still operates today.

The Center’s proximity to the New York State Capitol has always placed it at an indispensable spot for statewide activism. The first march organized by the Tri Cities Gay Liberation Front took place in 1971 with upwards of 3,000 participants. A direct response to Stonewall, organizations from across New York gathered in Albany to march for legislative action. Marches on Albany continued throughout the 80’s and 90’s. Though not officially known as “Pride” marches, Deborah Dennis a writer for a 1997 issue of the Pride Center’s monthly newsletter Community notes the importance of these events in the history of Albany’s Pride celebrations

"To this author the distinction seems to be a fine one,” wrote Dennis. “When is a gay march for legislative action not a celebration of gay pride?”

The idea for an official, annual Pride parade came to fruition in 1997, coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the organization. The parade kicked off at the Washington Park Lakehouse on June 21. Participants marched to Empire State Plaza where they were met with music, over 25 vendors selling Pride merchandise, and activities for children. The next year, the event shifted to a week-long celebration in late September and the Pride Center began to host their annual Alternative Prom for LGBTQ+ youth.

By 2001, the Capital Pride Parade and Festival returned to the month of June and the parade ended in Washington Park instead of beginning there. The Pride Center also began to publish an accompanying Pride Guide highlighting festivities, additional programs, and sponsors. New Pride Guides are still published each year.

Capital Pride

While momentum built for the Capital Pride Parade and Festival, local social justice groups saw a lack of visibility and inclusion for People of Color within the community. In 1998, members of the Feminist Action Network, Gay Men of Color Alliance, Sisters and Brothers in the Life, and eventually the Social Justice Center gathered to establish a mainstream LGBTQ+ organization in Albany centered around BIPOC needs. 

“As they began to discuss the structure of this [organization] you had members say ‘if we are going to put this together, we have to make sure the organization has and will be in our own voices,” explained Tandra LaGrone, CEO of Albany’s BIPOC LGBTQ+ organization: In Our Own Voices (IOOV).

When LaGrone joined IOOV in 2005, she had a yearly tradition of visiting Washington DC for their Memorial Day weekend Black Pride celebration. She wanted to bring a similar celebration to her own community.

“I just remember visiting and being a part of it for the first time in my life,” LaGrone explained, “I never had experience being surrounded by people who look like me and what that meant for me.”

In 2006, In Our Own Voices hosted the first annual Say it Loud! Black & Latino Gay Pride which was renamed to Say It Loud! BIPOC Pride in 2023.

Prior to this event, In Our Own Voices would host a yearly picnic, the organization wanted to ensure the new event had the same feel. Members of the community and In Our Own Voices cooked everything by hand, loaded up their cars, and hosted an afternoon of music, food, and community in Washington Park. But one of the main focuses of the celebration has always been a Health & Wellness Expo linking the community to inclusive health resources and screenings.

Over the course of several years a bridge was built between the two Pride celebrations in Albany. Today the Pride Center and In Our Own Voices work side by side to bring Pride Weekend to Washington Park with each celebration holding its own distinctive place.

“Anybody who visits BIPOC Pride feels like ‘wow, this is just a big, gigantic family cookout,’” explained LaGrone. Over the years In Our Own Voices has added live performers, community forums, and a family space to the celebration. “BIPOC Pride allows the space for people to connect with each other.”

Almost 30 years since the first celebration, the Capital Pride Parade and Festival now sees an average of 40,000 people in attendance. The parade kicks off at State Street with floats and marchers traveling down Lark Street and Madison Ave before landing in Washington Park for the festival. The festival itself has grown with over 150 food and merchandise vendors, a huge concert stage featuring a jam band, a drag review, and a headlining performer, and a children’s space with carnival rides.

“The event has taken on more than just being this great afternoon of stuff to do; it’s really about community building,” explained Gray. “It’s a family reunion in a lot of ways.”

Both the Pride Center of the Capital Region and In Our Own Voices highlight that LGBTQ+ pride and visibility are year-round and cross-sectional. Both work to inspire similar celebrations and provide resources for members of the community across the region.

Acknowledgements: Special thank you to Nathaniel Gray, Executive Director of the Pride Center of the Capital Region and Tandra LaGrone Chief Executive Officer of In Our Own Voices, the M.E. Grenader Department of Special Collections and Archives at the University of Albany, and the New York State Museum.