In Photos: A Brief History of Front Runners New York LGBT Pride Run
On Saturday, June 24, more than 5,000 runners will take on five miles in Central Park at Front Runners New York LGBT Pride Run. The race marks the 36th year of an alliance between New York Road Runners and Front Runners New York, a competitive and social club for LGBT runners, multisport athletes, and their allies.
As we gear up for race day, let’s take a moment to reflect on the rich history of Pride Run—courtesy of photographer and documentary filmmaker Da Ping Luo. Da joined Front Runners New York in 2009 and served as the club’s Director of Membership and Communications between 2010 and 2013. Da documents dozens of annual events for FRNY, including Pride Run, and is currently working on a documentary about Front Runners entitled Out for the Run.
The story of how I discovered Front Runners will be similar to that of many others in the internet age: In 2009, I Googled “gay running club” and that was the beginning of my participation in Pride Run, a race that I’m still running today.
Why the name "Front Runners," you ask? Back in the early 1970s, a group of gay runners in San Francisco came to be known as the Lavender U Joggers. In 1978, the group reorganized as "Front Runners," partly inspired by Patricia Nell Warren’s groundbreaking novel The Front Runner, a gay love story she wrote in 1974.
Oddly enough, most millennial Front Runners members have never read the book.
In 1979, Malcolm Robinson, who at the time was the editor of NY Running News, published by New York Road Runners, heard through the grapevine about Front Runners in San Francisco and wanted to start his own gay running club in New York. He called up the president of Front Runners about forming another club under the same name in New York. So, the original Front Runners had to rebrand itself again and is now known as San Francisco FrontRunners (not a typo!). There are now Front Runner clubs in most major cities around the world.
The first “Gay Run” took place in San Francisco in 1980, with the encouragement and sponsorship of The Advocate magazine. Key members from Front Runners New York ran the second “Gay Run” in San Francisco in 1981, and coming back to their own city, they were determined to put on their own race in 1982.
The race as we know it almost didn’t happen. Steve Gerben, Front Runners New York president at the time, had to convince NYC Parks Commissioner Gordon Davis to permit the race to happen in Central Park, which was cited as overused; the Parks department recommend another park in another borough.
Gerben argued that Front Runners was a Manhattan-based club and that all other Pride-related activities were being held in Manhattan. He stressed “the symbolic importance of an athletic event to the lesbian/gay community, as well as to the straight community, and the better visibility for the race if it is held in Central Park.”
Scheduled for June 26, 1982, the first Gay Pride Run took place with 347 runners crossing the finish line. Patricia Nell Warren, living in California at the time, wasn’t able to attend and submitted opening remarks for the printed program. An excerpt:
Thirty-six years later, we are all still running. On June 24, 2017, whether you’re racing, volunteering or spectating—whether you're LGBTQ or not—we are all coming together to celebrate Pride. We are all front runners.
Join us on Wednesday, June 21, at 6:30 p.m. at the NYRR RUNCENTER for a special event, Out for the Run: The Importance of visibility and Representation. Enjoy a trailer viewing of Da's documentary, Out for the Run, followed by a panel discussion with Front Runners members Rachel Cutler, Ruth Gursky, and Martin King. There will also be a selection of photos from the Front Runners New York archives on display. RSVP to reserve your spot—it’s free!
More About Da Ping Luo
Da is a freelance photographer and documentary filmmaker whose work has appeared in The New York Times and Advertising Age, among other promotional and editorial outlets. His work has been featured in both advertising and archival displays by a variety of institutions, including New York Road Runners, United Airlines, CUNY Graduate Center, Harlem United, The Jewish Museum, Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, Lycée Francais de New York, and the Park Avenue Armory.
Da lives in New York City with his husband, Fred Pfaff, whom he met through Front Runners New York. When he’s not behind a camera or editing photos and videos, he's thinking that he should be running instead.