Born is Chicago in 1940, Rodwell grew up in a Christian Scientist home and attended Christian Scientist schools where he would have his first same sex experience. His Christian Scientist teachings taught him “the dignity of all human things and the importance of making things true by believing in them”. It was these teachings such as this and community outreach that would later influence his gay rights activism.
After graduating from High School, he briefly studied ballet in Boston before making the move New York City in 1958. In New York City, he became involved in many homophile rights organizations, including the Mattachine Society and the Homophile Youth Movement in Neighborhoods (HYMN), a group Rodwell began in 1967. This guy was doing so much even before the Stonewall Riots even happened. Not only was he starting gay rights groups, he was leading protests against the United States military for excluding gays from serving in the army and leading sit-ins to protest a rule about in New York that made it illegal for gays to congregate anywhere there was alcohol. It was also during this time that he began dating ayoung Harvey Milk, Rodwell’s first serious relationship and one that introduced Milk that there can be gay activists. They would later break up.
Rodwell also opened the countries first bookstore devoted to gay and lesbian authors called the Oscar Wilde Bookshop (in 1967, before Stonewall). At his bookshop, Rodwell refused to stock any porn on his shelves, only books by favorite gay and lesbian authors.
The Stonewall Riots happened in June of 1969 and in November of that year, Rodwell and a group of others got together at Rodwell’s apartment to begin discussing a parade held in June as an annual reminder of the riots. After months of planning, raising money writing to other gay organizations around the country and fundraising through the bookstore, and trying to get organizations to attend the parade, the first parade was finally held on June 28, 1970, covering 51 blocks. It went all the way from Christopher Street to Central Park in New York City. Soon, parades began popping up in many other cities over the years.
Rodwell would continue to be an activist later in his life, especially in his religion of Christian Scientists (members were excommunicated if they were gay). Rodwell lived until 1993, when he died of stomach cancer. Today, many countries hold Pride Parades and it was partly because of Rodwell’s activism that we have Pride Parades today.
by Russell Boaz