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The Queer History (and Present) of NYC's Village Halloween Parade

Jeanne Fleming, Artistic/Producing Director of the parade for more than 30 years, fills us in.

New York’s Village Halloween Parade turns 45 this year. The annual procession of 60,000 costumed participants attracts nearly 2 million estimated onlookers, making it the largest event of its kind in the world. Despite its enormous size, the Village Halloween Parade continues to feel like a homegrown, grassroots event due mostly to its humble roots and the tireless efforts of Jeanne Fleming, the Artistic/Producing Director of the parade for more than three decades.

Photo courtesy of the Village Halloween Parade

“The way the parade started was that there was a mask maker and puppeteer who lived in Greenwich Village, and he walked from house to house around the park—Washington Square Park—with his kids,” explains Fleming. “Then the next year some people jumped on. And, the next year, more people jumped on.”

Indeed, after its second year, Theater for the New City stepped in and produced the event, increasing the length of the parade route and drawing in more participation. The following year the Village Halloween Parade formed itself into a not-for-profit organization, produced the Parade on its own.

Courtesy of Village Halloween Parade

“Times were changing. People were starting to come out,” recalls Fleming. “In those days, the West Village was filled with creative people and the gay community was centered there. So in many ways, at that time, this was Pride.”

Of course, marches for LGBTQ rights spurred on by the Stonewall riots had started taking place in New York, and elsewhere in the country, in 1969. However, those marches were defiant and political, not the flamboyant celebrations we associate with Pride parades today.

Courtesy of the Village Halloween Parade

2017-10-31 New York City’s 44th AnnualVILLAGE HALLOWEEN PARADE

VILLAGE HALLOWEEN PARADE"]

“Then AIDS came and that kind of changed everything,” says Fleming.

Although the Village Halloween Parade would carry on, it would cease to be the de facto Pride event for the city's LGBTQ community. In the face of global pandemic's rise, queer New Yorkers concentrated their efforts on increasing visibility through their own dedicated events and Pride parades.

Courtesy of Village Halloween Parade

However, even today, AIDS continues to impact the Village Halloween Parade. The official after party, held at the conclusion of the parade, will be an over-the-top gala event to benefit Research Foundation to Cure AIDS (RFTCA). Extreme costumer—and this year's Grand Marshal—Machine Dazzle (above) will host the after party's $5,000 best costume contest.

"Machine Dazzle's participation is especially perfect because this year our theme is, 'I AM a Robot,'" states Fleming. Participants are encouraged to come dressed as their favorite cyborg, artificial human, robot, or machine and, for the parade's first time, this group will be designated its own spot in the parade.

Photo courtesy of the Village Halloween Parade

As for Fleming's favorite costumes of all time?

“There are so many. There was a guy who came as Vincent Van Gogh from one of his paintings," she recalls. "One of my favorites ever in the parade—did you ever see the TWA Airline Stewardesses? They had these little round hat boxes as purses. And they would stop and pose. And the first would turn his purse around and it would spell 'T', and the second one would spell 'W', then 'A', and finally the last one turned around a 'T'. And, they'd laugh and run away and do it again."

For anyone who wants to join, the 45th Annual Parade takes place Wednesday, October 31, at 7 pm.

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