In 1976, Billy Mencer Ackerly marched in Rhode Island’s first Gay Pride Parade. In 2015, we celebrate his 40th consecutive march.
Billy had moved to Rhode Island when he was 16 years old, often taking refuge in Providence’s early gay bars and clubs. By 1976, when he was 25 years old, the gay liberation movement had started in Rhode Island and Billy officially came out of the closet, marching in that inaugural parade. His mom rode in a car with signs proclaiming “I’m Proud to Say My Child Is Gay,“ and his 16–year–old brother carried an American flag, while his dad watched, proudly supporting from the sidelines.
Billy had been working at the Bulova Watch Company and recounts, “In the early years of Rhode Island Pride, I was shown on TV, leading chants in the Parade. Lots of people I worked with saw it.The women in the plant accepted me; the men were a different story. Some avoided me if they could, and stopped speaking to me.There were some brave men I worked with who treated me with respect. Some wonderful guys still bought raffle tickets from me [in support of the Metropolitan Community Church of Providence]. Joe Raimondo, Governor Gina Raimondo’s Dad—he worked in the lab, and Lew Pryeor—Lew Pryeor’s Dad—worked as a plumber there. I remember them for accepting me just as I am. At the time it was not too cool to accept someone who was gay.”
Billy shares photos, personal stories, and historical accounts on his Facebook page to preserve Rhode Island Pride’s history. He invites you to view them to understand how individuals came together to create the change we celebrate today.
Rhode Island Pride is so pleased to honor Billy Mencer Ackerly as our 2015 Grand Marshal as he makes his 40th march through downtown Providence.