Front runners 1983 and 2015 finish line pictures steve waldon

In 2019, Front Runners New York (FRNY) and the New York Road Runners (NYRR) achieved the record for the largest Pride charity run with 10,238 people taking part. 

Two years on from achieving their Guinness World Records title, the FRNY LGBT Pride Run® is celebrating another milestone - its 40th anniversary. 

We spoke to the President of FRNY, Gilbert Gaona, to find out a bit more about the history of this record-breaking race and what the 40th anniversary event has in store for participants. 

What is Front Runners New York? 

FRNY is a running club, founded in October 1979 by Malcolm Robinson, for people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ+) and those who are allies. Identifying as LGBTQ+ is not a requirement to run with FRNY. We welcome runners of all speeds, ages, and abilities.

FRNY draws a wide variety of athletes. Some FRNY members race on a weekly basis — others never race at all. We train track sprinters, middle distance runners, ultra marathoners, walkers, swimmers, and triathletes.

The 1982 FRNY LGBT Pride Run finish line. Credit: FRNY Archives

Could you tell us about the origins of the FRNY LGBT Pride Run®? 

In 1981, the first Pride Run was put on by the San Francisco FrontRunners. One year later, on June 26, 1982, 440 runners assembled in Central Park. While the runners were warming up and stretching, a message was read out over the PA from Patricia Nell Warren, author of the gay-themed novel The Front Runner (it is from this novel's title that Front Runners New York took their name).

Afterwards, the horn sounded and the first-ever Lesbian & Gay Pride Run was underway. Remulus Della Valle from the Millrose Athletic Association won that first race in 25:13. The first member of Front Runners New York to finish was Steve Brown (27:56). The first woman finisher was Sue Foster, also of FRNY (31:49). That landmark race marked the start of an enduring collaboration among FRNY, New York Road Runners and the City of New York. 

All of us have been in the race all our lives. We jumped off the line when we were born, and that race will not end until we fall fainting into our deaths. All of us here today have been running all our lives, straining every fiber, racing to stay ahead of institutions and people in the world who seek to enslave the human mind and heart... who seek to make us all live in fear, so that they can control our lives and our efforts. Staying ahead of these institutions, these would-be controllers, is the effort that we all are making. We are all front runners. – Excerpt from Patricia Nell Warren's opening remarks in 1982

How has it changed over the years? 

The first FRNY LGBT Pride Run® had 440 runners start the race. Over the years it grew to consistently have about 5,000 finishers in Central Park. In 2019, to collaborate with World Pride, and in conjunction with NYRR, the City of New York and the Parks Department, we were able to set a Guinness World Records title for the largest Pride charity run, with 10,238 finishers. 

The very next year we were planning to go back to our normal 5,000 finishers when COVID hit. We ended up putting together a last minute virtual race that had 279 finishers. We are so excited to be almost back to normal. Though we temporarily updated the distance to a 6k, we have been green lit for an estimated 4,200 finishers.

2010 FRNY LGBT Pride Run podium finishers. From left: Men's winner John MacConnell, then-club president Robert Lennon, former president Steve Gerben, women's winner Leah Serinsky, and emcee Peppermint. Credit: FRNY Archives

Who gets involved?

We usually have 300-400 FRNY members run and we always have a big contingent of DC Front Runners who attend the race, as well as a few Front Runners from other clubs around the world. I know of a few Front Runners who have taken part in almost every single race. I don't think I have met someone yet who can say they have done every single one. If they are out there, I would love for them to come forward! I think the most completions is around 36 or 37 races.

We have also had a few celebrities involved in the race. I remember the first year I ran the race, in 2012, actor Wilson Cruz ran. We have had multiple Broadway stars sing the National Anthem and have had two RuPauls Drag Race Stars, Peppermint (pictured above) and Shuga Cain, host the run. Fun fact, Shuga Cain actually got her start in drag with Front Runners New York. She has also run the Pride Run four times and will be back this year.

How does it feel to be celebrating this milestone?

The crazy thing is that I was born one year before the first Front Runners New York LGBT Pride Run®, so for me it is a reminder of how things have changed throughout my life. In 1981, only 440 people came out in support of our club, community and race. Many of our own members were afraid to show they were part of our community. 

Today, the FRNY LGBT Pride Run® symbolizes the growing acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and is an integral part of New York’s city-wide Pride Weekend celebration. It continues to promote the visibility and acceptance of LGBT athletes while celebrating the bond among all members of the running community.

There is still work to do, but now this race consistently sells out and people are rushing to be a part of this event. I  think this year's race is even more significant because for many people, this is their first in-person race in over a year. We are so proud they get to celebrate our 40th with us, but we get to celebrate their return to racing with them.

FRNY LGBT Pride Run 2015. Credit: Steve Waldon

How are you feeling about this weekend's event? 

I am so excited to toe the line with others again. Virtual racing just isn't the same as the race day environment, especially the Pride Run environment. There are still some restrictions in place, since this race has been planned for months, but we are excited to see each other again!

This will be my 10th running of the FRNY New York LGBT Pride Run® and I have never been so anxious for the day to come. Having last year's race be virtual, I feel like we have missed out on this huge annual family reunion. This is a time for us to come together and celebrate the amazing people in our community.  

At the same time that we celebrate, it is important to continue fighting for all members of the LGBTQ+ community. As we speak, the majority of states in the US are working through anti-trans bills. In a time where many of us feel liberated or free to be ourselves, we have far too many of us who are still being held back. 

What do you think the run means to New York’s LGBTQ+ community?

I see the FRNY LGBT Pride Run® in two ways. It is a time for us to come together and to celebrate who we are as a community. On the other hand, visibility is often one of the best ways to protest and make a stand against inequalities in the world. We are lucky to live in the greatest city in the world, where the LGBTQ+ community is thriving and woven into the daily life of the city. Not everyone has this freedom, so we are able to show what is possible.

Guinness World Records certificate presentation for the largest pride charity run in 2019

What's it like to hold the record for the largest Pride charity run? 

There are over 100 Front Runner clubs worldwide and Front Runners New York is the largest club. We always assumed we had the largest Pride Run, but it's such an amazing feeling to officially hold the title. 

This is a testament to all the work our members put into the club and the work the Pride Run Committee puts into the race. This club is a force to be reckoned with and we have made our stamp on not only New York City racing, but the LGBTQ+ Community as a whole. 

Good luck to all the organisers and runners at this year's in-person and virtual FRNY LGBT Pride Run®!

This year, the funds raised from the FRNY New York LGBT Pride Run® will be donated to charity New Alternatives.  New Alternatives' mission is to increase the self-sufficiency of LGBTQ+ homeless youth and young adults by enabling them to transition out of the shelter system to stable adult lives. 

Header image credit: Left, Rich Walker - Right, Steve Waldon