Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Peace Marches

The Charlottesville, Virginia peace march reminded me of the first march I ever attended in my life. 

I'm not a marcher even though I was in marching band in high school.

Downingtown High School Marching Band 1958 - that's me in the back with one of the Sousaphones

I've only participated in two public marches in my lifetime. One was the very first gay right march in Washington D.C. That march took place October 14th, 1979.  It was called "The March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights." 

I did not seek out this march.  I was asked to attend as a result of several letters to the editors of newspapers that I had written about gay rights.  Remember back in 1979 being gay was illegal in almost all of the United States. If you were gay and made love to your partner, who just happened to be of the same sex, you were committing a crime. 

In 1979 I lived in center city Philadelphia. And as I said previously, I was asked if I wanted to go on the bus to Washington D.C. to participate in this march. I hesitated because I had often been the target of harassment and brutality from homophobes in Philadelphia and other places I had lived simply because I lived openly as a gay man.

Me with my niece Karen in Rittenhouse Square, Center City, Philadelphia 1979 - note he bell bottom pants!

After much though, I decided to go.  To say I was nervous would be an understatement.  I was scared to death.  I was certain I would be arrested with many others just for publicly displaying myself as a gay man and demeaning equal rights. I was so afraid, I didn't even take my camera (a decision which I have regretted many times since then) because I was certain that once I was arrested my camera would be confiscated and/or destroyed.  but rest assured that somewhere someone has photos of me marching.

All the way down for the 2 1/2 hour drive from Philly to D.C., I had butterflies in my stomach. When we arrived at the beginning of the parade route, I was stunned by all the other gay people attending the parade.  I have to tell you, I felt a tremendous sense of liberation from seeing all those folks attending and getting ready to march to demand equal rights.  And just about everyone one of us, a branded criminal in the eyes of American justice for loving who we love.

The parade route was lined by D.C. policemen on motorcycles.  I noted with some disdain at how small their motorcycles were, not at all the size of my leather friends' motorcycles at the 247 Bar.  I thought "Really guys, is this the BEST you can do?"

We began the march. All was eerily silent except of the hum of the police motorcycles, revved and ready to quell any attacks on us by the glaring folks watching us on the sidelines.  Believe me, there were glares.  How dare we, as gay people, show out perversion to the whole world.

Ever notice how genuinely happy gay people are when they finally come out - liberation! The yoke of oppression is off!

By the way, another thing that surprised me was that 95% and more of the march participants were just regular folks.  Oh sure, there were contingents of motor cycle guys, and the ever present drag queens but almost all of the marchers were just "regular folks".  Longish hair over their ears and sideburns (this was the 70's after all) but most of the marchers could easily "pass" for straight folk.

Just some of the "regular folks" marching in the first gay equality parade in Washington D.C. October 14, 2009

The parade was peaceful, much to my relief. There were no attacks, no violence. I wasn't getting beaten and arrested, what relief.  Many speeches followed. 

At the parade I rediscovered old friends who I had lost contact with.  Friends who had moved to other parts of the country. Oh how I wish I had my camera with me.  

At the end of the day I boarded the bus back to Philly, feeling very good at having participated in this demand for equality. 

One thing that worried me though. I had expected to see my face on the TV news and cover of Newsweek and/or Time. The parade was that massive (over 150,00 participants).  

I'm in that crowd on the Washington Monument Mall folks. Do a "Where's Waldo?" and see if you can find me. I still remember vividly benign that crowd and running into my old friend Richard. Hey, in Gay Life it's always "Six Degrees of Separation." 

However, I was much surprised the next day to discover the TV news coverage of the march was minimal. Oh sure, they showed the drag and leather queens on TV (who were a VERY small part of the march) but not much of the thousands of just "regular" folk who attended and participated in the march.

Fast forward thirty years later.  I attended my second "peace" march, this also of equality. Oh my how thirty years had changed the attitude of the public towards gays. Gone was Anita Bryant's Crusade to eliminate gays from the face of the planet. By the way, whatever happened to Anita Bryant anyway?  Now our march was a festive affair.  Gone was the tension. Gone was the fear of violence and being arrested.  And yes, this time I took my camera.  

My friend Bob and I boarding the bus in Rehoboth Beach to Washington D. C. to attend the march October 11, 2009, almost thirty years to the date after I attended my first march in Washington D.C. for gay equality

This time we didn't have Washington D. C. police on their mini motorcycles lining the route, to protect us from potential violence.  In fact, this march there was also another march taking place at the same time.  We weren't even the main event!  Imagine that? 

Our trip was sponsored by Camp Rehoboth, that's me the Tall One with my camera (I took it this time!) strapped across my torso - ready to march
This time there were not people lining the streets giving us evil glares. This time folks just went about their business as usual, happily in sync with just more marchers in their fair city. I have to tell you folks, that really felt liberating. 

Me walking down Pennsylvania Avenue with my beads and gay flags to the White House, Liberated Ron!
What a wonderful day we had. Beautiful weather, happy folks, no threat of violence in the air. I was so glad my friend Bob suggested that I go along with him on this trip.  Interesting, that both trips I didn't seek but was asked to go. 

Yep, that's us marching past the White House.

Funny thing, I'm wondering now if I could even physically make the march, what with my arthritis.  But you know folks, I would if I got the invitation again.

Another interesting fact about yours truly, I have yet to march in one of those gay pride parades. I was never asked. Someone ask me. I'll go.

Never too old to march for a good cause


Jane Karwat said...

What a historical post and I really enjoyed your perspective on both of them.What a difference. Pride in Toronto is very big.

Ron said...

Not only am I a witness to history Jane, I am a participant. So lucky.

Travel said...

I took part in the 2009 March.

WARPed said...

Yes, Ron, great historical context here!

But what I don't understand, at these Pride events, is why some folks feel the need to prance around half (or completely) naked??? How does that further the cause?



Ron said...

We probably passed each other!

Ron said...

I agree with you, what is it with so many gay pride marches the some gays feel they need to show up half naked. I never did get that unless it is one of those "in your face" moments.

Elle Clancy said...

This is a lovely post to read, especially after waking up this morning to Trump's pardoning of that evil man in Arizona and the transgender ban he's trying to set into motion. What a country we live in. I can only hope good will prevail. And work to make it so, in my own small ways.

Ur-spo said...

These are lovely photos!

Ron said...

Good will prevail, of that I am convinced. We're always tested but good will prevail.

Ron said...

Dr. Spo,
Thanks! I just wished I had taken my camera along with me on that first march in 1979. What was I thinking? Too late now.