June 13, 2016

Gay Pride 2016: Some Photos and Reflections

I hadn't planned to write anything about Gay Pride this year. Then I woke up Sunday morning to the news of the shootings at the gay nightclub in Orlando.

In my last post, I described the sad experience at my Parkinson's support group meeting on Friday. The group meets at the Iona Senior Center in the Tenleytown section of Washington, a ten-minute drive from my house.

I was feeling down when I walked out of our meeting room. But then Susan Messina, an Iona staffer and friend, happened by and asked me to pose for this picture:

Iona staffed a booth at Sunday's Gay Pride celebration on Pennsylvania Avenue. I thought Iona's presence there was an excellent example of the rapidly growing acceptance of GLBT people and their issues. Iona supports all people who experience the challenges (and opportunities) of aging,

Washington's Gay Pride Parade -- 2014
I didn't attend the Gay Pride parade last year. But in 2014, I saw something remarkable. For the first time in any American city, a U.S. Military Color Guard participated:

This military presence felt particularly ironic to me. About 65 years ago, I confided -- for the first time in my life -- that I was gay... to the U.S. Army's draft recruiter. It worked.
I was happy the Color Guard wasn't given the number one spot in the parade. As in virtually every gay pride parade anywhere, that distinction went to Dykes on Bikes.

Washington's Gay Pride History
The city's Gay Pride Day began in 1975 as a small block party on S Street just off Connecticut Avenue -- adjacent to the gay/lesbian bookstore Lambda Rising. It grew every year, and in 1980 moved to P Street, then the center of a growing gay community.

These are significant dates for me. Thanks to therapy in 1975, I realized that leading a life as a closeted married gay man would not have a happy ending for me, or for my family. I came out in 1977, and became actively involved in the gay community. I gave lots of time to the gay/lesbian Whitman-Walker health clinic. Six months after coming out, I got sober, and found many new friends in gay AA.

Years passed, and the parade grew and grew. Here's Deacon Maccubbin, Lambda Rising's founder, riding on his bookstore's float in the 2002 parade:

Gay Pride in Combating the AIDS Pandemic
Next to my computer are two framed reminders of the days -- no, years -- when our lives were dominated by AIDS.

The first is a collection of photos I took during that time. The photo on the top left and the three photos at the bottom were taken in October 1996, the last time the entire AIDS Memorial Quilt was spread across the vast Washington Mall.

The man in the foreground is Frank Kameny, considered one of the most significant figures in the American gay rights movement. He owned a house in the Palisades, my neighborhood in Washington, DC.

The quilt was a powerful visual reminder of the AIDS pandemic. More than 48,000 individual 3' x 6' panels -- most commemorating the life of someone who died of AIDS – – had been sewn together by friends, lovers, and family members.

In all the recent commentary about the remarkable increasing public acceptance of gay people, I've been surprised how seldom AIDS has been mentioned as a key factor in that dramatic turnaround. Since the pandemic began in the early 1980s, the U.S. government statistics report that over 300,000 gays have died of AIDS.(The government report didn't call them gays, but MSM – – men who have sex with men.) Many of them were closeted, and their families and friends became aware of their sexual orientation for the first time. Several were very public figures. The photo on the bottom left shows the quilt for one of them.

With AIDS, people learned that the shy young man next door was gay, as was the Hollywood leading man Rock Hudson. These revelations -- repeated so many times -- pushed forward the public acceptance of gays.

The other two photos (top row) relate to Whitman-Walker Clinic, the nonprofit health center for the LGBT community.

In the middle photo is Jim Graham, who was executive director of the Clinic from 1984 to 1999. He went on to become a member of the DC Council, the city's elected legislative body. He represented the city's Ward 1 for four terms,1999-2015.

This photo was taken at a weekend retreat for the clinic's board of directors that was funded by BNA during the year that I was board president.

In the early 1980s, with Jim as executive director and my treasured pal Dusty Cunningham as president of the clinic's board of directors, the clinic began transforming itself into one of the nation's premier organizations combating AIDS. For more on those challenging and interesting times, click here.

During the AIDS crisis, political cartoonist Gary Trudeau often devoted his Doonesbury cartoon strip to pieces that were both supportive and humorous. He donated this signed copy of one of these pieces to the clinic to be used in a major fundraiser.

NYC's Memorable Gay Pride Weekend -- 2011
In July 2011, I went to NYC for a theater weekend. I got a ticket for the Friday night performance of the much acclaimed revival of the AIDS play The Normal Heart.

When I first made my plans, I didn't know it was NYC's Gay Pride weekend, nor could I have known that on this Friday NY Governor Cuomo would sign the Gay Marriage law.

Naturally, the wild celebration in Greenwich Village centered around the Stonewall Inn, the gay bar where the Stonewall Riots began after a police raid in 1969. Those riots are typically viewed as the single most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the struggle for gay and lesbian rights.

But by Saturday afternoon, all was quiet at Stonewall:

On Sunday, I managed to get a good spot to watch the exuberant parade. Once again, we start off with Dykes on Bikes:

I'll end where I started. Here's a photo of me and the parade contingent for SAGE -- Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders.

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