This June is the 50th anniversary of the Gay Pride march.
New York City is where it all began, with the Stonewall Riots. After years of being beaten, arrested, jailed, harassed and murdered, the LGBT community rose up, fought back and changed the world.
I think about the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests around the United States and the world. Black Americans know a little something about police brutality. It makes the struggle of Stonewall feel all the more poignant this year.
In June of 1970, on the one year anniversary of Stonewall, the first ever Gay Pride march in U.S. history took to the streets in New York City! There were simultaneous marches in Los Angeles and Chicago.
It took courage to march for gay rights in 1970. Homosexual sex was illegal, and being gay was officially a psychiatric disorder. It’s hard to imagine that now, though it still feels as though some, including some in the White House, would prefer to drag gay rights back in time.
We can’t let that happen.
I went to my first Pride march in 1982.
In 1981, in what I now understand was some sort of alternate reality conversion therapy, my parents shipped me from the Jersey Shore to a Lubavitch rabbi in Crown Heights, Brooklyn to get the gay prayed out of me.
Side note: DIDN’T WORK!
The religious thing didn’t stick, but owing to the fact that I’d grown up in a far from accepting environment, I chose what felt safer than gay. I called myself bisexual. Now, lots of people are bisexual and pansexual; I was not. But to prove to myself that I was, I went out and got myself a boyfriend. We tried to have sex. Once. It was like watching paint dry.
In 1982, my friend Rodney demanded I come with him to the Gay Pride march in Manhattan. Rodney was an adorable gay boy who’d moved down the street from me in Crown Heights. We loved marching down the main drag in town holding hands. This handsome young black man and crazy-looking blonde white girl holding hands really shook up the Chasids. It was our entertainment.
On the subway into Manhattan, I whispered to Rodney, “Do you think it’s okay if I go to the parade?”
He looked at me, perplexed.
“And why in the hell wouldn’t it be?”
“Because I’m not gay.”
He laughed the rest of the way to Sheridan Square.
I emerged from the station into a powerful sight. In many ways, I’ve never recovered. Thousands and thousands of LGBT men and women were marching, dancing, kissing, shouting, singing, and letting it all hang out (some literally). It was electric.
Growing up, being gay was something it was best to hide. You might be beaten, shunned, raped. Anything could happen to you.
But on Christopher Street on June 27, 1982, for the first time in my life, being gay was embraced. More than embraced, it was celebrated.
An hour into the parade, Rodney starting taunting me: “Come out, come out, wherever you are!”
The contagious pride all around me and Rodney’s loving smile as he tried to coax the gay out of me cracked something open. Something that had been percolating in my solar plexus began to bubble. The balloon I’d been holding down all the years of my life, exploded.
I screamed it out for the world to hear. “I’m gay! I’m gay! I’m gay!”
My life has not always been easy, but after that day, it’s always been true.
Due to the pandemic, 2020 will be the first year since its inception that we will not march for Gay Pride in New York.
2020 has seen a sea of loss. Sickness, death, isolation, poverty, fear, anger; the Pride march would have been a much-needed blanket of rainbow love.
But there are other ways to march.
We can march virtually and on social media.
We can march by standing up loud and proud wherever we go. How ’bout the supermarket? I plan on marching down aisle four: “We’re here! We’re queer! Get used to it!”
We can march by fighting for our rights and the rights of others.
We can march by sharing our time and resources with people less fortunate than we are.
And, we can march by loving and accepting ourselves.
We haven’t had our hair done lately; no manicures or waxing either, but no matter. We are beautiful just the way we are.
Deal with it.