Friday, July 12, 2013

Mark Segal, Mitchell Halberstadt, and the evolution of Pride

Mark Segal, of Philadelphia Gay News posted this, titled “Back to Christopher Street”:

Each year when I march in the New York Gay Pride parade — and that has become somewhat rare — I always say at the end, “Think this just might be my last one.” I said that four years ago, but there we were this past Sunday once again. But for us, it was somewhat special.

You see, the group that I marched with are the ones who created that march. It was our vision. Actually, Gay Pride was our idea, and this year we celebrated creating that march 44 years ago.

We used the march as an excuse to have a Gay Liberation Front reunion the night before. Very few know LGBT history, but GLF NY 1969-71 literally was the foundation that what we have today was built on.

There were homophile activists before us, but their agenda was equality for homosexuals. They wanted nondiscrimination. But GLF, which was created out of Stonewall, with many of us partaking in that monumental event itself, saw something different, and here is where we changed the world. Overstatement? I don’t think so, since we believed not just in simple equality, but in an actual gay and lesbian community.

In that first year, we created the first organization to help solve problems of gay youth. We created the world’s first gay community center. We issued heath alerts, created community-wide media, issued the first gay history book, dealt with sexism and racism in our community and, way back in 1969, we even had a transgender arm, called Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. We were LGBT people taking care of our own, and we did all of it openly.

That might sound strange to you, but in 1969, the Mattachine Society, a homophile organization, would not allow anyone under 18 into their offices, afraid that the police would raid them. We organized our youth, welcomed them to our meetings, set up a suicide hot line, a speakers bureau that went to schools, and, when the Village Voice would not publish the word “gay,” we marched on them. The laws were wrong, we were not!

We wanted to celebrate Stonewall and our achievements in June 1970. So we organized what today is known as the Gay Pride parade.

Well, the reality is that doing so 44 years ago means that many of us are getting up in years. While about 40 came to the Saturday night reunion, only about 14 of us marched.

The crowd roared when they saw these 14 old women and men marching with a simple banner that read “Original Marchers June 28, 1970.” When we arrived on Christopher Street, the hub of GLF organizing 44 years ago, it was our street. As we made our way down, the crowd went wild, and then something very touching: The police officer in charge of that area came over to our contingent with his officers in toe, stopped, took his cap off and bowed before us, followed by his officers. The crowed erupted ... 44 years ago, these were the guys who were fighting us at Stonewall.

Mitchell Halberstadt adds:
[This is a] fascinating article  — and in an unintended way, perhaps one with highly melancholy (or at least bittersweet) implications.

Except as an annual spectacle along the lines of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, this year may actually spell the end of these marches as we've come to know them. However sadly, that’s a trend that's been in the works for quite some time. This year’s events are merely the final nail in the coffin.

One can forever be nostalgic for the days of GLF, but as I (reluctantly) see it, this year’s march (no — perish the thought! — parade) represents a sort of symbolic victory lap for the “equality” agenda, both within the movement or community, and in a larger societal context. Lots of work remains, but (again, however unfortunately) it will quickly take on the character of a mopping-up operation — especially in comparison with everything that’s gone on between Stonewall and the present. Much as I might fear to say it (or even resent having to acknowledge it), that truth is likely to prevail — and wishing otherwise amounts to just that: wishful thinking.

The episode Mark describes, in which the cops bow to the marchers, makes for an all-too-perfect denouement — a final closing-out of that very narrative!

MH

PS: The perspective I've suggested above has been developing for some time; the transition I describe (as a shift in the center-of-gravity) began to be decisive at least by the early 1980s, with the outset of the AIDS epidemic.

For more on my view of this phenomenon, and on how it occurred, please see the concluding section of my article, “In Retrospect.”


5 comments:

Billy Glover said...

I am not sure abut all the "firsts" but we were doing the same thing on the west coast—not ONE/Tangents/HIC but CSW, Advocate, Morris Kight, etc. While you don't march with pride about blue eyes, etc., you do march to say we are part of the nation.

And it may need discussion to understand why he says making a community, not pushing for equality-you don't get a community (except like the original Mattachine, secret, code words, etc) without being a part of the whole society-ask Jews, blacks, disabled, etc. Or the early Irish or Italian immigrants/Catholics. (I know that from the 1940s here.)

Paul Cain said...

This reminds me of the "post-gay" discussion several years ago. I think for those of us who live in California, or New England, or a few other places in the U.S. and a few select countries, we as GLBT people are certainly obtaining rights as full citizens. But while California's marriage victory means that 30% of Americans now live in places where same-sex marriage is legal, that means 70% do not. And there are still countries in Africa and other places where homosexual acts are punishable by death. We are making progress, and I expect that we will continue to do so. But that progress is somewhat uneven. Kids still commit suicide because they can't handle being taunted and teased, or even just being able to handle the fact that they are different from their peers.

I will continue to march in Gay Pride parades every chance I get, because 1) I enjoy them, and 2) they are not for me. They are, in large part, for the folks sitting on the sidelines. Some of them are closeted gay/lesbian/bisexual people. Some of them are straight allies. Some of them are people who are curious to see who we are as a community. So I'm not done. One could make the argument that none of us is free until all of us are free.

Billy Glover said...

I tend to forget that last phrase, which we obviously believe-and is what Don Slater said about marriage-while we should have all the rights heterosexuals have, unmarried people should have those rights too-so we are not all equal till all are equal.

Pam Raintree said...

I suppose we will not see eye to eye on marriage, where the state has authority to offer incentives for people to participate in an institution that legislators believe will make our society better. Insofar as everyone is free to take advantage of those incentives, then the law is equal, even if the institution's value to society is debatable.

Billy Glover said...

I agree if everyone has equal opportunity. But it in a sense punishes those who choose NOT to marry, and there are many such people, and even more those who choose not to have children.

And I'm not sure we will be able to avoid the question of those who choose to marry more than one person, at the same time instead of serially.