My First Pride.
Forty years ago, my Republican political career was going strong.
Coming off the National Staff of the President Ford Campaign, I’d been managing programs for Young Political Leaders with the Department of State, then building and running a Political Action Committee for a Small Petroleum Refiners Association when I was asked to go to Colorado to run the campaign for a Republican candidate for State office…
I was deep in it and had visions of a powerful, political future in the Party.
Though with the gently relentless and increasing intensity of a festering carbuncle, I was discovering a growing unease within me. Not only was I finding myself uncomfortable with some of the perspectives of colleagues, friends and coworkers with respect to race, class, level of economic status and the Earth…I was also discovering something about myself that I knew I had to keep deeply buried in order to continue sitting at that table.
Dropping off my dates at 11:30 or midnight, then parking my car on dark streets and slipping through dark doorways off nondescript streets and into festive bars and clubs where another entire life was underway – a life of which I’d barely begun to be aware – and discovering the level of comfort and welcome I felt in those places was one of the most threatening experiences I’d had, to date. I had plans for my life that all of this threatened.
It’s a phase; It will pass; I can submerge it; can ignore it: all delusions I tested and failed to prevail.
So, when the offer came to move to Colorado, away from DC and all the temptation, I took it.
And there, I met Don; and what had been essentially physical and objective became immediately sensual and emotional. The power of love between like beings, between two men, overwhelmed me and terrified me.
The year I spent in Denver and Colorado (great stories for other times) showed me, taught me the incredible Lightness of Being true to myself; of recognizing who I truly am and embracing that Truth. This truth, this realization, meant I had to relinquish all I had thought lay before me and seek a new path and a new life.
Politics was out. I sought and interviewed for work in Los Angeles, Dallas, New York and came to San Francisco to visit a former love of mine from years previous, Sue. Sitting in a cafe on Pier 39, I came out to her. In that conversation, we re-bonded and caught up; and she asked me where I was going to live. I shared the frustration of trying to work that out and where I’d looked and the jobs for which I’d interviewed and…she put her hand on my knee and looked out the window…
The sun was shining bright on the Bay, I remember no clouds in the sky as sailboats and sailboards were whipping past, gulls flying overhead, happy people laughing here in the cafe… Sue looked at me with a “…seriously, what are you thinking?” look on her face and the decision was made.
On April 15th, 1979, I crossed the Bay Bridge into San Francisco in a U-Drive-It and moved me and a few suitcases into the basement of Sue and her husband; and started doing temp jobs.
In no time, it was June and Pride in San Francisco. I didn’t really know anyone, yet, and though I could maybe meet some people and get involved by becoming a Monitor for the Gay Freedom Day Parade. So, I did.
Being Gay in Broad Daylight is far different than being in a dark bar or festive nightclub, or even sitting quietly in a cafe. Being GIBD means that there are A LOT of other people around.
So. There I was, at the corner of Spear and Market Street, with the Hyatt Regency on my right and market street stretching up the hill toward the Castro, flanked with thousand of people; six, seven, twelve deep on either side.
Wearing my Monitor’s sash, I was clearly A Part of It. Gay…. Gay, gay, gay. No hiding. Public.
The day was heavily overcast, a cool-ish grey with not much of a breeze and it was time for the parade to begin. Everyone was happy and smiling as things rolled toward the start; then there it was…Time.
About eight million Dykes on Bikes zoomed past me and up the street, many with their biker chick partners, all of them looking just a tad scary to this country boy. But it was thrilling…the power of the machines an instant metaphor for the power of what was taking place. These dykes in all their uber-confident glory, racing up the hill to screams and cheers and flags and the pounding explosions of their battalion of exhaust pipes…
I was beyond whelmed.
Next, standing at the ready, was the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Marching Band. I hadn’t seen a marching band since High School – and these men and women in rank and file looked to grand, so regal, so happy as they stood there…
Suddenly, the clouds broke and the sun shone a sparkling brilliance on the band and all their lovingly, proudly-polished brass…I’m sure it was the brightness of the shimmer that made my eyes water as they struck up the Starting Tune, “If They Could See Me, Now!”
If they could see me, now.
Immediately, a cavalcade of colorful imagery from my past raced through my mind in a heartbeat. If they could see me, now; what would they think? What would they see?
Friends from high school, friends from college, teachers, teammates, traveling companions, colleagues…all of whom knew something of me; none of whom knew this deepest part of me that I was just discovering for myself, just coming to grips with, just barely beginning to accept and perhaps even embrace.
In the coming years; some of those would continue to love me, some would be bewildered and uneasy, many would reject me and depart my life. I would, one-by-one, conquer fear and come out; then rejoice or grieve the loss…and move on.
At that moment, standing there in all my authenticity in the bright light of day, tears streaming down my face; immersed in the lush sounds of the band playing and the crowd cheering and the welcoming, celebratory throngs of people lining the boulevard into the distance…I felt unequivocally good about what the future might hold.
Just as they began to march, a young couple from inside the Hyatt pushed through the crowd. They looked at me…”What parade is this?!” She demanded, excitedly. (Omigod, I’m going to have to tell them! I thought to myself.)
I swallowed my fear of this Truth and how it might shock these strangers and said, “This is the Gay Freedom Day Parade…”
Her husband shouted, “HONEY, GO GET THE KIDS!”