Gay Pride Gala (continued)
lives were destroyed by such arrests, men lost their jobs,
were ostracized, mandated to stay away from any place
catering to "perverts"--in effect being sentenced
to a life of loneliness. Those ordered to register as
sex offenders might be corralled, usually late at night,
when any real sex crime occurred--say, child molestation.
They were placed in an identification lineup although
no implication of a gay act was involved.
1973, three helicopters, several squad cars, and more
than a dozen police on horses launched an invasion of
the cruising areas of Griffith Park, routing men socializing
with other gay men along the main roads, a traditional
gathering for a warm Sunday afternoon. The men were handcuffed,
herded down to an impromptu wired compound, and charged
with whatever flimsy reason occurred to the cops.
1977--four years after the repeal in California of anti-sodomy
laws--similar incidents were still occurring, all invisible
except to gay men, who knew that even if they were the
objects of violence, it would be they who would be converted
into defendants. Suicides, bashings, unreported murders,
arrests, incarceration. Virtually every gay man who lived
through those near-times had horror stories of abuse.
mythology of Stonewall was so powerful that it lulled
many of us into the belief that war was over, that all
those violations against our rights, however recent, were
now buried in an irrelevant past. Then came AIDS, and
we discovered that our battles, not only with illness
but with deadly prejudice, were not over. Our horizon
turned into a graveyard of often-young dying men. Illness
was redefined as just punishment for sinfulness. silence
became a killer. Walking along the blocks of panels that
formed the quilt of death, we would halt in shock and
sorrow to discover the names of friends among intimate
through daily acts of bravery, those who were dying often
taught us how to live. Those who stood by them taught
us about true caring as they nurtured beloved partners
right up to death, even while they themselves saw the
mirror of their own deaths in declining bodies. We discovered
great strength in ourselves and in the solidarity between
gay men and Lesbians, whose support was awe-inspiring
and must not be forgotten. We found allies among parents
who learned their sons were gay only when they were dying.
We found allies among our families who, shedding generations
of bigotry, were and are able to support us without qualification.
we celebrate tonight, it may be necessary to remind that
not all is bright on our horizon today. Perhaps more than
ever since we first declared our proud presence with various
manifestations of defiance are we under new assaults that
may set us back even farther than from where we emerged
so recently. We are under attack simultaneously on several
our own front--and we should never look away from facing
our own problems--there is a growing indifference to the
still very real danger of AIDS. The memory of that time
and the emergent courage seems increasingly to be pushed
back by a new generation, the horizon wishfully cleared
of that violent time. Although I have long defended, and
continue to defend, the richness of our sexuality and
hope that we never abdicate it, never surrender the wealth
of our unique sexuality, still, dangers persist as too
real; warning signals emerge, too silently, side effects,
new infections, precursors to AIDS. The prevalence of
drugs and unprotected sex at ubiquitous circuit parties
front on which we are forcefully assaulted is that of
religious right-wing zealots of every ilk. From fundamentalist
podiums to the pulpits of established religions, they
arouse hatred that incites violence, the savage murder
of Matthew Shepherd, the brutal killing of Teena Brandon.
Consider the barbaric intent of bands of bigots who doggedly
appear at the funerals of servicemen, blaming their deaths
on the prevalence of homosexuality in the country.
is surreal irony in the fact that those priests who claim
to have surrendered sex, who profess abstinence, proclaim
homosexuality to be "unnatural." What is more
unnatural--literally against nature--than the denial of
sexual desire? What is more perverted than the abuse of
children, often quietly concealed by the hierarchy of
the most powerful attack on our horizon is that being
waged by the cadre of political liars that have illegally
seized the country, led by the unelected "war president,"
whose closest encounter on the frontlines occurred when
he was a cheerleader for the Yale football team. The same
man who has spawned murderous destruction on a country
and has sent thousands of young Americans to their death,
most of them dead before living even a third of their
lives--that same man who sleeps soundly despite the daily
criminal acts of carnage, is the man who is backing an
amendment to the constitution to add illegitimacy to homosexuality.
Whatever one may feel about gay marriage--I myself do
not need the ceremony to assert my love for my partner
of more than 20 years--such bonding would allow us rights
otherwise deprived, the right, importantly, of visitation,
the need for which was cruelly manifested during the height
of the AIDS epidemic when men who had lived together for
decades were not allowed into the hospital when one of
power of hatred was exemplified in the last presidential
election. By attaching proposed anti-gay legislation to
the presidential ballots, Republicans lured bigots to
provide the votes that pushed the cheerleader once again
into office. They have begun to do this again.
often, we gay people separate ourselves from signals of
dangers when they appear to involve others. Yet those
who scream out for violence against "illegals"
are the same who scream out against "faggots."
Those who turn "Support Our Troops" into a cry
for their deaths are the same who deny us equal rights.
believe that we gay people have not yet discovered our
full power, the power of our numbers, the power of millions
of us committed to equal rights and justice that extends
beyond us, recognizing that the thirsty evil unleashed
in our country knows no demarcation, that we have dangers
in common, and that our vast numbers, conjoined with others,
may be able to shift the terrible direction our country
prefer to end my talk tonight by recalling a few instances
of courage and pride exhibited by individuals here in
El Paso long, long before Stonewall or the Black Cat riot,
decades ago. Barely a teen-ager, I used to cross San Jacinto
Plaza on my way home from the public library. There, almost
nightly, a bleached blond queen held court, brash, assertive,
unashamed, unfazed by heckling and routine harassment
by cops. She sat proudly on the stone ledge like the queen
of the alligators that lazed then in a pond. She was a
symbol of bleached defiance, a revolutionary tromp l'oeil.
With her boldness, she inspired others less identifiable
to shed their shame, an act that required much less courage
remember two women who ate regularly at Luby's Cafeteria.
They wore their hair smartly short, they wore suits. When
they entered, there were often sniggers. They walked in--sometimes
they marched--with squared shoulders and a steady pace,
undaunted. That was individual courage equivalent to that
shown collectively at Stonewall.
remember two men, always together, slightly effeminate,
in the same cafeteria--and none of this is to imply that
Luby's is the center of coming-out activity. The two could
not have escaped the overt and covert looks of disdain,
the leering smiles, and, not infrequently, a not-too-whispered
reference to "queers." They never lost their
dignity as they invaded--yes, at times with an added arrogant
swish--what must have seemed to them a minefield of derision.
That manifestation of courage matched that of those who
defied the cops in riots. Rather than brand those men,
those women as stereotypes, as they now so often and so
sadly are, I would call them stalwart pioneers who proclaimed
their difference: "I am not what you want me to be."
ago, here in El Paso, I would not have been able to imagine,
to conceive that one day in my hometown a group of gay
men and Lesbians would march proudly down its streets,
as you did so beautifully recently. I would not have been
able to dream that there would come a time when there
would be such a gathering as this here, tonight, this
thrilling display of pride.
congratulate you for all that you have accomplished. There
is nowhere else I would rather be to celebrate gay pride
than here, in El Paso, my hometown.
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Original material by John Rechy appears
frequently on these pages.