UNCLE DONALD'S CASTRO STREET
I was contacted by Lisa Neff, a reporter for the
Chicago Free Press. She asked me to respond to
some questions about my participation in the
THE FIRST GAY MARCH ON WASHINGTON
October 14, 1979
why did you go to the march on washington in 1979?
Having been part of San Francisco's gay community throughout the 1970's, and having known Harvey Milk, I knew the importance of "visibility". Prior to the gay liberation movement, we were invisible. We had been taught to be ashamed of our gayness and were painfully aware that to be labelled "queer", whether true or not, resulted in social disgrace and financial ruin.
The anti-war movement and the late 1960's "sexual revolution" of the hippies inspired gay activism which led to the June, 1969 Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village, New York. This and factors unique to San Francisco encouraged the emergence of the gay community which rapidly grew into a strong, socially unified group with potential to significantly affect the local political scene. Harvey Milk was one of a few people who saw the opportunity and knew how to take advantage of it. Under his leadership we demanded to be heard and politicians soon learned that without support from the gay community they couldn't accomplish much. Harvey went on to become the first openly gay elected official in San Francisco. He had found the key to unleashing gay political power at the local level and insisted that the same thing could be done on a national level. He promoted his vision of a national march at every opportunity, but his days were numbered. His assassination was a significant factor in motivating others to make the march become a reality. Less than a year after Milk's death, we went to Washington, DC. I saw it as my duty as a gay man to add my voice to the demand for civil rights, and on a more personal level, it was my way of paying homage to a man who gave me hope and made me strong.
what did you get out of the march on washington that year?
PRIDE! It is so hard to describe the emotional high that comes from knowing that you are participating in a meaningful historic event. I didn't think this would happen in my lifetime. The lump in my throat and tear in my eye came from letting go of the anger about the unnecessary shame and despair that clouded my youth. I was empowered by a deep sense of pride because I was marching through the nation's capital with 100,000 of the best people in America.
did you attend subsequent marches?
No, not national marches, but I've attended many of the local Pride parades, AIDS vigils, and other events. I've attended all 5 Gay Games, including the most recent Gay Games V, 1998 in Amsterdam. I went to New York for the Gay March on the United Nations, part of the 25th anniversary celebration of the Stonewall riots.
Prior to the 1979 March on Washington, I participated in many San Francisco gay rights demonstrations, parades, protests, and marches. I was there for the outpouring of anger over the Anita Bryant victory in Miami. That gathering turned into a spontaneous late-night noisy march through residential neighborhoods around the city.
The most profound of all my marching experiences was the silent candlelight march from Castro Street to City Hall the night of the assassinations of Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. It was an eloquent expression of grief and it provided a much-needed spark of hope to a community on the brink of despair.
Six months later, we marched again, following the same route to express our outrage over the light sentence for assassin Dan White. That boisterous demonstration became the assault on City Hall, battles with the police, and the police attack on the Castro, all of which came to be known as the White Night Riots.
do you have an interest in or will you be attending the 2000 march next week?
Yes, I do have an interest in the Millennium March and I hope that it will bring us another step closer to attaining the civil rights that have been denied to us without cause. I will not attend, but that is entirely due to my personal situation and is not a political statement.
are you familiar with the controversy over this march? do you care?
Yes, I am, and Yes, I do care. I support the process of discussion, debate, and compromise that leads to democratic decisions. But it sometimes appears that the participants are more affected by their personal feelings than by the needs of the community. With less than a week to go, it is time to bury the hatchet. At this point, no amount of rhetoric is going to stop the march. So, either participate or don't, but let's not make fools of ourselves. My worst fear is that when the cameras are turned-on on Sunday morning, the world will zoom in on half the people protesting the other half's (their brothers and sisters) right to march. I believe that would be an embarassment to all of us and result in a step backwards in our campaign.
can you describe for me the mood at the 79 march? and the temperature of the public toward gays and lesbians at that time in american history?
I'd describe the mood of the participants as a combination of enthusiasm, anticipation, happiness, brotherhood, celebration, lust, and a reasonable amount of typical tourist awe at seeing the nation's capital. The sense of pride at seeing so much queer presence all over the city was perhaps the greatest reward.
The sentiment of the general public at that time was still quite oppressive, but they were beginning to respond to the first honest reports from the media about oppression and gay rights. Anita Bryant's "Save Our Children" campaign against gay teachers in Miami actually became a major factor in changing public sentiment. We, who had been previously invisible and not worthy of news coverage, suddenly captured the headlines of major newspapers across the land. People began to see what gay people look like and what they do. Open-minded
people began to realize that we are not perverted deviant child molesters. We are nothing like the stereotypical monsters that they had been told we were. As a matter of fact, we were exactly the same as them, except for sexual orientation, a characteristic that has nothing to do with civil rights. There are still fag-bashers and bible-thumping bigots who preach hatred in the name of God, and there probably will always be misguided or evil souls who fear and mistrust people who are somehow different than they are. But the good news is that even though there are still battles to be fought and obstacles to our success in obtaining equality, the question is no longer "If . . . ", but "When . . ."!