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A Pittsburgher’s view of Gay Pride ‘73, New York style

If it feels good, do it; so some of us masturbate, and some of us have joined the Interstate Gay Pride Marcher set.

Marching is mental masturbation. You let off steam, you hold your lover, you feel good. The Feel-Good city is New York, because there you can do whatever pleases you and you will get ignored for it equally as much as anyone else.

But when about 17,000 gay persons and sympathizers walked down Seventh Avenue from Central Park to the West Village, past the Stonewall where legend says it all started, to Washington Square you can’t ignore that. Such color, such well-cared-for bodies, such beautiful men and women—women my mother would leave my father for—and such approval from the curb. We had mothers exhorting their babies to wave or raise a fist along with us, a woman on a second floor brought her parrot out from inside and told us he was gay, and construction workers and gas station attendants cheered along with us. You can’t go wrong in New York, it seemed … no one wanted to let on that they were anything but liberal.

So we couldn’t get the people on the sidewalks to be hostile to us; we had to invent our own hostility. The invention took some time, because when we reached Washington Square, it all came to a head, and it wasn’t the heat of the day, or tempers. It was something that was always there and had to be dealt with all along, and never was.

Right in front of the arch at Washington Square there was a big platform set up with a piano, drums, all sorts of mikes and amps, and scaffolding. All the banners were hung around … Rutgers to one side, Washington D.C. to the other, etc. Apparently Pittsburgh just being there was such a cam p to some people that when our banner was lowered from the stage to be hung in front, two people grabbed it and started ripping it. I like to think they wanted to keep it rather than they hated us or the Pitts for some reason …

The first scuffle (scuffle is too nice a word for it) came when Sylvia Riviera, a street transvestite and one of the angriest gay liberationists, tried to get to the stage to speak and got really mashed in the process. This burly English guy who holds a black belt in Kung-Fu really whomped her (the same guy has the dubious distinction of trying to becalm the crowd by saying, “You in the front … sit your twats down!” And on to Consciousness -4) because this was supposed to be entertainment, dammit. No time for political speeches. So Sylvia tried once more and this time the crowd overruled the blackshirts. Sylvia got her turn.

We deserved it, but Sylvia was (understandably) overwrought. You would be too if you got some guy’s fist in your gut. She told us, crying all the time, of the gay men and women in jail and what we wete not doing about it, and that if we cared, we would visit her organization “STAR”. Then Sylvia was gone and the entertainment began again, just like in the movie “Cabaret”. Ignore the bad, have a good time.

Others came onto the stage. Straight entertainers exploiting us. Some straight woman chose to sing, “Imet a man today”, and she was aptly booed by some of the crowd. A black woman named Alaina Reed gave us a great version of “Love Train” and got us all holding hands and crying. Some female impersonators did their bit followed by a statement by 100 women deploring impersonators, which was followed by a horrible misinterpretation by some drag queen who called the women “bitches” after she managed to mention her magazine and its 20,000 readers. Lots of melodrama smothering her point that the drags have taken it on the chin and in the groin for us that “pass” as straight. Madelyn Davis, who read the gay rights platform at the Democratic Convention sang “Stonewall Nation” and Meryl Sheppard at the piano sang the great “I Shall Be Released”. We left between Bette Midler, showing she cared all of five minutes to sing “Friends” and solidify the crowd for that time, and a gay singer, Chris Robinson.

On the way back we pondered these things. Was this just the metropolitan New York hostility? Why the heavy influence of the bars and baths? Is it time for gay women to make a clean break with gay men until consciousness on the part of the men picks up? Are female impersonators impersonating females or satirizing the straight man’s idea of what a female is? Is there a place in the movement for the middle class? Can we really call ourselves liberationists?

The next day I heard about the gay bar in New Orleans that was firebombed. I heard it was done by a gay person …