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About Just out. (Portland, OR) 1983-2013 | View Entire Issue (June 1, 1985)
G ay Pride
past and present
b y B illy Russo
My first Pride March was in a little town
outside of Newark, New Jersey in 1973. Al
though I had moved to Los Angeles the year
before, I found myself back in the metropoli
tan area that summer working for one of New
York City's produce wholesalers, George
Morris Knight, whom
com m unity services center (GCSC) in L A ,
was the Grand Marshal of the NYC march
that year. He contacted me through my
father: “Will you chaperon me while I'm in
New York, dear? You know the city so much
better than I."
I mean, what could I say. My father lent me
his old Chevy station wagon, and my boss
gave me the week off. Anyway, Morris had
heard of this march in the outskirts of Newark
and simply had to be there.
It was a spur of the moment decision. And
the more I thought about it, the more
frightened I became. As we headed down the
Major Deagan towards the George Washing
ton Bridge, I shared my fears with Morris.
“ Why do we have to go to some little hick
town in Jersey, of all places?" I asked.
“ Because we re needed there," this foun
der of gay liberation responded. I knew he
was right, but I was scared.
Growing up gay in New York had its ad
vantages. So many of us were "O ut” When I
was 15 I discovered a gay collective in the
neighborhood I grew up in. I had known one
of the men for years. He was one of my
father’s trade union buddies. He was a
who lived in that town had a strong influence
on me. Some of them were so closeted that
they wore paper bags over their heads during
the march. But despite their fear of exposure,
they got out there in the streets to be counted.
And although I was safely on my way back to
the Island of Manhattan, they had to remain in
that little town and deal with the homophobia
that is a major component of life in rural
As we drove back to the City, all of us
quietly processing the experience of the after
noon, I was troubled: my reluctance to be
supportive of that small community was an
act of selfishness that conflicted with how I
perceived myself. I was ashamed.
I quickly forgot those feelings the next day
as I marched with 80,000 through the streets
of Manhattan to the cheers of another
100,000 or so. And I never gave it a thought
again until I decided to come out publicly in
Roseburg. I realized that by not coming out I
was fighting my own nature. But knowing
that was not enough to take that giant step.
Remembering those queers in that little town
in New Jersey helped.
Most of us in Roseburg are not ready for
our own Lesbian/Gay Pride celebration, but
we want to be counted. Last year we marched
with you inPortland behind our own banner.
This year we re building a float and will once
again march through the streets of Portland,
celebrating the vitality of our culture.
We are inviting those of you who grew up in
rural America to march with us in support of
all rural homosexuals. We ll be assembling
behind the green and lavendar GAY AND
LESBIAN ALLIANCE banner. And at the rally
we ll be staffing a booth for GALA Stop by
and say hi.
discovered so many more homophiles of
high consciousness: queers with pride. Many
of us were Out in those days. We were Out
when in the gayghettoes: Christopher Street
Washington Square, Brooklyn Heights__
Sure, occasionally I held a lover's hand as we
strolled through other parts of the city, but
that was a bit daring in the early seventies and
not something I did every day.
Living a year in Ed Davis's L A with his
Metro Squad and the youth gangs that preyed
on us faggots was a sobering experience for
me. I was still recovering from a severe beat
ing I had received at a One, Incorporated
dance Christmas eve and I was not emotion
ally equipped to go through that again so
soon. And Morris' words of assurance did
little to alleviate my fears.
I was also embarrassed. Here 1 was with
Morris and half a dozen founders of GAA, and
I didn’t want to show my fear.
It was a Saturday afternoon, the day before
the NYC march. There were about 75 mem
bers of the homophile community present I
was able to relax once we were in the loving
company of our peers, but I was still edgy.
Morris led the little group through the
streets of town. A police car led the way.
Some of us carried placards and signs. Some
of us held hands. There were one or two
hecklers and many non-gay couples that
watched without com m ent There were also
a few supporters. We gathered on the stairs of
the town hall and Morris made a speech
about the importance of standing up and
being counted. The rally was over before I
knew it and we were on our way back to the
Big Apple. I was relieved to be heading to
wards familiar turf.
The courage of my sisters and brothers
\ > >
wonderful role model for me. I trusted him
and he never betrayed that trust Through
him I met a lot of wonderful faggots and
dykes who lived in defiance of homophobic
taboos. When I got involved in the Gay Ac
tivist Alliance (GAA) in the early Seventies, I
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Just Out, June. 1985