Stepping Out

Stonewall Baby

My first in-the-streets action did not leave blisters on my feet. It’s not because it didn’t include a long march route winding through some city. Instead, protesters carried their signs and offered their “two-four-six” chants as they shuffled in loop in one spot. My mother, one of the shufflers, pushed as I likely napped in my stroller, sucking on a pacifier. From what she tells me, she and her hippie-era cohort were opposing some beachside development in San Diego, circa 1970.

It’s not that I was raised in an “activist” family. With no memory of that first outing to fight “the man,” I can say I’ve never seen any of my family take part in that sort of social action. I do know that my older sister came down to National Mall to rock out with the Beach Boys in the early 1980s in what she told me was a loosely gathered statement in favor of legalizing marijuana — until President Reagan’s secretary of the interior, James “killjoy” Watt, put an end to all that. The Reagans brought the Beach Boys back, but I think Watt effectively ended getting high on the mall en masse as an activist tool.

For myself, I participated in some college activism, collecting signatures in 1988 to prohibit drilling off the Gulf Coast of Florida. That exercise usually found me standing alone for an hour or so at one of my university’s left-leaning buildings. It’s no mystery that the fine-arts majors were a helluva lot likelier to sign onto a drilling ban than were those humorless dudes in the engineering school.

To blend activism with a crowd was something I didn’t see till 1993. I was 23 and still in college — though by then in Richmond, Va., instead of Tampa, Fla. — on an education-in-installments sort of plan.

Coming up to D.C. that spring weekend was glorious. I’d been politically active, but this was a horse of a different color. It was pink!

On the eve of the march, I recall lounging in Dupont Circle as budding Radical Faeries swung from the trees, hanging out with one gay buddy up from Florida, another down from New York. I had no idea how gay a place could feel, what being in a majority might feel like. Straight couples holding hands looked so out of place — though not unwelcome — as they strolled Connecticut Avenue. The scene was surreal.

For the actual march, I wore my Amnesty International shirt with the pink triangle emblazoned on the front. I was so proud of my global-citizen statement, and also so pleased the cotton was black. I could lie in the street with confidence during the AIDS “die-in” knowing I needn’t worry about stains.

That night, my boy posse and I followed my lesbian prom date to the Hung Jury, as she didn’t want to go alone. Who knew the cutest boys would be hanging out at the girl bar?

Not long after, I moved to Portland, Ore., where large street protests were not part of the culture, in the same spirit that protects mortals when they socialize in vampire venues. This activist epicenter favors gatherings, but there’s not much to protest.

But I moved back to D.C. in 1999, just in time for the Millennium March in 2000. Memories here are so different than what I recall of the ’93 event. This time I was not participating, but covering the march as a Washington Blade reporter. I don’t remember joy. I remember controversies about the differently abled march route, and — weeks after — monetary mysteries. My experience the second time around was with the headaches, not making history.

After closing my reporter’s notebook, I vividly recall, however, that the line for the Crew Club was out the door and down the block. With the march and rally themselves being a bit of a blur, I’m glad an ex-boyfriend and his pal in from out of town talked me into it.

And here we are, at it again. Another year, another march, and so many of the same issues to be pissed about.

A lesbian serving in Afghanistan still can’t send e-mail to her girlfriend without fudging the pronouns? Someone is still not convinced that GLBT people are targeted for violence, and that that is as bad as targeting them for their religion or race? Fred Phelps still rests on a higher tier of citizenship than I do?

Since that 2000 event, technology has improved mightily. I text a friend on the West Coast, check the Facebook status of a buddy in Japan, and video-Skype every Saturday with Mom in Florida. Still, despite all these new ways of connecting us, I am sort of looking forward to this National Equality March. If for no other reason, it’s a chance to join with queer people and our allies from all parts of the country, walk past the band of Bible-thumping counter protesters who are bound to make themselves heard along the march route, look at each other and ask, “What the fuck?”

That’s the sort of solidarity that doesn’t always translate well electronically. But in the streets, for those few hours, we will undoubtedly be speaking the same language.

Will O’Bryan, Metro Weekly’s managing editor, was born as the Stonewall Riots ended, making him a Stonewall Baby, he insists.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.