by Jim Andris
It was the culmination of much hard work and careful planning. Red, yellow, blue, and green ballons; gay, straight, lesbian, old, young men and women, against the backdrop of sun-drenched Victorian brick houses. The people stood or milled about the still dry fountain in Maryland Plaza. Warmth and a feeling of carnival festivities were in the air. Over three hundred had gathered by one thirty, and old friends were everywhere. A few curious onlookers lined the edges of the shade cast by the shops. Banners and posters sprinkled the crowd.
the caliope starts to play "Meet Me in St. Louis" as a test for the
walk later. Many colorful figures are in the crowd. An older red-haired, Scottish-looking
gentleman professor and a perky brunet thirtyish mother represent Parents of
Gays. Young gay male couples in faded blue jean cut-offs stand with their arms
around each other. There are clowns, two women teachers in disguise. A group
of people from Dignity are beginning to line up behind their banner. I greet
one of them, an old dancing buddy from Martins, with a kiss.
crowd is mainly composed of young men and women. A trio of older gay men in
'50s attire are eyeing the proceedings suspiciously. The cobblestones of Maryland
Plaza haven't ever seen anything like this before. Now the parade is starting.
Marshals with electric megaphones are lining people up, telling them to walk
when the caliope begins to play. I'm positioning myself with my Gay Academic
Union poster at the edge of the line of walk for more visibility.
I can't help but reflect on the people
who have chosen to walk beside me. John, a short, attractive, Jewish man who
plays piano at MCC always seems to end up near me. Ray has been having trouble
with his heart, will do a token walk and ride the rest of the way. People have
told me that I am a rock. A rock that cries, what a laugh!
We are an our way! Enthusiasm and
anxiety are in the air. A young, tall west-endite expresses concern that he
will be seen by the TV cameras. I remark that I had kind of hoped to be discovered
myself. We laugh in release of the tension.
Can you imagine? The cops are actually
supporting us. They wear expressionless masks but guide us through the traffic
down narrow Euclid Avenue. People out for Sunday drives are astonished. But
here on Euclid they are still generally friendly and curious.
As we bend around the corner of Euclid
and Lindell, I get a sense of how many of us there are. I wonder if there are
500. It certainly looks impressive. We are passed by an army truck of olive-drab
fatigued national guardsmen. One motions with thumb down. Several others snicker
and grin. We wave back. The marshals have cautioned us not to bite back. As
we cross Kingshighway we make our first big impact on St. Louis. This artery
of concrete carries Cadillacs with black families from the north and Toyotas
with white single swingers from the south. A black driver frowns. People stare
in amazement. At first they don't quite catch on. When they do, they shake their
heads, wrinkle their mouths and noses, or let their hands dangle from their
arms. Some just blankly stare straight ahead.
feeling really good with all the beautiful gay people around me. As we start
down Lindell towards Washington University, I notice an adolescent male couple,
neither one of whom is over five feet tall. The one is very long waisted and
has a bare hairless chest. The other one wears a blue and white bandana around
his head and has very red, cherubic lips. The two are sensual and beautifully
and naturally sexual in a way that I never dreamed of when I was 15.
As my luck would have it, my heart
is pounding due to spring allergies, and I know I am not going to make the full
walk. John takes my poster for me, even though he doesn't belong to the Gay
Academic Union. We spot a tall couple, both bearded, the one walking a bicycle
labeled "This is an anti-nuke bike."
Women from IRIS are doing a really
fantastic job of getting the crowd to cheer. "Two four, six, eight; being
gay's as good as straight" rings out loud and clear. The rich families
watch from their spacious porches on Lindell. Children watch in amazement as
other children pass by in the parade.
Now the walking's over for me. I've
made it to the house in Forest Park where they supposedly filmed background
scenery for the movie "Meet Me in St. Louis," and I know it's stop
walking or stop living. So I spy the truck that draws the caliope and ask the
drivers if I can ride. They are stereotypically counterculture straight males--blond,
frizzy hair in pony tail, rudy, unwashed faces. The one guy who is riding says,
"If you put your sign down." This is no time for confrontation; I
need a ride. So I hop into the truck. I've really had it and I sprawl on the
truck bed, trying to get out of the sunlight.
A cute little mulatto girl of 6 or
7 in cornrow braids sits on the wheel guard and stares at me. "Can I see
your sign?" she asks. "I can't show it to you, but it says Gay Academic
Union." "Oh." Now through puffing breath and swimming eyes I
see her examining the button I'm wearing with the intensity that only children
are capable of. The button has the names of famous homosexuals printed all over
it. "Are all those guys gay?" "That's right." "Even
Alexander the Great?" "Yup." She sits back and digests this piece
The mayor's representative, an attractive
black woman sits up on the seat behind the cab. She introduces herself as Ellen
and says, "Some of us are getting older." She shows some concern for
me and I try to reassure her that I'll be ok. (I don't know at the time that
she is the mayor's representative.)
this vantage point, stretched out on the truckbed with my head leaning on the
panels, I can see passersby in Forest Park. The caliope dominates with "East
Side, West Side." Roy Birchard, the pastor of MCC, runs alongside of the
line of march in black habit and white straw hat counting the people. He holds
up three fingers and his lips are moving deliberately as he counts. More stares
from the park. Black machos frown, gay couples grin, and we wind along undaunted.
This is supposed to be a walk for charity, but many of the people are marching
anyway, at least in their minds. Disco and gay liberation have come late to
St. Louis. A man tries to lift his little boy onto the back of the truck but
the uptites in the front refuse his request. It seems everyone is represented
today, from Martins disco babies in New Wave punk rock garb, through attractive,
face-scrubbed, braided-haired, natural Lesbians, to one kid in a business suit.
We're starting to approach the walk-up
to Washington University. I gingerly jump out. The people have wound around
a circle in the road and are climbing the many broad brick stairs which lead
up to the archway to the quadrangle. With stone ivy covered walls as a backdrop
and the mid-afternoon sun behind us, we begin to line up in tiers on these steps.
What a fucking rush!!! Signs everywhere, banners. It's really us. We're all
really lining up on these stairs, 40 deep, 15 wide, proud, happy. I'm surrounded
by unfamiliar faces, yet still here and there the scions of the community are
watching it all with complete relish. TV cameras grind away.
The people have started to crowd
through the archway to the quadrangle and scramble for the few shady spots.
I collapse in the cool grass beside a couple of the women from church and Stan,
who is eyeing a tall, dark hunk in bulging yellow gym shorts. I can't believe
all these gay people sitting on the lawn.
The program is slow to start, but
eventually we hear the main speaker, Larry . He speaks in a clear alto voice,
and somehow that seems just right. Hawkers are passing out a scarce supply of
soft drinks for 50 cents, and these are quickly sold out. This has been a walk
for charity and a can of money is passed. It is quite full. Larry tells us of
how he refused at first when Bill asked him to speak today, but how that within
five minutes he had called back, realizing that everything he stood for demanded
that he accept. He reads the rest of his speech, but somehow that confession
makes more impact on me. I think, that's just where St. Louis is at. Coming
out of the closet. How perfect. People are milling through the crowd passing
out leaflets from the Socialist Workers Party and Moonstorm.
Now Bill introduces Byron in a flurry
of credits. I spot my ride home and move to the east side of the quadrangle.
As I get there, I look back at a perfect photograph of the afternoon. At my
feet are a couple of beautiful, raven-haired, plump lesbians, the one with her
head cradled in the other's lap, and they are smiling and talking in a very
tender way. Stretched out into the lowering sun is an arc of my brothers and
sisters, 500 strong. The sun lights up the air into a translucient white mist,
and puts halos around the heads of most of the people there. The trees in the
quadrangle are just coming out and the buds catch the afternoon rays as they
flicker in the light breeze.
Byron is cool and up to the task.
He has slogans for the crowd, and they love it, applauding after each one. He
tells us that now we are children of the light. After he is done, he heads straight
for me and apologizes that the introduction indicated him to be the only person
involved in some things I'm also doing.
Now Adrienne gathers a group of singers
to the audience, and starts to sing her songs. Adrienne has been a main moving
force behind the Magnolia Committee. She's done this in spite of danger to her
job. With floppy, wide-brimmed hat, Kiss-style black and white star covering
her face, and granny dress and guitar, she brings this rally to a great conclusion.
You ask me to live in shame
You ask me to hide my name
If I did that to you,
You'd be singing with me too.
And still I like you
I know you're just a human being too
Maybe don't you suppose you ought to like me too,
Cause I'm here to say I'm as good as you.
Most of the crowd is listening, but
I'm singing along with tears in my eyes and heart bursting with emotion.
We've heard Ellen ask the question., "If I let them come for you in the morning, will they come for me at night?" We've heard Michael Allen of Christ Church Cathedral tell us that we will be judged not by the amount of violence we produce, but by the love that we bring into the world. This rally is almost in the past. All these plans and aspirations have crystallized into a perfect, flawless event. Channels 2 and 5 will carry a fairly balanced account of the day's activities, although there will be no newspaper coverage. But St. Louis will never be the same!! She's out of her closet and looking good.