Categories: Lambda Lore

My March on Washington, 30 years later

On Sept. 9, we lost a giant from our community. Reverend Bruce M. Barton, pastor of the Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church for over a decade, died at the age of 71. I could memorialize him through all his awards, like being a recipient of the Dr. Kristen Ries Community Service Award in 1988, but I’d rather share a special time I had with him and his late husband Bruce Harmon, former Emperor XV of the Royal Court of the Golden Spike Empire. Referencing my journal entry dated Oct. 10, 1987, the following is most of what I had experienced during the March on Washington 30 years ago.

Rev. Barton and I attended the worship service at the Metropolitan Community Church District Conference  the morning before the march. Many of the people who spoke had trekked on foot from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., holding gay flags and banners through communities in Pennsylvania and Maryland along the way. After the service I bought a button touting “Gay Christian” from Marsha Stevens, who wrote the song “For Those Tears I Died.”

We then connected with my traveling companion, Mark Lamar, who had gone off earlier with a bagpipe-blowing buddy, and we took the hotel shuttle to the Pentagon station to catch the Metro Rail into the city. Everywhere we looked there were gay people wearing various March on Washington buttons. There was a heightened sense of solidarity, brotherhood and sisterhood. We were on a mission, and while it seemed like a gigantic national Gay Pride Day event, it was much more.

While on the shuttle, we visited with some guys from South Florida along the way. Almost no one was having “attitude” issues. Most people were friendly, joyful, excited, and everyone was asking each other “Where are you from?” It was fantastic. Our Florida friends said they tried driving into D.C., but there was absolutely no parking so they had to go back to Arlington and take public transit back in.

Then one of them told me that a man and his wife looked at my Gay Christian button and were muttering under their breath about it. The man was mad and the wife was afraid. What made him so mad, and her fear me?

When we reached D.C., our little contingency got off at the Smithsonian. I heard 350,000 gays were already there to tell the world we are never going back. Everywhere we looked there were thousands of gay people. It was impressive to me, not like gay events in Salt Lake City, where we were lucking to get a couple hundred people to attend Gay Pride Day.

At 2 p.m. there was scheduled a mass wedding of gay couples on Constitution and Tenth Avenues, in front of the IRS building. We weren’t sure if we were going to go but when we saw the wave of humanity surging in that direction we were swept up and realized how important it was to be there and, witness and support it.

On the steps of the IRS building, there was a gathering of Neo-Nazis and Born Again Christians holding signs and placards proclaiming us all sinners going straight to hell. They screamed that Jesus hated us. It was there that Barton spotted Rev. Troy Perry, founder of the MCC fellowship, who was facing the Nazis and showing no fear.

Barton and I, decked out with our gay buttons, hustled up the steps behind the Nazis to get a picture of Rev. Perry talking to reporters. Most of the crowd totally ignored the Nazis and continued down to Tenth Avenue where a large platform was staged with sound equipment. Over the stage was a huge arch of white, black and silver balloons filled with helium and the loud speakers were blaring “We Are What We Are” from the musical La Cage Aux Follies.

There had to be at least 10,000 people huddled in the street, others sat in trees and stood on lamp posts; everywhere people were holding hundreds of silver balloons. The couples getting married were in the middle of this throng, many in tuxedos and wedding dresses. It was exhilarating to watch. The clear blue autumn sky made the day even more spectacular as over 2,000 gay couples were there to be wed.

When the ceremony was about to begin, the spectators were asked to hold hands and form a circle around those getting married. The ceremony asked the couples to forgive each of the past and everyone was asked to take a deep breath and let it out. Then we were asked to take one step into the future — 10,000 people did, collectively in unison.

After the ceremony, Harmon introduced me to Nancy Wilson and Jean White who were on the Board of Directors of the MCC Fellowship. Elder White came all the way from Manchester, England for the occasion and Harmon gave his March on Washington button to her.

I then left, but not before I told Barton and Harmon that I’d meet them at 4 p.m., in front of the Lambda Rising bookstore and from there we would go hear Rev. Perry speak at the First Congregational Church. That was my plan, but it didn’t work out that way.

I walked a mile back to the Metro and took it to DuPont Circle. It was after five o’clock when I resurfaced from the subterranean transit and rode a long escalator up the bowels of the earth to a truly enchanted fairy land. Thousands of gay people were everywhere holding hands, lavender flowers tucked behind ears; and hunky guys sitting shirtless on concrete benches.

Everyone had on at least one button and most had several saying anything from “March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights” to simple pink triangles on a black background. Hundreds of people were working the crowd, handing out leaflets by the hundreds regarding everything from AIDS Awareness to “Join the Socialist Workers Party.”

The overall feelings of the place were of love, support, commitment, pride and dedication to never going back. It reminded me of the hippie love-in festivals of the late ’60s, except that we were so much better dressed.

I had managed to find Lambda Rising by the size of the crowd out front and also with the help of this cute man from Texas. He said he didn’t know anything was going on, and was just in the city on his way to Boston. He was awestruck because in Texas he and his lover were closeted.

Outside the bookstore there was a line of hundreds trying to go in, and I was so late getting there that I figured Barton and Harmon had already left because they needed to be at the Congregational Church at 6 o’clock. I waited anyway, just in case. Then a camera crew appeared, filming the crowd and asking people, “Where are you from?” When a microphone appeared in my face I shouted, “Salt Lake City” as enthusiastically as I could. The woman with the microphone perked up and motioned the camera man to point the camera at me and asked could you repeat that? I smiled brightly and said “Salt Lake City” with my chest puffed up so my Brigham Young University sweatshirt was very prominent in the shot. I don’t know if I made the local news but I think I probably did. That was fun.

Then riding the escalator back down to the Metro I passed my Salt Lake City comrades, Chris Brown and Steve Oldroyd, going up. I hollered, “Chris wait for me” as I raced down the escalator, then back up. The escalator had to be at least four stories long. When I finally reached Chris I said, “If you see Bruce Barton tell him I’m fine and I will get a way back to Arlington.”

Fortunately at Pentagon City I reconnected with the Barton and Harmon, and they were happy and surprised to see me. They said Rev. Perry was in fiery form and his talk was absolutely wonderful. I was sorry I missed it. I haven’t heard Rev. Troy Perry preach since November, 1971 when I went to the MCC in Los Angeles.

It was fine to be back at the hotel safe and sound. I really kind of wanted to stay in and rest up for the march the following day but Harmon suggested we go back into Washington for dinner. So we called a taxi, and while waiting in the lobby I overheard the desk clerk tell this heterosexual couple that there wasn’t a vacancy. She said in fact there wasn’t a vacancy in the Greater Washington area. She suggested that they try farther south. What an impact we must have made on the city. I was glad I was writing ‘Gay $’ on all the bills I spent.

We piled into a taxi and went to this place called the General Male, which was exotic to this Salt Lake gay. We were looking for souvenirs to take back to Utah. From there we went to a McDonalds and realized we were in the hooker district of D.C. Pimps and prostitutes were everywhere, eating Big Macs and slurping Coca Colas. I thought how exciting this all is with neon signs flashing “Live Girls” outside.

At McDonalds we were about the only whites there and definitely were the only “colorful” people. It was a tough audience to play. Two black pimps stared at us like we were disgusting because we weren’t interested in buying their female merchandise. As we ate, four young, menacing white guys came in and started watching us. So we left, and while standing on a darkened corner waiting for the light to change, a group of guys came up and one dude leaned into us and said, “Can you tell us where we can see some naked girls?”

Barton said to me, “Use your imagination.” So I piped up cheerfully, “Yeah, down the street there’s a theater with live girls!” I was just trying to be friendly. Harmon looked at me like I had lost my damn mind and when they walked ahead of us and turned down an alley, Barton said to me, “Don’t you know they were queer baiting us?” I really didn’t. I just thought they were horny straight guys.

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Ben Williams

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