Pride and No Prejudice
It was a great year to go to the New York City Gay Pride Parade. Let’s face it, with the DOMA ruling having come down days before, and Edie Windsor set to be parade Grand Marshal, we had lots to celebrate.
As soon as we hit Manhattan we knew it was going to be something special. Rainbow flags flew everywhere, even in the most unlikely places, like corner falafel trucks. Entire buildings had been draped in rainbow colors, as banks, and drugs stores and retailers all celebrated with the LGBT community. Pretty amazing, actually.
After a weekend of wine, women, and song we lined up Sunday morning for the parade at 33rd Street and 5th Avenue, the starting point. Once launched, the parade would wind downtown for hours to the Village and Christopher Street where the night would be capped with celebrations, street gatherings, and ultimately fireworks over the river at 11 p.m. Pretty good public celebration for a community still considered criminal in the ‘60s. Makes ya think, doesn’t it?
We’d gotten there early enough to be in the front, along the police barricades, for a perfect view of our heroine Edie Windsor when she passed by. With the sun beating down and huge crowds jockeying for position, it was hot and a hoot. Spectators seemed made up of equal parts gays, straights, tourists, children, and pets. Vendors sold rainbow flags, rainbow roses, rainbow crap of all kinds.
Does anybody remember Rollerina? In the ‘70s, this tall, thin drag queen used to roller skate around Manhattan, always making a festive appearance at pride parades. We found ourselves standing next to this disco-era celebrity by the barricades. She may have given up her skates, but she still looked like a million bucks as she and her gaudily dressed friends waited to step into the parade as it passed by.
First we heard motorcycles revving—ah, the dykes on bikes, love them! Gone are the days when they’d lead the parade in pants and vests, breasts flapping in the wind. This posse was fully dressed, cheering us as we cheered them, and heady with celebration.
And then we heard it. Whoops and hollers and cheers spreading toward us like a stadium wave, as the convertible with Edie Windsor came into view. Slowly the car rolled down the block, Ms. Windsor, all in white, draped in a rainbow sash, wide-brimmed hat on her head, smiling, waving, standing up to greet the community. People screamed and waved. Men bowed in reverence, drag queens squealed. And as this victorious plaintiff moved along, thousands of people blew Dinah Shore “mwah!” kisses in her direction. I will never forget the moment.
Next came all kinds of corporate sponsors, their employees marching along, tossing products to the crowd: rainbow lip gloss, packets of sunscreen, key chains, vitamin water, the works. Between the banks, airlines, and phone companies, it was hard to believe it was a gay pride parade, not the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Although make no mistake. We were giving thanks to Edie and the Supremes.
And pretty soon, the LGBT organizations, bars, and businesses, with their fancy floats, disco beats, and scantily clad revelers rolled by, reminding us just what kind of happy parade this was. After about an hour baking (or perhaps frying) in the hot sun, we moved along, walking uptown, and taking in a whole city bathed in gay pride.
We spent the rest of the day uptown, dining with friends and shaking our heads in wonder at the sea of rainbow decorations, festive LGBT folks clogging the streets, and a feeling of victory, freedom, and renewed patriotism as we faced the July 4th weekend.
By evening, we hopped a cab back downtown, as I felt the need to be at the Stonewall Inn on this historic night. Yeah, me and 100,000 other people. The cab got mired in traffic six blocks away so we bailed and trudged through the masses, getting glitter-bombed en route. Standing on the street in front of the Stonewall had to suffice, as it was packed and hemorrhaging pierced, tattooed, young people, of every ethnicity, and mode of dress. Or undress. Everyone’s mood identical: unfettered joy.
At that point, my previously imbibed Cosmos caught up with me. Crisis. I had to pee. Bonnie and I fought our way through the crush of bodies, almost all of them 30 to omigod 40 years younger than we, and across the street to a Starbucks. Inside, a long bathroom line formed with an employee checking receipts to make certain only customers used the facilities. I cast no blame. Made perfect sense given the teeming humanity outside. But I hadda pee!
Me, to the 18-year old employee: “I swear I will buy an iced coffee after I pee, but this is an old-lady emergency. Please take pity on us.”
He did, and let us pre-pee. We bought iced decaf and headed out and back uptown. Never thought I’d see federal recognition of gay marriage in my lifetime; never thought I’d see all of New York City celebrating the rainbow nation; never thought I’d be able to walk from Christopher Street through the throngs to the hotel at 14th Street. But we did, with fireworks exploding in the sky behind us. With every blast we turned to watch, grinning and then walking on air up the street, shedding glitter and glee with every step.
Fay Jacobs is the author of As I Lay Frying—a Rehoboth Beach Memoir; Fried & True—Tales from Rehoboth Beach, and For Frying Out Loud—Rehoboth Beach Diaries.