Gay-log: a beautiful Sunday, June, 1985, Long Beach, CA. Thousands gather to experience the one day a year you can swim with all the fish in the gay sea. I work my way through the dancing crowd bouncing to the world beat playing over the PA. Alcohol sloshes. Tan skin everywhere. Sweat — a foregone conclusion.
The sea of humanity parts and I come face-to-pointy-cone-boob with a man dawning a prop straight out of a Madonna video. “Well hello, Sister!” he squeals.
“Right back at you, Bad Queen,” I squeal in return.
Our eyes share a smile acknowledging that we see each other, something I’m sure the both of us lacked from many in our lives.
Good moods. Good times. Good people. This was my first Gay Pride event. Everyone was out to have a great time regardless of the aids epidemic lurking in the wings, and dancing amongst the crowd to that same world beat.
The price of admission didn’t matter. Those gates served as a security barrier from the zealots toting signs emblazoned with slurs as they tried to stop all of us from being who we were. They were outnumbered, even if just for a day, and that felt AMAZING!.
This was LGBTQ+ nirvana. Correction — during those years I think we were only LG, and we barely got along with each other. But Gay Pride was a day of reckoning for us all. We were able to put our alleged “man-hating” and “mommy-issues” aside to symbolically raise a brick from the Stonewall riots of 69’ and throw it at anyone who dared to kill our buzz.
We made the most of our sequestered time away from our jobs, families, and a society that seemed okay taking no action to save the lives of the thousands of gay men dying every day.
Unlike most days when we seamlessly stepped into and out of our safe zones, this day ended with us running for our lives.
Our group of gal pals seeped outside the gates of the event to a nearby restaurant patio to continue the celebration. Two straight dudes in baseball caps, five beers in hands, wandered over to make their sexy moves. Without too much detail, I can say there were snarky replies, a whole lot of awkward, and a drink thrown. At that point they had the good sense to leave.
Unfortunately, nonsense would inspire them to return a couple of hours later when our group had thinned to just four. They had been drunkenly planning their return for a couple of hours so their tone had shifted to violent. Verbal assaults escalated and all their empty bottles became weapons they launched our way – on a patio, in public, in front of everyone. Crash!
These dicks were serious!
Two straight couples unknowingly exited from the restaurant. I looked at them and pleaded, “Can you please help us? These guys are throwing bottles at us and it’s getting crazy. Please tell the manager to call 911” (Remember, no cell phones in 1985)
“Don’t help them. They’re a bunch of lesbians!” said one of the dudes.
The two women looked at me, then at us. Their husbands slowly let the restaurant door close…and they walked away.
I said, “Are you really walking away?! Aren’t you going to help?”
Silence…except for the fading clack, clack, clack of the women’s heels on the concrete.
Stunned by the reality of the moment the four of us looked at each other, sized-up the situation and yelled, “Run!” So we did, and we ran, and ran, and ran until it seemed safe, which wasn’t until we were in our car screeching away from the scene.
We escaped physical harm, but the damage left from this blatant display of hatred clogs the filter through which I see life, especially surrounding Gay Pride events and Gay Pride Month in general. It didn’t stop me from going to other Pride events in San Francisco and Los Angeles, among others. These celebrations are by far the best of the year, every year.
The recent increased visibility of Pride events, Pride Month, and the saturation of rainbow everything everywhere is a fabulous indication of growth. However, my experience and the historical and recent struggles of millions can conjure a strange sense of confusion. It seems dangerous to feel pride. Too much rainbow makes some of us squeamish. Sorry, but it does.
There are some people who will say, “Oh, get over it already. This is supposed to be a happy thing. It’s so much better now.”
To them I say, “We know, but life left some marks you don’t get over. We battled to be happy during many years and in many situations, and we succeeded in spite of it all.
We lived in our private worlds, finding strength and connection with our fellow LGs. Many of us were guarded to be free due to legitimate threats of consequence. We could steal away time with each other to help manage the daily struggles we faced. Yes, it seemed like living two lives because that’s what it was. To overlap would potentially bring the collapse of family, livelihood, friendships, and even our lives. Some are forced to still live this way.
For many, feeling pride about who we are is a foreign concept, but we worked at it. I’m not proud of many things that happened during those earlier years. I remained silent in many situations out of self-preservation. Trusting others often felt out of reach. But somehow we persevered. Even writing this piece brings a feeling that I’ve got to watch my back. It’s less about paranoia, more about level-headed protection.
While remaining silent was my choice in many situations, here are a few that I endured:
- There were all the times someone at work would say, “That’s so gay!” when something was awful or disgusting.
- The time a friend was abruptly slammed onto her back at a concert by a dude who didn’t like the way she looked.
- The time on Christmas day when my dad was talking to my brother about selling his house in Laguna Beach, CA, known for its thriving gay community, and he said, “You know the gays make your property value go down.”
- Thankfully, my brother cut our father off and said, “Actually dad, they increase the value.” Thanks, Bro! And yes, I was standing right there.
- The time my mom told the following “joke” she got from someone at church during the AIDS epidemic: What does G.A.Y. stand for? Answer, Got AIDS Yet?
- The time the California State Representative from my hometown drafted a bill to make it legal to fire teachers if anyone found out they were gay. The religious extremist, orange juice schlepping Anita Bryant came to town to applaud that mess. Luckily it failed to pass.
- The time when my mom confronted me about being gay and said, “Cut it out or get out.” That one always floors people knowing how sweet my mom was. Well, I was floored into silence too.
- The time my dear friends went to the the UPS store to have their Domestic Partnership document notarized and the guy’s name was, Yu Sik (You Sick). They said nothing, but we laughed about it later.
- The time my friends and all their wedding guests had to see a multitude of California’s Proposition 8 signs on the way to their wedding at our house. Prop 8 was designed to nullify the relationships of the LGBTQ community. It passed, but was later defeated.
There are so many more, but it could take longer than multiple Gay Pride months put together.
The Takeaway: Remember, there are plenty LGBTQ+ people who still struggle to feel ecstatic and brimming with pride about Gay Pride Month. We’re trying as best we can.
The advocacy over the years for our causes has been indispensable, and for that I am truly grateful. It’s likely that I will always be cautious in public situations, which includes wearing rubber-souled shoes inside any church to mitigate lighting strikes. But rest assured, if a pointy cone-boob finds me in the crowd, I will always dance.
Anne Kruse is a Southern California based freelance multi-media writer who focuses on informative, humorous, and various think-pieces that attempt to pry open the brains of the curious and turn a light on. She’s been published in magazines, newspapers, blogs, and other story-driven projects. Please visit annekrusethewriter.com to learn more.