Even Alexander the Great?
by James Andris, NO BAD NEWS, July 1980
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.
Now 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.
The 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.
I'm 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 of information.
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.)
From 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. She sings:
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.
Pictured: James Andris at the 1980 event (photo by Wilbur Wegener)