By now all of you have seen, heard, read or otherwise known about New York City Pride / Stonewall 50, the events celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. You also know about World Pride (June 26-30), held for the first time in the United States simultaneously with Stonewall 50. Millions of lesbians, gay males, bisexuals, trans and intersex people and our heterosexual allies gathered in New York to remember, observe and celebrate. If Stonewall 50 was about the past, then World Pride is about the present; a show of unity and determination in the face of government and religious opposition, at home and abroad. I was one of the fortunate ones who were in New York City during this momentous weekend; not as a celebrity, not even as a reporter, but as one gay man who wanted to share in this moment of history.
This was my third visit to New York. My first visit, a week in July 1977, came after we lost Miami-Dade County to Save Our Children. My second visit, in the fall of 1997, was a few hours in the city with my late partner, Michael Greenspan. My third visit was longer, from June 26 to July 2. Each time, New York had something new to show me. This time, the Big Apple was decked out in her rainbow colors, from department store windows to the Empire State Building. I almost expected the Statute of Liberty to wear a rainbow colored dress, but she did not need to. Her presence spoke volumes about the rights of all, even in the face of an administration that seeks to destroy her dream.
Wherever you went, from Harlem to Brooklyn, queer people and our allies were in full force. Most of New York’s famous museums had LGBTQ exhibits. The Museum of the City of New York featured the work of Fred W. McDarrah, the Village Voice photographer who captured the Stonewall Uprising, as well as other pivotal events in LGBTQ and New York City history. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum displayed the work of Robert Mapplethorpe, whose erotic photos drove Jesse Helms into a tizzy. The New York Public Library at Bryant Park had two relevant exhibits: “Love & Resistance — Stonewall 50” showcased queer history and relationships while “Walt Whitman America’s Poet” honored the “Great Gay Poet” (1819-1892). Religious groups, at least the liberal ones, joined in the celebration. Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, the city’s LGBTQ synagogue, held a special Pride Shabbat with guest speaker Tony Kushner.
Though I could not make it to all the Pride events, I managed to see a few, including World Pride’s Opening Ceremony on June 26 — with Whoopi Goldberg, Cyndi Lauper, Chaka Khan and Todrick Hall, among others — and the NYC Pride Parade on June 30. The media did its best to play up our differences: between white gay men and transgender women of color over who did what during the Stonewall Uprising and between the established NYC Pride Parade and the Queer Liberation March over business participation and control. It did not really matter. Many New Yorkers went to the Queer March in the morning and to the Pride Parade in the afternoon. The NYC Pride Parade itself broke records, drawing a crowd of four to five million participants and bystanders. The Parade began at noon up Fifth Ave. and continued through the afternoon and early evening before it ended in Greenwich Village and the Stonewall National Monument. I watched the parade for a few hours opposite the viewing stand on Fifth Ave. and 26th St. before I took a break and then wandered over to the Village to view the rest of the parade. Our queer world was in full display, with groups from the USA, Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, Australia… There were politicians and celebrities — Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Vanessa Williams, Andy Cohen — but also “ordinary” LGBTQ people, representing all nations, classes, races, religions and lifestyles, being proud of who we are, and willing to share our pride with others.
NYC Pride 2019 had the distinction of being televised by a major network (ABC), not to mention many local stations. As a gay man among many LGBTQ people and allies, I felt I was in the middle of a world-shaking event; one that will not happen again, but which I will remember for as long as I live. Next year’s Pride ceremonies will not be as earthshaking, but no matter. Memories of Stonewall 50 and World Pride 2019 will give us the impetus to move forward, to fight whatever battles might come our way.