Friday, February 27, 2015
My First Gay Rights March
During my senior year at Augustana, I became obsessed with Russia: I signed up for courses in Russian language, Russian History, and Russian Culture and Civilization. All because of a visit to Des Moines, Iowa, in the summer of 1981.
It was a very busy summer, with my professor's handcuff party, Brian telling me what the graffiti meant, my brother getting married, and Adam and I bunking together. And in June, Thomas, the Episcopalian priest with three boyfriends, called to invite me to the Iowa Gay Rights March.
I had never heard of such a thing.
"We march to protest police harassment, discrimination in jobs and housing, sodomy laws, that sort of thing. We've been doing it for a few years, always on the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots."
I had never heard of the Stonewall Riots, either. But count me in.
I drove out to Des Moines on Friday the 27th of June for a strategic meeting. What to do if we were attacked, where to meet if we had to scatter, what do do if we were arrested
We had a parade permit, so the police should be cooperative, but you never know.
But the newspapers refused to announce the march, and no reporters covered it, so no one knew about it. As we marched east on Locust Street the 13 blocks to City Hall, the only spectators were people who happened to be passing by, and others who ran into the stores and offices to fetch their friends.
Today it's a Gay Pride Parade, not a Gay Rights March, with hundreds of marchers and thousands of spectators. It's promoted by the Chamber of Commerce, and in 2013 the Lieutenant Governor visited.
Iowa City was only about 45 minutes from Rock Island, so Mickey and I stayed in touch, visiting each other several times during my senior year at Augustana. And when it came time to register for fall classes, I saw "Elementary Russian" and "Russian History," and crammed them into my schedule.
16 years later, I dated a Russian twink named Yuri.
See also The Boy in the Mesh T-Shirt; Gay Pride Has Changed