Cultural pluralism abounded yesterday on Capitol Hill, as the sun blazed down on the avowed and the unavowed alike.
Singing on the steps on the east side of the Capitol was "Network -- a Catholic lobby for just legislation," a group of demure-looking older ladies carrying signs that urged an end to chemical weaponry, the preservation of the family farm and the continuation CHORUS, From C1> of the Voting Rights Act.
Singing on the steps on the west side ofthe Capitol was yet another group gathered for the listening pleasure of the passers-by. "All of these people," observed the man in tghe Bermuda shorts, "are men. Does that mean something?"
Yes. This was, after all, the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus, who warmed up for their appearance at the Kennedy Center last night by crooning on the Capitol steps before moving on to the Jefferson Memorial. "Never more will we hide our love, no longer will our joy be silenced, manly love has its melody, lovers who have a song to sing," they sang, 150 strong, dressed in T-shirts and a medley of shorts and blue jeans.
Most of the tourists seemed top take it in stride. "Well, to each his own," said Ruth Weaver of New Iberia, La. "They certainly have beautiful voices."
They sang "Stout-Hearted Men" ("because that's what we are") and "San Francisco," and something by Sibelius, and the small audience that gathered to listen did so politely, some applauding, others maintaining a tight-lipped slience -- except, that is, for the guy with the big "Jesus Saves" sign who informed them they were going to Hell. "Well,"said David Goff, a chorus member, "there are faggots who give homosexuals a bad name, and there are preachers who give religion a bad name. I was raised in West Virginia, and I'm used to fire and brimstone."
Goff has been a charter member of the chorus since the group began singing about 1/2 years ago. "We're about as political as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir," he said as he trudged toward the Jefferson Memorial. "We're a musical group that happens to be gay. The truth is, a lot of gay life is a toilet life -- it's bars and baths and cruising. Society tends to push you off to the side. The chorus was one of the first times I could stand out and say, I'm gay and I'm still the all-American boy my grandmother loved.' The chorus makes being gay something you can be proud of instead of somethng you've overcome, like a cleft palate."
At the Memorial, it was time to let a thousand life styles bloom. The sociological cacophony reached a crescendo in the wary disbelief that lighted up the eyes of the young solidiers from the Old Guard stationed at Fort Myer, who were there to rehearse the "Torchlight Tattoo," a mixture of pageantry and patriotism performed every Wednesday night at the Memorial during the summer. "We don't care much for 'em," said Pvt. Gerald Reinhart as the chorus members straggled by to gather for a group portrait under the statue of Thomas Jefferson. "But we have a motto -- be all that you can be. We're just hoping some gay women come along so we can try and reform 'em."
Considerably more ruffled by the goings-on were the members of Girl Scout Troop 119 of Rockford, Ill. "They were kissing and kissing and hugging each other," Dawn Ender, 11, reported back to her comrades. "Yuck!" "They're good singers," said Brenda Sabin, "but we're just not used to that. It's kind of weird."
Soon the chorus was standing in a circle around the statue of Jefferson. "God who gave us life gave us liberty," they sang, and the words themselves, written by Jefferson, were engraved on the wall above them. They held hands and there were tears in some of their eyes and their voices rang out in reasonant tones. Sonya McTate watched their faces as the sound swelled all around her. "What a shame," all around her. "What a shame," she said. "All those good healthy men going to waste."
Which is not, of course, the way the members of the chorus saw it. "It's a nice feeling being here," said Andre Foster. "Like we've come home."