More than 250 members and friends of Washington's gay community gathered yesterday to mourn the eight men who died in the Cinema Follies fire last Monday and to celebrate the fact tht there is a gay community to gather publically to mourn.
"We all remember when, only a few short years ago, there was not a community to bury its head," the Rev. Larry J. Uhrig told those attending the memorial service.
"The prophetic word of our presence is that the community is here to bury its dead," Uhrig said, during a sermon in which he stressed the pain felt by gays who feel they must hide their homosexuality, and the joy they now feel in openly admitting it.
"I want very much to share with you words of hope, words of joy and words of promise," said Uhrig, who conducted the service for the Metropolitan Community Church, an ecumenical Christian church which serves Washington's gay community.
However, said Uhrig, "I could not share those words with you with integrity if I did not first preface them with the reality of pain, with anger and with rage.
"The pain and anger and the rage which is my own, and I know must be yours also. And it is simply this: That we live in a world, or society, infiltrated with networks of fear, that causes persons to hide who they are. It people didn't need to hide, if many of our brothers didn't need to hide, to keep identification cards elsewhere . . . we might have saved, or contributed to the salvation of another life.
"By that I mean that there were patients waiting five years for a kidney, the tissue type of which our brother Manuel could have offered them. But we couldn't find Manuel's family because we didn't know who he was," said Uhrig, reffering to the inability of surgeons to find the survivors of one of the victims in order to get permission to remove his kidneys.
Allen Grooms, spokesman for the Metropolitan Community Church, said before the service that "there have been tremendous numbers of phone calls from friends (of the victims) calling in to say they needed someone to talk to."
Grooms said the church received a call from the wife of one of the men killed in the fire at the theater at 37 L St. SE which caters to male homosexuals. She did not call back.
"A lot of people who quietly carried (membership) cards to the Cinema Follies have been quite disturbed," said Grooms. "They've had to work out a lot of emotions about 'what if they had been there.'"
Mayor Walter Washington, who did not attend the service, sent aide Warren Graves in his stead. City Councilmember Hilda Mason did attend, as did Ward Three school board candidate Gwen Reise and Ward Two candidate Alaire Rieffel.