It was Gay and Lesbian Pride Day in Washington yesterday and about 11,000 people helped celebrate it with a parade, a festival, games, a summertime picnic at the P Street Beach and some reflections on their status in the nation's capital.
One organizer, identified only as Clint, said he was pleased with the size of the crowd, but told those at the gathering their celebration does not mean the fight for gay rights is over. "We should not allow ourselves to have a short memory," he said.
Other participants recalled Stonewall, a 1969 incident in a New York City bar of that name, where homosexuals were harassed and beaten. Gay activists credit the incident with encouraging them to "fight back."
D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, a regular guest at the annual gay festival, voiced his appreciation for the gay community's past political support. "You should let people know you will support your friends and punish your enemies. That's how this works," he told the crowd. The mayor reminded the homosexuals and their friends that "Washington D.C. has the strongest human rights law in America and I'm going to make sure that it is enforced."
Under pink, purple, yellow and black balloons, some gays challenged the effectiveness of the law in protect-[TEXT OMITTED]
"What about Equus?" yelled one listener, reminding other festival participants that two men threw tear gas June 13 into a crowd at the Southeast Washington bar that caters to homosexuals.
Former D.C. City Council chairman Sterling Tucker and City Council members David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1), Betty Ann Kane (D-At-large) and Hilda Mason (Statehood-At-large) also spoke to the group.
One lesbian couple said although they enjoyed yesterday's festivities, they realized it could only last a day. Roseann and Pam, who declined to give their last names, said they were forced to leave the District for Alexandria to be closer to Roseann's job and save money. Sodomy laws in Virginia, they said, have caused many apartment owners to deny one-bedroom apartments to members of the same sex.
"It's hard on us. Everybody thinks we're cousins," said Roseann.
The D.C. Different Drummers, one of the nation's few but growing number of gay bands, led the parade from Meridian Hill Park to the festival site at Francis Junior High School at 24th and N streets NW, as red flagbearers, various gay community and activist groups and individual supporters followed.
A large white inflated balloon in the shape of a bottle of liquid scent and a display for Lambda Rising, a Washington gay rights bookstore, pointed the way to the festival from blocks away.
It was like a beach party at the festival, where participants spread blankets and towels on the grass, wore sunglasses and visors, flipflops and sneakers, shorts and halters. Music blared and "ice cold" signs denoted where to find refreshments on the hot, sunny day.
There were multi-colored tents with people in booths passing out gay-oriented literature or selling T-shirts, buttons, books and visors.
As the partying continued in the festival area, some people crowded into the area in front of the platform to dance to such music as Shalimar's "Ain't No Stopping Us Now." On stage, magicians performed tricks, poets read, singers entertained and politicians spoke.
Robert Belanger, a parade coordinator, called the day a celebration. "We just want to show that we are alive, we exist, and we aren't going to go away." j