Gary Hall’s pressed blue dress shirt and white clerical collar wasn’t the most head-turning look in a crowd that featured a lot of drag queens with towering bouffants, but his presence in Saturday’s gay pride parade through Washington was still a stunner for some.
The Very Rev. Gary Hall, as he is formally known, led the first ever official contingent from Washington National Cathedral in the annual celebration of gay life in the District.
“I won’t be walking bare-chested. I’m kind of a reserved person,” Hall said with a laugh before setting out from the staging area just west of Dupont Circle. “But if my being seen in the parade is a visible sign that God loves and accepts people across the full spectrum of human sexuality, it will have achieved its purpose.”
Hall’s attendance is only the latest public embrace of gay equality by mainline Protestant denominations, and by the National Cathedral in particular. Under Hall’s leadership — he was named dean less than a year ago — the church has launched an LGBT ministry group and announced that it would begin hosting same-sex marriage ceremonies in the Gothic edifice famous for society weddings and presidential funerals.
But the cathedral was one of more than a dozen faith-based institutions represented in the parade for the first time this year, a sign of the continuing evolution of the parade itself, which was once known for its shock factor. Near nudity, displays of affection that left little to the imagination and Speedos that left even less have given way, in part, to lots of hand-holding, the Geico lizard and T-shirted groups from Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian congregations around the region. (But still, a lot of Speedos.)
“It means so much to me to see all these straight people from church out here showing us love,” said Christopher Terry, 24, wearing a “Stop H8” T-shirt as marchers from Twinbrook Baptist filed by.
“In D.C. now, a large proportion of people who come out to watch and enjoy the parade would not even identify as gay,” said Ryan Bos, executive director of Capital Pride, the organizer of the event. “It’s just a fun time.”
Pixie Windsor has watched the growth of the parade since she arrived in Washington in 1985 from Cambridge, Md. She has attended most years and marched several times, including last year when she rode a vintage bicycle.
“In the ’80s it was really crazy,” Windsor said. “Drunken debauchery kind of crazy.”
This year, the parade has expanded, literally, to her front door. The newly extended route takes marchers an additional four blocks up 14th Street directly in front of the shop that she has owned for five years, Miss Pixie’s Furnishings and Whatnot.
Like many storefronts along the 19-block route — which wound around Dupont Circle, New Hampshire Avenue, and 17th and P streets — Windsor’s front windows were decked with hanging rainbows and, in her case, spray-painted Peeps. She planned to close at 5 p.m. so employees could mount newly built Mardi Gras-style ladder chairs along front windows and watch the cavalcade of feather boas and the occasional Episcopal priests.
“It just seems to get bigger and more inclusive every year,” said Windsor, who remembers some of the early parades as more outrageous but less well attended. “The drag queens and the Dykes on Bikes are still really crazy; it’s still a lot of fun. But it’s a little more serious somehow.”
The parade was also the unofficial launch of the mayoral campaign season. Candidates Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells and Jack Evans each led dozens-strong coteries of supporters. And the council’s openly gay members marveled at how the parade had changed.
“I never thought we would be so normal,” said Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), a council member since 1999.
“It was a very different environment 25 years ago,” said David A. Catania (I-At Large), who became the council’s first openly gay member in 1997. He recalled topless women on bicycles and more overt sexuality in an era when gay culture was further out of the mainstream.
“Now it’s really a family affair,” he said, “and I like it.”
Standing on the steps of the Dupont Circle fountain, park ranger Natasha Arnold, in uniform and wearing an equality pin, gave a talk to the parade crowd about the neighborhood’s history as a center of gay life in Washington, a first this year.
Not everyone was glad to see the increased presence of church groups walking in the lineup. “The modern-day churches are talking the word of God and walking all over it,” said a man from McLean Bible Church who was debating with parade-goers. He spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely about a controversial subject. “It’s not about me, it’s about Jesus.”
Hall and the more than 30 church staffers and congregation members walked behind a National Cathedral banner. They seemed unfazed by the more exuberant displays of sexual identity marching around them, which included Mr. D.C. Eagle (who was wearing a black-leather kilt and little else) and a dancing troop of cross-dressers. Hall is a veteran of Gay Pride events in Los Angeles, where he worked before coming to Washington, and he once lived in one of the most established gay districts in the country, San Francisco’s Castro.
“I was probably the only straight guy in the neighborhood,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll get some angry letters for participating in something this flamboyant. But you know, I think the flamboyance might actually loosen up some uptight people.”
Mr. D.C. Eagle, Nigel Williams, marveled at the growth in religious groups. “I think it’s wonderful,” he said as he prepared to climb up on his flatbed. “We’re proud to walk with them.”
Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.