Notable First Pride Tales
by Michael McAllister
Another June, another Pride – another chance to reflect on how far we’ve come. We can measure our progress as a community by examining our own memories. If we’ve been out for a long time, we can forget the early obstacles we faced. BarTAB asked several locals about their first time at a Gay Pride parade, or their first time at a gay bar.
Monica Nolan, author of Bobby Blanchard, Lesbian Gym Teacher, came close to her first Pride in 1984. “I was working in an ice cream shop on North Halsted in Chicago. One night the place was suddenly packed with men. Two guys (I think wearing leather chaps but I may be embroidering my memories) said, ‘Wish us “Happy Gay Pride”.’ ‘Okay. Happy gay pride,’ I said in monotone obedience. I was, after all, only being paid $4 an hour, which wasn’t enough if the customers were going to start writing my dialogue. However, I did genuinely wish them well. In 1988 I marched in the enormous New York Pride Parade, and it seemed impossible that I could ever have been so oblivious and disinterested.”
Scott Weiner, candidate for District 8 Supervisor, was a freshman at Duke University in 1988. “I was not out at all. I decided to walk from campus to the Power Company, at the time the big gay club in Durham. I made it, only to be carded and sent back to campus! But I kept trying and became the gay that I am.”
Others were able to jump right in. Comedian Marga Gomez, taking a break from her one-woman show at the New Conservatory Theatre, remembers her first Pride in New York City.
“I was 19, working at a plant store on Sixth Avenue. That afternoon the parade passed right outside the entrance to my store. I was riveted – someone could have stolen half the plants in the shop, said Gomez.
“I couldn’t take my eyes off the bands, the boys and the floats. Then the main lesbian contingent passed by chanting, ‘Join us! Join us!’ It felt like God was talking to me, telling me to quit my job and run away with the parade. Fortunately a co-worker said she’d cover for me all day and I was with the lesbians in a flash.”
For many of us, joining the parade or crossing the threshold of our first gay bar meant taking on a new identity. Sheryl Phipps, attorney and coach of the Lone Star’s Inferno softball team, remembers her first gay bar in 1978 in Colorado. “My friend Sandy and I were undergrads and we so in the closet to everyone except for our respective girlfriends. We knew there was a gay bar in Colorado Springs called The Hide and Seek. At the entrance hung a sign that read, ‘Gays $1, Straight $3.’ The attendant said to us Gay or Straight? I said,‘gay’ and gave him a dollar. Sandy said, ‘straight’ (she just couldn’t say it) and paid $3.”
Ill-fitting labels can be hard to shed early on. K.M. Soehnlein, author of The World of Normal Boys, went to his first gay bar as an undergraduate in Ithaca, New York. “The place was called The Common Ground, though the locals referred to it as The Common Groin. I walked in there, new to and rather terrified by gay life, with my first boyfriend, Alan. Dead or Alive’s ‘You Spin Me Right Round Baby’ was playing. An older friend of Alan’s (and by older I mean 22) asked me how long I’d been ‘out.’ I told him that I wasn’t gay, I was bisexual, and he replied, ‘Oh, you’ll get over that.’”
First times can remind us of friends long gone, who guided us through a new world. Performer and musician Lynn Breedlove’s first gay bar was the End-Up.
“We arrived in my dad’s station wagon with our fake IDs from San Leandro, and my best pal Chester’s advice was: just walk in like you own the place. I’ve followed that advice ever since, wherever I go. Chester died of AIDS in 1988. But before then, he taught us to appreciate Sylvester who was both on the dance floor at the End-Up and on the radio. Our hero.”
And what about our outfits? Folsom Street Fair director Demetri Moshoyannis came out at the age of 16 on Long Island.
“When I told my friend that I was gay, we celebrated with a night out in the city. He dressed me up in a neon lycra Stephen Sprouse skirt which made me feel so uncomfortable, but I thought I should do it for the sake of fashion.”
“Our first stop was the apartment of infamous club promoter Michael Alig and his partner DJ Keoki. They took us everywhere from Tunnel to Pyramid (for free, of course) and we drank a lot of frozen lime daiquiris. I remember thinking, ‘Wow! There are a lot of gay people in the world. What do they all do during the day?’”
Ah, those club kids. Trannyshack hostess Heklina went to her first SF Pride in 1993.
“I rode in the Klubstitute float, and I was decked out in club-kid gear.
I also got too drunk, and I had to report to my job at Pleasuredome at Club Townsend….all I ever wanted to do was party back then!” As a measure of time’s progress, Heklina will be a Grand Marshal at this year’s Pride, and promises to be a good girl.
Even if we’ve been out for a while, Pride can remind us of the community outside our social circles.
Scott Peterson, manager of the Powerhouse, remembers his first SF Pride riding the bar’s float, the last that year in a long line of floats: “Turning the corner to hit the parade route on Market and seeing the throngs of people ahead, and the crowd that filled in behind us, brought tears and thrills. It reminded me that the bar’s world is kind of small in the scope of things. The chills are the same every year.”