This week, Action Mary Managing Partner Patrick McGuire presents a two-part recounting of his relationship with Pride. Read Part One here.
The storm came. You can never be mad at a storm on the horizon. You just try to survive it. I am a survivor of a terrible storm.
Barry tossed his ten-speed to the ground like an empty bottle of Jack Daniels. “Dear, I hide liquor and poppers all over the city.” He snatched a vile of Rush from behind a parking strip. The sex inhalant known as poppers along with other contraband were banned from Barry’s apartment by his stable Chilean boyfriend Pablo who actually had a job and went to work. I was enthralled to be in the company of a master.
Lurking outside another fetid watering hole riding our bicycles drunk around Castro, we were on a mission to fornicate with fellow drunkards.
I was the Miles Standish of the two. Our larger Berkeley gay brotherhood nicknamed Barry “Piggy” for his exemplary reputation; Barry became my spirit guide. Sexual experimentation transfused my Catholic school upbringing like holy water. I was a scandal in training but inside I knew that Piggy was generations ahead. He advocated for sexual freedom.
At seventeen Barry had infamously visited Russia and was expelled for toilet sex with an undercover politseyskiy. “He was hot dear. But after our tete-a-tete, he pulled out his KGB badge! Girl, I saw Siberia and shit my pants.” Hastily retreating across Red Square, fighting off his detective with an umbrella, Barry was eventually captured and accused of distributing anti-Soviet propaganda. He was an out of the closet teenager let loose on Moscow in 1973.
Barry gained access to Russia because of his prodigious language skills. In truth, it was his fluent Russian that got him released. “I’m not a spy, I blew him in the toilet!” Barry wasn’t coy. Shocked, he was banished. They sent him to board the next plane to the U.S.
Years later, back home in his apartment Piggy deep-throated a banana as an act of instruction and vomited in the sink. Hilariously brilliant. Master of nine languages. Outrageous.
Piggy and I agreed on most things. We argued for sexual freedom and otherness. Not the marriage equality and gay adoption of today. To be clear I will always fight for equality, in all forms. But I am proud of what we celebrated in the early days. The neighborhoods we gentrified. The traditions we upheld.
Pablo died of AIDS in 1987. Barry died in 1989 surrounded by a loving family.
White Night Riots
“No bricks! No bricks!” I chanted. I was joining other parade-goers as they cheered the passing vehicle of City Supervisor Carol Ruth Silver, who had been injured the month before at the White Night Riots that broke out following the news of Dan White’s acquittal. Someone had thrown a brick at Silver when she tried to address the crowd at City Hall.
Now part of LGBTQ history, the White Night Riots were the most violent uprising since Stonewall only a decade before. Thousands poured into the street to participate. Dozens were injured. After the riot dissipated, San Francisco police retaliated by raiding a gay bar in the Castro, where patrons were beaten by police in riot gear.
Earlier that evening I’d seen TV reports and called my gay older brother who lived in San Francisco. I was a senior at Cal Berkeley. “Paddy stay home. It’s not safe here.” John was staring out across a great glowing city in peril, counting the protest fires from his Dolores Heights apartment.
Undeterred to BART I raced, to The City, to join the conflagration unfolding at City Hall and on Market Street where the rioting continued after the first protests erupted on Castro Street.
What I remember most was the physical power of our community that night. These protesters weren’t passive, long hair anti-war protesters of the 1960s. They were gym rats, and they were really pissed off.
Pedestrians froze and traffic stopped. A human cavalry charged up Madison Avenue like a pack of fighting bulls. It was the great activist militia ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power. “Act Up! Fight AIDS!” they hollered.
I had traveled to NYC from LA with my Manwich Sloppy Joe Sauce client to meet the press and pitch the virtues of convenience food. What do angry gay protesters have to do with canned tomato sauce I thought. And AIDS.
There in New York City a great movement was underway.
We, the men, were piling up casualties like Omaha Beach, while great communities in San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles succumbed to a disfiguring deadly plague at numbers beyond imagination. No medicine, no cure, and an average trajectory from seroconversion to death of just eleven months.
What I remember most about that day on Madison Avenue was the women on the front line of that angry mob. Strong. Committed. Comrades in a war we were too sick to wage alone.
For so many years there had been a schism between gays and lesbians. Why should men get to do whatever they want? We, the women, are focused on the serious issues of justice and equality. You guys are only interested in cruising and having fun.
Separatism was real. Not only did lesbians confront discrimination against sexual minorities, but they also faced gender discrimination. Gay men were still men.
But when the call came, the women were there.
It was a paradigm shift, the beginning of a new phase without gender barriers. ACT UP united lesbians, gay men and others around a common cause. Very few lesbians had been stricken with AIDS but they were out in force, fighting homophobia.
ACT UP sprang up in 1987 from a perceived lack of political action by LGBTQ service groups and actively sought legislation, medical research, treatment and policies to end AIDS. It would take another half dozen years for effective combination therapy to be introduced.
I weep with gratitude when I think of that day. The unity I witnessed continued into the next century when gays and lesbians joined forces for the next big issue after AIDS: Marriage equality.
We’ve Only Just Begun
The fight for equality has been hard, at times violent, but relentless. I have no knowledge to pass on to younger generations other than to say, “Never give up.” In life, we often find ourselves at an impasse, but that is when the true battle begins. One day, when you look back over a lifetime of struggle you will see how your unyielding spirit made you stronger than you ever could have imagined.