What’s it like to be on the Wrong side of History? Well let me tell you…
On April 25th, 1993 I went with a group from an ex-gay ministry called Sought Out to stand on the side of a parade route and hand out pamphlets to the Marchers that asked “Are you really happy being gay?” The March I was at? Well it was the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation.
There were a lot of things that led to me being there not as a Marcher but as a protester. Every decision I made on the way to being there that day was made thinking I was doing the right thing. That I in my infinite wisdom and understanding was doing the loving and caring thing. I was there to Save Souls!
Let me tell you about that day…
We had arrived in DC the night before and stayed with a friend in Silver Springs, MD which is right outside of DC. We knew that once the March started there is no way we could drive through DC so we all planned to meet up at a church near a Metro station on the outskirts of DC and take the Metro to the place on the parade route where we would be handing out our pamphlets. My then husband and I decided to get up very early and drive the parade route to get an idea of where we would be. It was a beautiful morning. Clear blue skies and not yet muggy or hot. DC was showing off with foliage in full bloom while the monuments glowed bright white in the early morning sun.
On the parade route we found the corner we’d be at then continued up the route. About 3 blocks before our corner we came across the Westboro Baptist Church people setting up with their signs that said God Hates Fags very prominently displayed. There was already a police presence around them. Their placement on the route three blocks before the Marchers would hit out little group was a bit worrisome at the time but at that point we didn’t really have a grasp of how big this March was or what the Westboro folks effect on the Marchers would be.
We returned to the church and met up with our team and reported our findings. No one else seemed worried, after all we were just there for anyone that was questioning and ready to turn from their life of sin. (yeah because if you are marching in this parade you might be questioning your life choices…Riiiight!) We weren’t there to condemn the Marchers or call them names. At least that’s what we told ourselves. I will point out that at this time the Westboro Baptist Church wasn’t as well known as it was during its heyday and that this particular stunt of theirs was one of the things that put them on the map protest-wise.
The appointed time came. We headed enmass to the Metro station. DC Metro stations are clean subways that serve to move hundreds of thousands of people around the capital fast and efficiently. The trains were crowded but not packed. Our group was no more than 15 people and we didn’t even fill one car. We met other people heading to the March either to watch, participate, or protest. In particular we met a transgender individual carrying a large handwritten poster board sign that read “God healed me from my transexualism. He can heal you too!” we greeted him like a long lost brother. We all thought God must have put him on our train! (It couldn’t have been Just a coincidence that we were all heading to the same general area at the same time to a function with a specific start time using the most convenient route from the same general area where there was a group of churches promoting the ex-gay movement now could it?) After a brief conversation with our group leaders he was adopted into our little group. We weren’t really expecting trouble. I mean come on were just there to hand out pamphlets right?
The first real inkling we had about the size of this March was when we were taking the escalator up the 3 stories to street level. The long slanting ride started in the dim and relatively quiet underground Metro station. As we rode towards the bright circle of light at the top of the escalators a wash of sound began to build around us. It was eerie and unnerving. Someone made a weak joke about this must be what Christians entering coliseum felt and heard as they went out to be eaten by lions. That kind of tells you a lot about the mentality of the group right there.
The noise was a physical pressure I could feel against my skin. It was pouring into the station entrance from the street. As we reached the top cheers and shouts, whistles, drums, and just about any noise a human throat could make flooded over us until we could barely hear each other even while shouting. As the escalator pushed us out into the blinding sunlight we were all disoriented and milled about for a minute before trying to work our way into the flow of people heading for the the cross street a hundred yards or so away.
It took longer than expected to work our way through the crowd. Several people got separated from the group and that was when we had our first person pull out. The sheer number of people just at the edges of the parade route overwhelmed them bringing on the start of a panic attack and they bailed. My husband and I waded through the crowd to our meetup point with the group leaders. Everyone who was going to make it showed up slightly after us. Pamphlet stacks and final instructions were handed out. Reminders to be passive and non confrontational in all encounters and to respect police commands were emphasized. That these instructions had to be shouted at full volume to be heard a foot away from the speaker made them slightly less reassuring than one might think.
We worked our way to the front of the crowd at the street edge. Several parishioners from the church that had hosted us had held what space they could for us on the curb. Our group stood packed shoulder to shoulder trying to spread out a bit right on the road as the parade began flowing past us. And flowing is exactly the right word.
We were standing next to a 4 lane road. The marchers filled it shoulder to shoulder all the way across the street. They went as far as one could see up the road in either direction. There were literally hundreds of thousands of marchers and just as many spectators. The estimates later on of eight hundred thousand to one million to attend this event dont surprise me in the least. And there we were 15 people in the midst of that mass of humanity, that tide of determination and righteous anger marching on Washington demanding fair and equal treatment. Just us 15 people handing out pink pamphlets with “are you really happy being gay?” on them.
end part 1