Volume 79, Number 4 | July 1 - 7, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Talking Point

Time to remove 25 years of barricades in New York

Photo by Kevin Kemper

>> An anti-gay protester outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Sunday made his point with a misspelled sign as Tim Gay got a laugh.

By Tim Gay

Dear Archbishop Dolan,
We’re sorry that you missed your first New York Lesbian and Gay Pride March. We heard you were in Rome, meeting with the pope and getting a new wardrobe. 

If only you had been here, you would have seen the most beautiful, colorful Gay Pride ever — our 40th anniversary to mark the Stonewall Riots of 1969. Floats and dancers, people of all colors, some on bicycles, some on tricycles, some on stilts and some in wheelchairs. 

The governor was there — David Paterson was the honoree for pushing for our marriage right! Mayor Bloomberg was there, as well as Senator Chuck Schumer and the Queen of the Imperial Court her/himself. 

Fifth Ave. was lined with happy observers cheering us on. Police officers gladly took photos for paraders and out-of-towners. People threw streamers from windows, and ministers and volunteers handed out water at Marble Collegiate Church, and the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches on lower Fifth Ave.

Except not at St. Patrick’s. 

For one block, between 51st and 50th Sts., Fifth Ave. was once again prepared for a full riot. Police officers stood at guard with three rows of barricades between the curb and the steps. The only onlookers were some sad church representatives (they were allowed to stand on the cathedral steps) holding homophobic signs including one with “church” misspelled as “churc.”

It wasn’t always like that.

I remember the Gay Pride March of 1983. It was a beautiful Sunday. 

Phil and I loved going to the Gay Pride March on our bicycles. We would weave in and out of the various groups, circle back, go forward, and always catch up with the Catholic gay and lesbian organization, Dignity, as they reached St. Patrick’s at 50th St.

As in many of the past years, first was a moment of silence. And then one Dignity member would walk up the steps and release a bouquet of pink and purple balloons. And this would be followed by the spectacular release of hundreds of purple and pink balloons. Some balloons would get caught in the century-old gothic ornamentation, some would float high above Rockefeller Center, and a few balloons might go lightly around the corner and float past a newly wed heterosexual bride and groom coming out the side entrance.

And the cheering! Jubilant, loud, off-key cheering! These were (and are) true believers making a joyful noise unto their Lord!

A friend called out Phil’s name and mine. We turned around on our bicycles and waved, like thousands of marchers spontaneously posing for photos. Our photo was snapped just in time for the balloons. 

I still have that photo. 

Little did we know that would be the last year for Dignity releasing the balloons.

In 1984 the new Archbishop O’Connor had the cathedral barricaded by three rows of blue sawhorses and 100 police officers, arms crossed and batons ready at their sides. And on the other side of Fifth Ave. was a church-sanctioned anti-gay enclave of at least 100 people. They spewed forth venomous homophobic lies that were not biblically based, psychologically or medically accurate or, for that matter, in good taste.

We squeezed between these opposing menaces on the left and the right. Of course, voices became angry. Of course, fair-weather friends and politicians demurely refused to march with us, until we reached 23rd St., well within the “gay safety zone.”

That was the harbinger for what we were to see for the next quarter century. Starting in 1984 the archdiocese slammed the door on not just Catholics, but all gay and lesbian New Yorkers.

AIDS was just beginning. But Cardinal O’Connor’s first response to the gay and lesbian community was to spend some $50 million to fight the city on Executive Order 50, which banned sexual discrimination in hiring practices at any company or nonprofit organization that did business with the city.

Dignity could no longer meet at St. Xavier’s on  16th St. No safer-sex education would be taught at Catholic schools, hospitals or (at least officially) Covenant House. Discrimination is O.K. on St. Patrick’s Day.

And as much as no one would believe us back then, H.I.V. truly became an equal opportunity for men and women of all races. Despite the gay stigma and the associated hysteria of the 1980s, it is now the unspoken disease affecting our minority communities. 

H.I.V. is the leading cause of death for black and Hispanic women of childbearing age in New York City and has been for at least the last 10 years. (I sometimes wonder what the outcome would have been if there had been any outreach from the Hispanic parishes to women. But we’ll never know.)

Cardinal O’Connor drew the line. But somewhere along the way, that line has become irrelevant.

As the years have gone by, those anti-gay hecklers opposite St. Patrick’s have grown fewer and older. When we see that one sign, “God didn’t make Adam and Steve,” we confidently yell back, “Oh yes, God did! As well as Alice and Gertrude and Ellen and Portia, too.”

Now, here we are at Stonewall 40. You know very good and well that we are the police officers, teachers, doctors, full-time parents and even managing partners at law firms who live and work and play side by side with heterosexuals in our great city. We are city councilmembers, congressmembers and school board members. Some are priests, some are preachers and, of course, we’ll always be your church organists.

We can even get married in a number of states, including Iowa! That’s only about 100 miles north of where you, Archbishop Dolan, grew up in St. Louis!

So, don’t you think it’s a good time to remove the barricades from the steps of St. Patrick’s?

Look, it’s a new administration there at the archdiocese. Next year, let the police do real work and let Dignity release the balloons. 

No one is asking you to hand out condoms. But try handing out some cups of water. It’s a long walk down to Marble Collegiate at 30th St.

And while you are at it, you and those Ancient Hibernians should know that not all Irish-Americans are Catholic. Lighten up and let all people march on St. Patrick’s Day.

With or without your blessing, we are free.

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