At precisely noon on June 25, 1995, in front of New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a police officer yelled into a bull horn: “Anyone who takes off his clothes will be arrested.”
New York is home to more parades than any city in America. Throughout the spring, summer and fall, hardly a Sunday goes by without some racial, ethnic or religious group taking to the streets to celebrate its heritage. All the parades make a positive cultural statement, never seeking to disgrace or disparage the heritage of some other group. In none of them do the police find it necessary to threaten arrest for going naked in public. Indeed, the mere suggestion of such a threat would surely be seen as insulting, degrading and bigoted. But when the cops tells gays to keep their clothes on, no one seems upset, save those who want to disrobe with impunity.
Bad as the 1995 parade was, it was no match for last year’s debacle (“Stonewall at 25,” October 1994). On June 26, 1994, scores of fully naked men and women marched in an illegal parade yelling “F You” at those on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. They masturbated in the street, pointed their middle fingers at the Cathedral, did satanic dances and dressed as cardinals, nuns, and priests. All of this was done in full view of Police Commissioner William Bratton and the New York City police force. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani watched from above in a helicopter. No one was arrested for anything.
A couple of weeks before the Gay Pride Parade, I received a tip that the march was to begin at noon at 52nd Street and 5th Avenue, just one block north of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The Cathedral has a Mass at noon and another at one o’clock. Moreover, those attending the 10:15 Mass that Cardinal O’Connor traditionally gives would also be affected: as families exited the Cathedral, they would be greeted by a throng of totally wired gays and lesbians in various states of undress.
My response was to put the Mayor on warning without first going public. On June 8, I wrote to Mayor Giuliani expressing my concerns. I wanted the starting point of the parade to begin at a point below St. Patrick’s; I suggested 42nd Street and 5th Avenue as a point of departure, The parade was going to head south anyway to Greenwich Village. The Catholic League never once challenged the right of gays to march, rather, our concern was wholly with the proposed starting point. The First Amendment has always been conditioned by time, place and manner, and given what occurred in 1994, it was hardly unreasonable to request that the parade not proceed past St. Patrick’s. I gave Mayor Giuliani to June 16 before going public with my charges.
The Mayor stiffed us—no one called. Before the deadline occurred, someone leaked information about my letter to the Washington Times. When questioned about the letter, I confirmed its contents but refrained from commenting any further. When Giuliani’s office was contacted by Liz Trotta of the Washington Times, his spokeswoman, Christyne Lategano, replied that “the administration will respond personally to Dr. Donohue. We look forward to addressing his concerns with him directly and not through the media.” But no one called. After I went public, the Mayor’s top aid, Peter Powers, reiterated what Lategano said. But no one called.
New York is properly known as a very liberal town. But the New York City electorate is only one part of New York public opinion: many who live in the New York suburbs and the Northern New Jersey communities let their voices be heard through talk radio, letters to the editor, organized phone chains and the like. They cannot be ignored as they constitute a formidable public presence. Giuliani got their message and began his walk from left to center, letting gay leaders know that the 1995 Gay Pride Parade had better not be a repeat performance of the 1994 march.
On the day of the parade, 3,000 people jammed St. Patrick’s for Cardinal O’Connor’s Mass. As the faithful walked into the Cathedral, they were given a pamphlet by Dignity, a group of gays who claim to be Catholic although they openly resist many Church teachings. The handout blasted the Catholic League. Dignity was upset by the League’s statement that “To allow Catholic bashing gays to begin a parade by St. Patrick’s Cathedral is tantamount to allowing the Klan to assemble near a Harlem Baptist church or the Nazis to start near a Jewish synagogue.” The gay group also carried anti-Catholic League signs during the parade.
Acting responsibly, Cardinal O’Connor preached malice toward none and charity to all. He went out of his way to say that “Most people whose sexual orientation differs from the majority are good, decent people who try to live responsible lives.” He cautioned Catholics not to respond to misbehavior that might take place and, judging from what happened, not one person who attended the Mass did anything to embarrass His Eminence. But they surely were provoked.
When the parade began, St. Patrick’s was sealed like a war zone. No one could get near it as the police barricaded the Cathedral and the sidewalk across the street. All the usual suspects were there: drag queens, cross-dressers on Rollerblades, the Butch/Femme Society, the sado-macho brigade in black leather, Men of Discipline and other lovely types. Commercialism was most evident as about a third of the floats were sponsored by various gay bars and clubs. Though there were no signs indicating that the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) was there, the child molesters were listed in the program.
There were men dressed as women and there were fairies on stilts. Hundreds of men wore nothing but jock straps, shaking their bodies to the beat of the blaring rock music. Olympic diving champion Greg Louganis was one of the grand marshals and pop singer Cyndi Lauper danced and sang her hit “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” Strange looking people were everywhere and often it was difficult to tell whether it was a man or a woman, and in some cases it appeared that it was both. And yes, some of the girls did bare their breasts (a few of them apparently spray painted their chests), but in all fairness it must be said that most of the girls managed to keep their clothes on. The police carried yellow blankets to cover the girls up but decided against using them. Following tradition, no one was arrested.
There’s a fat and ugly guy who shows up every year dressed as the pope carrying a sign “My church organ is bigger than yours.” He was there again this year. There was one car that passed by with a string of unrelated four letter words and sexual terms on it. Some marchers wore shirts with various vulgarities inscribed on them. There were large pictures of men performing oral sex and there were several examples of men simulating oral sex live atop the floats. The latter exhibition led Norm Siegel of the ACLU to declare “I love watching the First Amendment in action,” thus demonstrating how far we’ve come in our understanding of free speech.
No Gay Pride Parade would be complete without a little Catholic bashing. It should be noted that the place where the march began, 52nd Street, is not a major cross street, making it all the more conspicuous what the intent was in starting there. If Catholic bashing wasn’t central to the parade, then surely the request to start the march just south of the Cathedral would have been granted. Indeed, when Janice Thom, the co-chairman of the parade’s sponsors, Heritage of Pride, was asked to comment on my statement that her group had deliberately targeted St. Patrick’s, she responded briskly, “That’s an interesting idea.”
The most flagrant anti-Catholicism came from Catholic Ladies for Choice. In this group, there were gays and lesbians dressed as nuns carrying coat hangers and lesbians dressed as nuns carrying tambourines. Most incredible was the gay man who wore a black bra and a black jock strap with a huge set of rosary beads wrapped around his otherwise naked body. There was also someone dressed as the pope with a banner that read, “The Catholic Church, a history of murder, lies, censorship, oppression, and hypocrisy.”
And what did Mayor Giuliani have to say about all this? He called it a “very dignified parade.” Police Commissioner Bratton agreed, saying that the march was “a very respectable parade, one that I think gays and lesbians could feel quite proud of.” If that m it is a very sad commentary on how gays and lesbians see themselves. And it doesn’t say a whole the way New York public officials see homosexuals either. But Gay Nineties, and until the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” generation of sympathizers wises up, Catholics can expect to face this battle year after year.