It was one of the most magical weeks that I’ll ever have. When I headed to New York by train, it was already announced that I’d be one of the grand marshals of the Stonewall 50 World Pride parade, and that meant marching with my Gay Liberation Front sisters and brothers.
I’ve done that many times before, but this year’s celebration, including New York, the city, the people, the media, went much further and deeper than one day of celebration. I surprisingly found I was — like Samantha tells Carrie when her book was released on “Sex and the City” — “the toast of the town.”
It took me some time to realize why. The 50th anniversary of Stonewall meant that New York had to reckon with its history — what had been denied and hidden for decades, and I was a central point in that, being at Stonewall that fateful night.
On this trip, a current reporter of The New York Daily News came up to me to apologize for its early coverage of Stonewall and that infamous headline. CBS took me to the spot where I had disrupted Walter Cronkite, and the newsroom staff stood and applauded, giving me goose bumps. The moment was included in that night’s evening news broadcast and CBS finally gave Walter credit for the secret meeting he arranged between the news station and me 46 years ago. NBC relived my disruption of the Today Show…by inviting me to be on the Today Show, and they didn’t take me out in handcuffs this time. Because I am an LGBT senior and founder of Gay Youth, Time Magazine included me on an intergenerational video panel.
I was a one stop shop for it all, and it made me aware that as one of the youngest members of Gay Liberation Front, only an 18-year-old at Stonewall, a marshal at the first Gay Pride, an organizer of Gay Youth, a disrupter of TV, and as an early LGBT journalist, the interviews and appearances were the easy part.
Then came the daily thank yous from people of all backgrounds. An especially memorable one was from an NBC news anchor who said, very simply, “I owe my job to you.” You would have expected I’ve heard that sentiment before, but I hadn’t. We hugged, and I met his husband or soon to be husband. Another memorable moment was when Gio Benitez of ABC News talked openly about his husband while we taped a segment of The View, and one more: doing a CBS Podcast with an out member of their network.
The New York Times, who in the past has been in my cross hairs for not reporting on the early AIDS epidemic, was incredible in their coverage. Not only did the Times do an amazing Stonewall 50 print supplement, but it also produced a video debunking many of the Stonewall myths that have occurred over the years, and, unlike the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Times got our history correct.
Then there was the LGBT youth meeting between original members of Gay Youth and current LGBT youth and the Travel Show on BBC. Swedish broadcasting, German broadcasting, Switzerland, France, Austria, Spain, Brazil, and Japan all did special reports, all wanted to know about Stonewall and why it was so important to the world. With so much more I could say, here’s the point: For most us in Gay Liberation Front, we’ve been a part of five decades of activism. Many of us were bullied, spit on, arrested and shunned by our own community for doing what we believed would bring us liberation. One of those ideas that brought criticism was something we called Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day, now Gay Pride. We amounted to under 100 before that march. Today, millions march around the world. You can thank Craig Rodwell, Ellen Broidy and Gay Liberation Front for that. In 2019, I got to march with my brothers and sisters from Gay Liberation Front as grand marshals of the parade we created. To my sisters and brothers of Gay Liberation Front, it is an honor to have walked by your side last Sunday and every day for the last 50 years.