Those of you who’ve known me for a while know that I notice the anniversaries of major life events ticking over. As we gear up for Pride 2018, here’s a look back on what was happening in my life 25 years ago, in 1993.
On April 25th, 1993 I was in Washington, D.C. for The March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation (yes, those of us living in 2018 will notice they left Trans off the list – it was intentional, unfortunately, adding “Bi” was considered edgy in 1993). I still have the bracelet and a “Closets are for Clothes” pin from the March. Organizers estimated that 1,000,000 people attended, though the Park Service claimed 300,000 (and received so much negative publicity that they quit estimating crowd sizes for future events).
It was probably a really bad idea to head for an outdoor event in the hot hot sun 3 months after brain surgery (I ended up with heat exhaustion and a 2nd degree sunburn), but I met the core of my group of Queer Baptist heroes at the March and experienced the overwhelming feeling of being safe among a queer majority for the first time in my life.
Before heading to Washington I called Rick Mixon (then head of American Baptists Concerned for Sexual Minorities, now pastor of First Baptist Church of Palo Alto, CA) to see if anyone could help with finding housing. He told me to contact April Baker, who was surprised to learn that she was in charge of housing 🙂, but found me a place to stay anyways. April was in charge of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists worship service before the March and, sight unseen, drafted me to do the Benediction. Clearly April had the most important ministerial skill down at this point: let no volunteer go unassigned – April’s now co-pastor at Glendale Baptist Church in Nashville, TN.
Moving On Up
So, instead of knowing no one and heading to the big city alone, I found myself on a chartered Greyhound with a bunch of queers from Stonewall Columbus, headed to D.C. to meet a bunch of Baptist queers. What a great feeling!
My introduction to the city after disembarking the bus at the Pentago
n Metro stop was getting off the Metro at DuPont Circle, Washington’s queer central. Someone in the crowd lisped “faggots” at the top of his lungs and we knew it was a celebration, not an insult. Cheering ensued, echoing off the tile walls. It was a heady feeling knowing we were safe among a crowd of like-minded folks.
Goin’ to Church
The next day I headed to the church to meet these folks I’d talked with on the phone and worshipped together among a crowd of like-minded visionaries, who looked forward to a day when Baptists would welcome us as Sisters and Brothers. Many of the folks I worshipped with that day are still among my friends, and still spread the word to each other about job opportunities that are open to lgbtqia+ pastors.
Singing as We Marched
After baking on the mall for four hours due to larger-than-expected crowds, together we marched through the streets of Washington, trading hymns back and forth with the queer Mormons preceding us. Our two groups took great amusement from seeing the faces of the lgbtqia+ folks along the street and reading their lips as they said, “MORMONS?!?! BAPTISTS?!?!?!” We were in good company among fellow exiles.
Cherishing the Cloud of Witnesses
My everlasting memories of the March on Washington are of smiles, songs, and happy crowds. I’ve been to other Marches on Washington for other causes, and to many yearly Pride Marches, but nothing quite matches the experience of taking over the National Mall and the streets of Washington, D.C. for a few days with a million of my closest friends.
Thank Heaven for the sacred spaces I’ve experienced in my time on earth. The 1993 March on Washington was definitely one of them, and I’ll never forget leading hymns and singing along with the crowd as we marched for Freedom.