Capital Pride: 50 Years After Stonewall   

It’s Capital Pride time, a prime time in the nation’s capital.

We are once again in the midst of the Capital Pride Alliance’s annual LGBTQ festival, which began on May 31 and runs through June 9. The Capital Pride Parade is scheduled for Saturday, June 8, from 4:30 to 8 p.m. The 1.5-mile route starts at 21st and P Streets and ends at 14th and R Streets.

It’s a time of celebrating and partying in the here-and-now while honoring the Pride journey with the theme of “ShhhOut: Past, Present and Proud,” saluting the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York’s Greenwich Village.

Stonewall marked a pivotal moment in the history of what was then becoming known as the gay community, with gay liberation turning into a political, consciousness-raising, cultural and social movement. It stemmed from a face-off between baton-wielding New York City police officers, who clashed with customers at the Stonewall bar in June of 1969, coinciding with the height of activity by anti-war and civil rights protesters. (The New York Police Department apologized for its excessive reactions 50 years ago only this week.)

The incident raised the visibility of gay people in communities, especially urban areas, in a way that had not occurred before. It also spurred Gay Pride activities in cities all over the country, including Washington, D.C.

If the 2019 Capital Pride celebration seems sprawling, large, diverse and spread out over the city now in a massively festive way, that wasn’t always the case. The festival has a long history with a small beginning, and various ups and downs and changes in direction in numbers and leadership and support along the way.

Still, there were always constants. Though distinctive in their themes, looks, perceptions and activities, the festivals themselves with the parade at the center, and parties and happenings throughout the city — seemed right from the start to be bracing and embracing, inviting and inclusive in terms of the larger Washington community.

People neighborhood residents, suburbanites, tourists, worker bees on the Hill, visiting politicos observed the goings-on, then, at first perhaps hesitantly, but slowly and surely, began to take part in the festivities with enthusiasm.

It all started out small, as a block party on Father’s Day in 1975 called Gay Pride Day. From there, a P Street Festival Committee renamed the event Gay and Lesbian Pride Day in 1981. Later, a new organization, One in Ten, took over planning for the festival. The Whitman-Walker Clinic, the pioneering medical organization dealing with the devastating AIDS crisis in the city, assumed responsibility and became the sole sponsor in 2000.

In the first year, the block party drew 2,000 people, but bigger and bigger numbers followed: 10,000 in 1979 and 28,000 in 1984, by which time it had become a weeklong event.

By 2007, the festival was the fourth-largest Gay Pride event in the nation, even as it often experienced administrative and financial struggles. In March of 2008, Whitman-Walker awarded festival production rights to Capital Pride and the Capital Pride Alliance, a group of volunteers and organizations formed by the Capital Pride Planning Committee. The alliance has been the event’s sole producer since 2009.

By whatever name and under whatever umbrella organization, the festival — and especially the parade that was its centerpiece and to some extent remains so today — reflected what was going on the gay and lesbian world as a whole. It became a kind of historical showcase of the surging events in that world. This, it seemed to many D.C. residents, was especially true in Washington.

If you lived in or around Dupont Circle, you were often privy to the festival almost willy-nilly, and looked forward to the outrageousness, the music, the dress codes, the high heel races, the overall just generally celebratory nature of the people involved, the performers, the marchers, the characters and the personalities on review.

The event often displayed both fist-clenched defiance in its movement aspect and open-armed welcome in its festive nature. The festival had a way of incorporating the cultural and political controversies that hovered over Washington, where the battle over same-sex marriage played itself out on the steps of the Supreme Court.

Washington politicians always seemed receptive to the festival, and mayors, Council members and other government officials were mostly supportive. Many marched in the parades, notably the late Mayor Marion Barry.

The 1980s, we painfully recall, marked the apex of the devastation caused in the gay community by AIDS. Hit hard, the artistic community responded both financially and creatively.

Playwrights especially responded to the AIDS crisis with phenomenal works, many of which were produced and performed at local theaters such as Studio, Woolly Mammoth and the Source, headed then by the late Bart Whiteman. Theatergoers saw plays like “March of the Falsettos” and Paula Vogel’s imaginative and touching “The Baltimore Waltz” at Studio, the dazzlingly ambitious “Angels in America” at the Kennedy Center, Larry Kramer’s “The Normal Heart” at Arena and many others.

From its small neighborhood beginnings, the festival was, as it turns out, never separated from its surroundings. It’s become an inclusive institution in the city, as you can see every year, in its makeup, its divas, its marchers and performers.A list of what groups you’ll find marching offers a composite of the city, a sort of instant District selfie.

Take a look at a sampling of Washington, D.C., in the Capital Pride Parade.

Americans for Self Rule. Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists. District Council members. Booz Allen Hamilton. Brookings. Balance Gym. Capital One. City Dogs Rescue & City Kitties. Center City Public Charter Schools. Citizens to Elect Norton. DC Gay Flag Football League. DC Area Quakers. DC Black Pride and Center for Black Equity. DC’s Different Drummers. DOJ Pride/FBI Pride. Embassy of Australia. Gay Men’s Chorus. Facebook. Food & Friends. Gays Against Guns. Lockheed Martin. Lyft. Maret School Queer/Straight Alliance. Metro Weekly. McDonald’s Outriders. Women’s Motorcycle Club. PNC Bank. Pride Fund to End Gun Violence. Scouts for Equality. St. John’s Episcopal – Lafayette Square and Chevy Chase. DC Office on Aging. TD Bank. Transgender American Veterans Association.

And on and on it goes.

Take a look. Somewhere in there we are all represented, all a part of Capital Pride. We’re all proud. 




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