What matters sordid wealth or brutish might?
Bright day, dark night,
Gay or straight, black, brown or white,
Tall or short, Blond or brunet,
Voluptuously-curved or sveltely-slight,
Tight-lipped or loquacious?
The sun, the moon, the stars, all beckon still,
From gold-tipped blue above
Love is love and right is right! Gay or straight, black, brown or white, Come, let us have our fill!
As everyone knows June is Gay Pride Month.I try to take pains to wear my best. Because Bill Cunningham said they are the fashion, I wore shorts with wild socks. If one can't always emulate the genius of past LGBT luminaries one can at least be influenced by their great style. For the last 19 years or so I've tossed roses to people in the crowd at the parade. People love catching these flowers almost, so it seems, as much as if they were diamonds.
The parade is a victory march and commemorates the rebellion at Greenwich Village's Stonewall Bar, the Stonewall Inn. One night in 1969, a group of restive patrons, drag queens, butch lesbians and gays, fought back, rather than submit to the usual degrading harassment and arrest that occurred during routine police raids.
"Our club, the Couples Club, was made up of lesbians and gay men who were monogamous, mostly. When we went out or sponsored a dance in a hall or at a member's house, if someone called the cops everything would look legit," said a long-time Harlemite who belonged to this association.
"At Thanksgiving time the Fun-makers, led by bartender Phil Black, got a permit to hold a 'masquerade'! Men dressed as women, women dressed as men, thousands attended! It was at the Golden Gate on 155th Street. For the queens it was like being Cinderella for one night. Without getting into trouble they could become Jayne Russell or Josephine Baker! People on the street used to line up in disbelief that these ravishing women were were really men and cheer. They called it the 'Faggot's Ball'"
Needless to say, the next day, some who had cheered went back to jeering and calling people 'faggots'. All the previous night's spectacle of colorful splendor retreated back into hiding . By the time I arrived in Harlem in 1985, the mostly declining gay bars and back rooms that once characterized Homo-Harlem, had started to disappear.
On Saturday, June 26, 2010, at Harlem Pride, a street fair on 119th Street, that was the first gay liberation celebration ever held uptown, Senator Bill Perkins greeted hundreds of celebrants and presented a legislative resolution to SAGE Harlem, a neighborhood senior outreach program that's based not on geography but on affinity. Housed in the old Hotel Theresa, SAGE Harlem is a safe spot where one can always be sure to find veterans willing to reminisce about the past.
Speaking last Saturday on the same block where the matchless and poetic lyricist Lorenz Hart grew up, Senator Perkins made his own reference to the past, 'to the bad old days of yore':
"Pride month and the parade are always a highlight of the year for me," he shouted," because the exuberance and festivity remind us all, how key it is not to ever take justice and equal treatment for granted! It's nice to see [many young gay Harlem residents here], because it means that the movement for recognition is growing to such an extent that young people are not in the closet about their sexuality, and who they are. To see them out here, dancing and being whoever they are and feeling loved and feeling beautiful is very important," he said. "Too often this community is marginalized ... in the dark unseen places that segregate them not only physically, but emotionally, politically, and so forth. For them to be in the heart of the neighborhood, a neighborhood of brownstones, a neighborhood where there's a church, means that they are a part of the fabric of the neighborhood. They're here, not over by the edge in some Hudson place that nobody goes to. It's very powerful."
In the past, Homo-Harlem, LGBT Harlem, mostly meant a hidden Harlem. It was peopled by outcasts who included some of the most brilliant individuals of their era, 'intellectuals' who, nevertheless, seldom escaped being belittled by society or harassed for being themselves.
Despite enriching the glory of Harlem, the lives and contributions of gay folks is an aspect of Harlem's cultural and artistic achievement that's largely forgotten by history. Part of the mission of the Maysles Cinema's second annual Homo Harlem film series, which opened at The Museum of the City of New York on Monday, June 21, part of the goal of my forthcoming history, Homo-Harlem: Everyday Life in the African American Cultural Capital, 1915-1985, is an effort to right this wrong.
The six-day-long retrospective film series investigating cinematic representation of gay life and culture related to black America's fabled homeland kicked off with Fred Barney Taylor's The Polymath, Or the Life and Opinions of Samuel R. Delany, Gentleman.
What a beauty Delany, who now resembles Santa, was. His frustrating relationship with his father, an unwitting contest of mutual disappointment, seems heartrendingly reminiscent of my own. How sad that neither Chip's distinguished lineage, ethereal beauty or precocious brilliance as a writer, saved him, neither from the closet, nor from convention nor from despair.
Is it only envy that makes his boast of approximately 2,000 sexual encounters per year, some 50,000 to date, seem exhausting at best and a kind of desperate quest, at worst? Whatever else such poignant revelations might show, they certainly seem to relate a very human lack of satisfaction, an incessant searching that defies classification as a mere adjunct of sexual orientation.
Naked White Roses, the serie's final offering is a feature film. A classic pursuit of love in the vein of Spike Lee's She's Got to Have It, or even Waiting to Exhale, it too presents a good deal of recreational sex en-route to the hero's search for true and affirming love.
Don't get me wrong, the idea that Delany's libido is so robust, still, that he manages through charm and force of personality, alone, to attract scores of young 'admirers', what with my penchant for fresh good looks, that, "thing of beauty, [which] is a boy forever", seems commendably hopeful. But what an alluring story the longing and looking for love, shown in Naked White Roses, is.
Not expecting much from a début project that only cost an un-heard-of $12,000, what a surprise! Trance, the screenwriter-lead, is telling his life's story in a film where the shooting schedule was close to the real-time elapse of 5 years. Knowing this almost tempts one to dismiss his brilliant performance, as art, imitating life.
Only recollecting how difficult it is to pull that off, only recognizing as well, an updated rendition of Richard Bruce Nugent's seminal tale, Smoke Lilies and Jade, does the depth of straight movie maker Henry B. Roa's sterling achievement dawn on one.
How one wishes one could show this movie at shopping malls. After all, it's just another love story with conflicted people of color, people who just might live next door, but who are neither cowboys, nor entirely like one's parents either.
And what's next? How I commiserated last year with my straight female co-curator Valery Jo Bradley, that in the city of 8 million, we had attracted only about 200 people for 7 movies. This year we had perhaps twice that number. And at last it's dawned on me that, as nice as it might be for my co-workers or family to see Marlin Riggs' incredible Black Is...Black Ain't, I don't really have the time to spare for their enlightenment. Inasmuch as many among them feel themselves to be such arbiters regarding authentic black behavior, an impulse to educate them is certainly strong. But it must be suppressed. I have a duty to focus on affirming my adoptive queer family that's so in need of validation and self-awareness.
Thanks to the superb panel at Barnes & Noble that culminated this year's pride celebration so auspiciously, at least I feel assured of new Homo-Harlem-themed movies in the offing. Gathered to read from their tribute to E. Lynn Harris, entitled Visible Lives, novelists James Earl Hardy and Stanley Bennett Clay, moderated by Dr. Annette Gordon-Reed, conducted a spirited conversation. Revealing how like banging one's head against a brick wall it can be to get work published, optioned or produced, they also offered assurance to their audience. Only superficially were we more restrained than Tyler Perry's fans. And that undoubtedly bodes well for the movies celebrating black LGBT humanity that are in the works!