NEW YORK CITY- Four dates in 2007:
On March 24, WORLD published its first special issue on cities.
On May 23, according to UN demographers, over half the people of the world for the first time in history (or at least since the Tower of Babel) lived in urban areas.
On June 22, WORLD opened its first New York bureau.
And the city celebrated this magazine's arrival by having, two days later, an enormous parade in its honor.
No, the Sunday parade was not in honor of WORLD or the biblical worldview it tries to represent: In fact, nine men and women who said they adhered to that worldview were the targets of obscene words and gestures for four hours.
But more about that in the sidebar: In this first report of what will be an occasional series set in the nation's largest city, let's start from the beginning of this year's biggest Gay Pride parade, which followed passage of a same-sex marriage bill by the Democrat-dominated New York Assembly (the lower house of the state legislature).
Even though the GOP-controlled Senate is unlikely to comply, the gay political victory set the tone for a gargantuan march that was less a protest than a show of strength. It was like the Union Army marching down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington in 1865 following the Civil War's conclusion, a display of overwhelming force and a warning to the recalcitrant: time to give in.
This grand army of the gay republic marched down Fifth Avenue in nine divisions, with politicians sprinkled in. First came two units of cavalry, one made up of about 180 women on big motorcycles (usually two beefy women per cycle) and the second with about half that number of men. While waiting they kept revving their cycles and relishing the collective noise: no carbon-neutral exhibitions here.
Then came the religious folks, each contingent with a banner: Metropolitan Community, Congregation Beth Simchat Torah . . . Broadway United Church of Christ, Metro New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Park Slope United Methodist, Church of the Holy Trinity, St. Clement's Episcopal . . . St. George's Episcopal, St. Mark's, St. Bart's, St. Michael's, St. Luke's, Church of St. Francis Xavier, New York City Quakers . . .
Their signs from those seeking religious respectability were similar across denominations: "God made us Queer . . . Deacons in Drag . . . Dykes for Christ . . . Gay by the grace of God . . . Called out . . . Our parish is over 100 years old. Our thinking is not . . . God is love for all." The signs of Buddhists for Peace, Culture, Education were a bit different: "I revere the Buddha nature of all human beings . . . We are all Buddhafull."
The third division was a tribute to ethnic diversity, featuring "Color me queer" groups such as African Ancestral Lesbians, Latina Lesbians, Caribbean Pride, and the Lavender Light Gospel Church singing "we just gonna praise you." But after those smiling marchers came an encounter with reality via floats for more than a dozen health groups emphasizing HIV testing and medical insurance changes that would provide short-term benefits for those with AIDS: "ACT UP for single-payer health care for all" and "Drug price controls now."
Amid these public-policy appeals emerged U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who yelled out every 20 yards or so, "I was the first senator to march in this parade three years ago but I'm not gonna be the last." He was the only New York senator to march, though, as Hillary Clinton wisely stayed away: A group of drag queens marched a block behind Schumer, not within good camera range, but too close for a major presidential candidate's comfort. But New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said to be contemplating an independent run for the White House, did march, as did contingents of New York police and firefighters.
Spectators crowded four-deep in front of the New York Public Library near the beginning of the parade route or sat on lawn chairs near the end. San Francisco gay parade features-hookers dressed as nuns, masses of guys in leather and chains-were infrequent. A few leather-wearers swung bullwhips, and almost every float advertising a gay bar featured muscle guys prancing in their underpants. Most paraders dressed normally, though, generally wearing T-shirts on a day the thermometer hit 80.
The fifth division of marchers once again emphasized gay mainstreaming by showcasing participation in leisure pursuits: Big Apple Softball League, Gotham Volleyball, soccer, square dancing, sailing, skiing, running-and the Gay Rodeo Association also showed up. The sixth division displayed corporate power, with floats from Verizon ("We're proud to be part of your community"), Starbucks, Delta ("The official airline of New York City Pride 2007"), JP Morgan Chase, and Macy's. Pepsi, Altoids, and Trojan condoms had advertised their support on earlier floats, and Travelocity, Tylenol, Google, and Showtime were also official sponsors.
Other divisions included floats from local businesses, strolling representatives from colleges such as Princeton, Yale, Pratt, and NYU, and a grab bag of groups that didn't fit in elsewhere, including Polyamorous NYC and the NYC Gay Men's Chorus. The Chorus, preceded by barely decent men with signs such as "Start spreading the nudes" and "If I can be naked here, I can be naked anywhere," was one of the most popular groups as it sang, block after block, the Frank Sinatra tribute to the city.
The Chorus displayed, as did most of the other marchers, a combination of in-your-face power and singing/dancing celebration. Their message and that of the entire parade was, New York City is ours. Let us rejoice and be glad. And yet, as the parade was beginning, in a Greenwich Village church and perhaps hundreds of others across the city that did not send delegations to the day's festivities, a different song rose up: "Let us love and sing and wonder, let us praise the Savior's name. . . . He has washed us with His blood, He has brought us nigh to God."
From a Fifth Avenue/42nd St. corner the big sign on the opposite corner was clear, although the person who carried it on a pole was back in a pack of parade-watchers. The sign stated, "Homosexuality is sin. Christ can set you free." Good, I thought: It might be better to note that all of us are sinners in various ways, but since this is a gay parade it's right to specify this particular sin, in a way that lays out the positive message of Christ's power. It's good that a lone, gutsy individual was standing there, not ranting at marchers but reminding them of something higher and nobler that they may once have known and since put aside.
But after slowly working my way to the other side, I saw the holder of the big sign yelling at a marcher, "You're going to die, pervert." He had eight companions, two women and six men who took turns yelling at those gaily strolling by, "You're going to hell, sodomite" or "You're an abomination in the sight of God." The companions carried smaller placards in King James English about "anything that defileth" and "whatsoever worketh abomination."
All the men wore long-sleeve shirts, mostly plaid, in contrast with the T-shirted crowd. A short man brandished and sometimes used a bullhorn, but even with it could rarely be heard above the crowd noise. The signs, though, attracted attention. Some marchers walked close to the sidewalk and kissed each other, guy/guy and gal/gal. When the protesters typically responded, "You're going to hell, sodomite," the marchers often responded, "Happy gay pride to homophobes." Some used obscenities.
The NYC Gay Men's Chorus leader yelled, "Make some noise to drown them out," and the crowd did. One onlooker I questioned said that the parade was about "love," yet protesters were showing that "Christianity equals hatred." Another said, "They seem joyless." But one of the protesters said, "Someone's got to stand for the truth." The protesters would not tell me their names or their church affiliations; one said, pointing to the marchers, "I know these people. They've threatened to sodomize my children."
Would a better answer to the Gay Men's Chorus be not bullhorn condemning but alternative choruses in the catacombs of the city? Won't truly joyful music, with God's grace, overcome music that whistles past the graveyard?