Today is Gay Pride weekend in many parts of the world. So I wanted to share two stories from the early days of Gay Pride that have always brought me joy!
STORY ONE: CHARLES NELSON REILLY
The summer after I graduated from college in 1984, my dad and I were invited to a party at Gus Schirmer's house. Gus was a dear friend of the family, and he always had wonderful garden parties in his West Hollywood bungalow. That June evening, he told his guests that parking might be tricky because it was Gay Pride weekend. So when we all arrived and began chatting, Gay Pride was on everyone's minds and lips.
Over dinner in the back garden, Charles Nelson Reilly shared his experience at the very first Gay Pride Parade in West Hollywood in the early 1970s. Apparently he and a group of other actors had been invited to be on a float that supported gay rights. In those days, every gay actor knew that coming out of the closet would likely mean an end to their career -- so even to be an ally or advocate was a big deal to the gay community.
Charles and his fellow actors arrived in WeHo on the morning of that first parade and were led over to the float. They were greeted by the organizers, who looked rather panicked.
"We don't know how to tell you this, but the banner was misprinted," they told the assembled actors.
Charles and his fellow thespians looked up at the float banner. Instead of reading ACTORS IN SUPPORT OF GAY PRIDE, it read GAY ACTORS IN SUPPORT OF GAY PRIDE.
As Charles Nelson Reilly told the story, one by one each of his fellow actors found a convenient excuse not to be on the float. Until the only person left was Charles.
I will never forget that evening at Gus' house when Charles spectacularly chewed the scenery as he reenacted his starring role as the one and only actor on that very large GAY ACTORS IN SUPPORT OF GAY PRIDE float. Charles flounced around Gus' garden showing us how he tried to be on all four sides of the float at once cheerfully waving to the crowds as the ONE AND ONLY GAY ACTOR IN SUPPORT OF GAY PRIDE!
I had never been a big Charles Nelson Reilly fan -- until that night. He told the story with humor and camp -- but underneath the humor was the bravery of the one person who had the courage not to be ashamed of who he was -- and to be the first gay face of Hollywood at that parade.
STORY TWO: OSCAR WILDE AND ANITA BRYANT
A few short years after that Gay Pride Parade, my dad opened his one-man show about Oscar Wilde in San Francisco to great critical acclaim. (It was the best thing I ever saw him do!) That was the summer Anita Bryant was all over the airwaves denouncing homosexuality, so my dad, as a famous Hollywood actor playing perhaps the most iconic gay man in the world, was once asked to give his opinion on Miss Bryant on a national talk show.
My dad was never one to invite conflict or controversy, but he was also not about to back down. So he came up with an answer that I think says it all.
When the host asked him what he thought of Miss Bryant, my father appeared to think for a moment, and then said, "Hmmmm. Yes. Miss Bryant. You know I believe that Oscar Wilde wrote a play about her. . .A Woman of No Importance."
PRIDE & JOY
As the world celebrates Gay Pride with parades throughout the month of June, it's important to remember all of the people who used their voices with grace and humor not to hide in shame. Some of them have been and are my family and dear friends -- and I am proud to know and love so many of the early pioneers of the gay movements.
It's also important to remember that the reason Pride was called Pride was to counteract the shame and secrecy that have surrounded people who live on the LGBTQIA spectrum -- and celebrate all human beings as we are, not who society has persuaded us we "should" be. . .More than ever in these regressive repressive times, it is important to remember this.
These days, it's hard to imagine that there is much to celebrate in the world. But in fact, celebration is not a frivolous activity. As the Irish poet and philosopher John O'Donohue taught us, there is something deeply holy in celebration.
And so, on this Gay Pride Weekend, I leave you with a blessing for everyone who is trying to find a way to feel pride and joy in their own lives:
FOR AN OCCASION OF CELEBRATION
Now is the time to free the heart,
Let all intentions and worries stop,
Free the joy inside the self,
Awaken to the wonder of your life.
Open your eyes and see the friends,
Whose hearts recognize your face as kin,
Those whose kindness watchful and near,
Encouraging you to live everything here.
See the gifts the years have given,
Things your effort could never earn,
The health to enjoy who you want to be
And the mind to mirror mystery.