From “Gays for Ford” to the 1979 San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, Kile Ozier makes a lifetime journey to Pride.
I grew up, knowing there was something different about me; I’m sure you’ve read this sentence, before. I felt a natural attraction to male figures that I didn’t question; not until the summer before the fifth grade when a friend of my mother’s asked me about the coming school year and if I was looking forward to it.
“Yes,” I gushed, “I’ll be in Mr. Gordean’s class! I love men teachers!”
Sirens must have gone off in my mom’s head as that sentence floated into the ether in all its Pink glory. I, of course, had no idea what I’d said. Later, Mom took me aside and explained to me that boys don’t “love” men teachers; they can like them, but they can’t love them.
I learned at that moment that perhaps I needn’t share every thought that comes into my head; a lesson learned and relearned and reinforced as I grew up in a Republican family—albeit a liberal one…they had those back in those days—in Oregon, a state led at the time by some good, moderate Republicans.
As I grew, I continued to appreciate this part of me that felt so natural but that I knew was wrong. In fact, I look back at my circle of friends and my teammates and I see the crushes I had on many of them; but, I’d shelved and covered so much of that I didn’t really see it.
On to university, travel and an internship with my Senator from Oregon, which led to some work in Republican politics, then appointment as National Youth Director for the President Ford Campaign (I still like the guy; and Betty = unassailable!). I was entrenched and deep, deep, deep in the closet.
Even as I was dating women, I had this dark secret that I knew would ruin me, ruin my planned political career, ruin everything if anyone ever found out. Those who did, those in the Party, reinforced the importance of secretiveness … setting the tone for all my interactions. Any sexual relations—there were no relationships—were to be seen as dark and dirty even as I sought and participated in them.
This did nothing for my self-esteem.
One day, during the General Campaign, I got a call from Reception. There was a gentleman who had come to start a new voter group for Ford. I was responsible for Youth, the largest voter group, and as such more or less oversaw or acted as fulcrum for all other voter groups. So, I said I’d be down to vet the guy.
Imagine my shock and horror as I walked into the Reception area to discover the man who’s face had been on the cover of TIME Magazine just weeks before: the first man to ever be thrown out of the Air Force because he was Gay, Sgt. Leonard Matlovich!
I played ignorant and let him make his case for creating “Gays for Ford” which, I knew, would never happen. But then I had to write an objective report on the meeting and hand it upstairs to the Deciders…all the while ashamed and terrified that they would see the words “BIG HOMO” written on my face.
I was so ashamed of it and so powerfully drawn to other men. It is an awful place to be; especially when combined with the spectre of disownment by society and shunning by one’s peers. I kept quiet.
On to a State Campaign (still Republican; the final one, however) in Colorado; where a huge Life Change awaited. There, the powerful feelings I had for other men would find themselves matched, equalled and exceeded with falling in love with one man. It was like discovering nuclear power after living with nothing but coal fire all one’s life. Discovering that a relationship could exist with another man, not just sex, was in the truest of senses, awesome.
Of course, I couldn’t tell anyone … .
I decided to quit Republican politics, thus politics altogether, and build a new life with Donald. After some geographic and soul searching (and a conversation with a former lover of mine, Sue), San Francisco was selected as our new home. (I know; not much of a stretch from this side of the experience. Not so obvious at the time, though.)
I moved out here right away to find a job while Donald finished out his teaching contract. Alone in San Francisco with only a few friends from my previously-straight life, I was rebuilding from scratch. One of my closest friends from before, Mike, got up from the table as I came out to him, left the restaurant, and I never heard from him again.
I wasn’t Proud, yet.
The best way to learn a city is to get involved. Shortly after I moved to San Francisco, the verdict in the Dan White trial for murdering Harvey Milk and George Moscone came down. I was at the gym when we heard. We gathered at the corner of Market and Castro as energies grew, the crowd grew, people spoke and in no time we were walking to City Hall. There are pictures of the crowd that gathered in front of the building; one can see masses of men and women, most in jeans and t-shirts and casual clothes. There is one, young guy, though; in his little houndstooth blazer and briefcase, looking a little out of place. And right in the front row.
Me. That was the first time I’d been in a crowd that size outside a political convention. Now, THIS was a Political Convention. I was overpowered by the sense of Community; of outraged community. When the doors to City Hall were smashed-in, I thought it wise to leave, and did, before the police cars were set ablaze. In immediate retrospect, I did wish I hadn’t observed so much as dived in.
So. I volunteered to help as a Monitor for my first-ever Gay Pride Parade. This involved, for me, at least, hiding nothing. Wearing a shirt that said “Monitor” (which in my head meant “Gay Monitor”) I was stationed at the corner of Market and Spear, in front of the Ferry Building and adjacent to the iconic Hyatt Regency where, in June of 1979, the staged components of the parade turned the corner and became the Parade.
This was where the Parade was to begin. The streets were packed; the sky was very grey and foggy, up high. Not cold; but not warm, either. Where I was standing, in front of the Hotel on Market, I’d say the crowd was ten to twelve deep on either side of the street, and it stretched up Market Street all the way to City Hall.
I had never experienced that many people, before; never been to a parade outside of Klamath Falls, Oregon. It was massive and almost incomprehensible.
Noon approached. The Start Time; stepping off moment. Scores of Dykes on Bikes went roaring past, clearing the way with their smiling scowls and their babes on the seats behind them and shattering the air with the rumbling of hundreds of Harleys.
Behind them, standing right before me, was the formation of the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Marching Band. A Gay Marching Band!? I had no idea.
I felt so out. So Out. So Exposed. What would these people do when this parade really got going? Did they actually realize this was a Gay Thing? I mean, most of them, down here, were tourists.
Suddenly, and I remember this so clearly, I can see it before me even as I write this, the Drum Major lifted his baton and the sun broke through the clouds!
The tinkle of the xylophones began to fly into the air, the sunlight was reflecting on the most highly polished brass instruments I’d ever seen, the drums and tympani began to play and the band started to move. Playing “If They Could See Me, Now” so loud I could hardly hear myself think.
A young couple leaned over and asked me, “What is this … ?” Choking back both tears and my own fear, I looked them right in the eye and said, “This is the Gay Freedom Day Parade” and waited for the disdain and censure.
He turned to his wife and said, “Honey, quick; go get the kids! They can’t miss this!”
Now, I was Proud.
Photo credit: Alexandre Vieira/Flickr