Rev. Troy Perry on pain and joy of resistance and Pride

From The Los Angeles Blade:

June 3, 2017

Rev. Troy Perry was anxious. What if LAPD Police Chief Ed Davis was right and a mob of hardhats was waiting to descend on parade-goers just as they turned the corner from McCadden Place onto Hollywood Boulevard? Experience told him police would not protect the gays and may even arrest them for malicious interference with the downward-progress of a hardhat’s valuable baseball bat.

That’s just the way it was in Los Angeles on June 28, 1970. But unlike New York, which was commemorating the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and the new movement for gay liberation with a protest march, Perry and his Christopher Street West co-founders Morris Kight and Rev. Bob Humphries, decided to throw a celebratory parade. There should be joy in liberation, relief from the constant fuel of rage.

But it hadn’t been easy. Perry had appeared before the Los Angeles Police Commission to secure a parade permit and Davis, who publically called gays “faeries,” told him: “As far as I’m concerned, granting a permit to a group of homosexuals to parade down Hollywood Boulevard would be the same as giving a permit to a group of thieves and robbers.”

The Police Commission granted the permit—if CSW paid a $1.5 million bond. American Civil Liberties Union attorney Herbert E. Selwyn stepped up, forcing the commission to drop the excessive fee. Selwyn also won a court order to have the $1,500 police protection fee dropped, with the California Superior Court judge declaring that homosexuals were citizens, too.

At 6 p.m. on Saturday, June 28, 1970, an estimated 1,165 people showed up on McCadden Place, ready to come out and party down Hollywood Boulevard. One Gay Liberation Front float featured a gay man “nailed” to a black and white cross with a sign reading: “In Memory of Those Killed by the Pigs.” Street performers dressed as fairies with wings pretended they were being chased by police brandishing nightsticks.

The political theater masked the deep anxiety and courage it took to participate in the parade; for some, it was also brave just to stand on the curb and applaud. No one knew if violence would erupt—whether from hardhats or the police or an ordinary citizen outraged at homosexuals proudly on parade.

Anti-gay violence had already seared Troy Perry’s soul. On Oct. 28, 1968, the Tallahassee, Fla., native started his own church with 12 gay worshippers in his Huntington Park living room. It was an act of spiritual resistance against the Pentecostal church that defrocked him because of his homosexuality, a pain deepened by the end of a romance. Then, an epiphany: Rev. Troy Perry attempted suicide but was shaken out of his dark stupor by an unidentified black woman who stood in his hospital room and said, “Some of us care about you.” She threw the switch that reconnected him to God. He came to realize that a ministry awaited him.

In 1969, with signs declaring “we’re not afraid anymore,” Perry led a nighttime march down Hollywood Boulevard calling for the end to sodomy laws and a small picket protesting anti-gay job discrimination, where he met Mattachine Society founder Harry Hay and his lover John Burnside and had no idea who they were. In January 1970, he sat in at the counter of Barney’s Beanery in West Hollywood, demanding that the owner take down his “Fagots Stay Out” sign above the bar. He also led hundreds of marchers demanding police reform.

On March 9, 1970, Perry led 120 marchers to rally behind the pre-bathhouse Dover Hotel in downtown LA to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Howard Efland, who had been beaten to death by two LAPD officers. He attended the inquest and heard the police explain that one of the officers had “fallen” on Efland, rupturing his spleen and that the broken bones and cuts were a result of him having fallen out of the police car, not being dragged feet first down three flights of stairs after having been beaten up and then kicked. “There were two eyewitnesses,” Perry says. “The City Attorney asked the first one, a drag queen wearing female clothes, ‘are you a homosexual?’ She answered, ‘Yes,” and the eyes of the jurors closed. They didn’t want to hear any more.”

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