“What’s going on?” The woman is well dressed, stylish. Her name is Eileen and she has a certain boyish swagger about her as she leans out the door of Augie & C.K.’s, the north side’s oldest women’s bar.
Inside, women are posing at the bar counter, but the real action is across the street, where a crowd of men and women is gathering in Augie’s parking lot; all around there are scattered bags, briefcases, backpacks, and stuffed shopping bags.
Jeff Vitale, a ruggedly handsome 25-year-old evolutionary biologist, appraises the luggage situation. There is a mountain of it. “It’s not too much, is it? I mean, you just don’t know when you’ll need a tuxedo or a formal gown,” he teases, both hands on his denimed hips. “You’re talking to a faggot here; I never know what I’m going to wear.”
“Please, check in, please!” pleads Damien Aiello, his shoulders arched from the cold. He’s tall and carrying a clipboard on which he checks off names.
In the crowd, two 18-year-old women are softly leaning into each other, using the night’s biting temperatures as an excuse to get closer. One is tall, dark; the other comes up to her chin and wears a Michigan sweatshirt and a glow in her eyes. “We’ve been together two weeks, but we’re a couple–a real couple,” she declares.
George Buse, swaddled in a scarf but hatless, doesn’t feel the cold at all. He’s holding on to his bags, intense blue eyes scanning the scene. “I covered the first march, you know,” the white-haired, 63-year-old publicist says. “I was a reporter for GayLife. I’m going again because of a combination of things. One is my personal statement, my belief that lesbian and gay rights is vital. The other is a nostalgia for the first march.”
This is just part of Chicago’s contingent to the second National March on Washington for Lesbian & Gay Rights, a follow-up call to the 1979 capital visit that drew more than 100,000. Buse, a longtime gay activist who has been featured in dozens of articles and documentaries, is looking around at the new, young faces and he’s excited. “I can’t wait,” he says.
“I don’t recognize anybody but George,” admits Chris Cothran, Mayor Washington’s gay and lesbian advisory committee representative to the march send-off. Joining Cothran are various political reps, including the Ninth Congressional District’s Democratic committeewoman, Adrienne Goodman, here representing Illinois’ presidentially aspiring senator, Paul Simon.
Before the night is over, Cothran is going to rock the crowd with a fire-and-brimstone speech. Cothran was at the 1979 march but he’s not going this time. “I’m burned out,” he confesses. “But look at how many other people are going.”
Indeed, Augie’s parking lot is swelling with more than a hundred people waiting either to leave or see friends off on Aiello’s chartered buses. “It’s $75 round-trip,” he says. “We leave tonight and come back late on Monday. I’ve got 84 people on these two buses, which is just about even between men and women. It’s wonderful that men and women are finally getting together in this community.”
What is not wonderful is that one of the buses is late and Aiello can only accommodate about half the people present. A mostly female line immediately forms in front of the only bus in the lot. “Women and children first,” says a man leaning against a Buick. “That’s OK, I’m still a feminist.” He laughs good-naturedly, pulling his green army jacket tighter around himself.
This is the biggest charter group Aiello’s ever handled and he’s a little anxious. In addition, he’s booked 320 flights to the march. “We were one of three official March on Washington travel agencies [for Chicago],” he explains. “I estimate Chicago will send about 5,000 people, minimum. I myself am going tomorrow, standby, after all my other flights leave.”
As the bus fills up, the crowd is now mostly men, cigarette smoke rising from the huddles. The women look out through the tinted windows, the inside bulbs burning yellowish and dim. Outside, volunteers from the pro-Soviet Workers Vanguard newspaper are trying to hit the boys up for a quarter an issue, but they’re not having much luck.
“I really can’t afford to go,” Rick Dean says, waving away a Vanguard vendor. He’s a clean-cut young man, a virtual every-mother’s-son surrounded by a group of friends. “I borrowed money to go, that’s how important this is to me. I got fired once because I’m gay; that really pisses me off. That’s why I’m going; to end that sort of thing.”
It’s Dean’s first foray into national demonstrations. “I don’t know what to expect. The only other demonstration I’ve ever been to was a local one for women’s rights,” he adds.
With Vitale, whose only picketing has been around Central American issues, Dean and his friends have created a banner that inserts two words in red ink to amend the constitutionally correct “We the people . . .” into “We are the people too.” They unfurl it momentarily to the crowd’s hearty applause. A couple of women step up and take their picture with the banner. Flashes pop.
“I think this will engender a sense of community,” Vitale says. “It’ll be invigorating. Imagine, for everybody going there are probably hundreds staying at home for whatever reason. If they were all there, there’d be millions of people bombarding Washington.”
Bushy hair sticking out from under a cap, Percy Corley, a 33-year-old married black man assigned to drive one of the buses, nods agreement with that. “I wish everybody well; everybody deserves to be treated equal,” he says. “Hey, it makes me feel good that people are still trying to keep it going, what Dr. King started. I’m just sorry we still need to do it.”
“Hey, everybody!” a stocky black woman calls to the crowd. “Anybody who’s got their car in this lot–please move it or it will be towed if it stays–” But she breaks off the announcement, startled. “Dawn! Oh my God!” In an instant, she’s running and hugging another woman in the middle of the parking lot. The crowd laughs.
“Everybody but Dawn, move your car!” shouts Vitale.
Dawn’s cheery friend is Cheryl Miller, a Chicago writer and a veteran of the last march. “This is really different,” she says, now untangled from Dawn. “AIDS is politicizing a whole segment of the community. The last march was a party–I only saw one straight couple the whole weekend–the reversal was that dramatic. But this, people see this march as a matter of life and death.”
“Straight people would understand if they got involved,” says Mona Schane, herself a heterosexual who’s Washington bound. “I used to work at a hospice for people with AIDS. I’ve never been to a demonstration in my life, but I think it’s time. There’s too much segmentation, too much gay/straight, black/white. People should be getting together, fighting for increased AIDS funding. Insofar as civil rights and racial equality, it goes without saying we should all be supportive.”
Back at Augie’s, well-dressed Eileen is still looking out the door, this time with a copy of one of the city’s gay and lesbian newsweeklies in her hand. “I didn’t know about this,” she says, her head nodding in the direction of the parking lot. The second bus has just pulled up, to the crowd’s delight and Aiello’s visible relief. “Dizzy bus driver,” he mutters. “He was going south on Halsted.”
Eileen scans the paper, filled with news of the march. “If I’d known, I’d be going, but I didn’t know.” Frustrated, she crumples the paper against her thighs. “How the hell didn’t I know?”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/William Burks.