Monday, June 28, 2010

Prideful Husbandry

I spent the weekend in Durham, NC, attending the wedding of one of my closest friends. I may write a detailed report later, I'll have to decide if such a thing would annoy my friend. Deborah, though one of my dearest comrades, is only mentioned in these pages in connection with her work as an actress. Hard to believe (for a performer who is often in the public eye), but she guards her privacy voraciously, and would be furious with me if I were to post candid pictures of her wedding, or even write a play-by-play account of the event.

But another wedding caught my eye this weekend. It was no coincidence that its announcement took place during the final week of National Gay Pride. Actually, the entire month of June is designated for Gay Pride, and during that period, parades and festivals commemorating the Stonewall Riots are held throughout the country. I wrote a bit about those riots here ; I have often mentioned the event as the birth of the modern gay civil rights movement. The actual anniversary of the Stonewall Riots is today, June 28th, though the 27th is often commemorated as well (the police raid which ignited all the fuss took place around 1 AM, the morning of the 28th and the night of the 27th). Nobody cares much about that actual date these days, since there is so much Pride Partying going on all month long.

It was only a few years after the riots began to be commemorated with annual celebrations that some smart homo decided it was financially stupid to hold each and every Pride celebration on the same weekend. In case you didn't know, homosexuals have all this disposable income (the unemployment check in my hand is proof), and are very willing to spend it celebrating their own Pride. So, years ago, organizers across the country discovered that, if they scheduled their individual Gay Pride Festivals on different weekends, gays would likely attend more than one. Thus, the big parades in San Fransisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego are all held on different weekends. The celebrations in New York and Philadelphia never coincide, and those in DC and Baltimore are always scheduled separately as well.

I recognized this phenomenon when I lived in L.A., but was pretty surprised when I got to Columbia, SC to attend grad school. The two years I spent there, the Gay Pride festival was held in April (and this year, their celebration happens in early September!). Clearly, there are a lot of queens out there who will travel from city to city to show their pride over and over and over again.

Which brings me back to the very special marriage announcement I caught in the Washington Post on Sunday. After being together over 60 years, Henry Schalizki and Bob Davis took advantage of the recent legalization of same-sex marriage in DC, and became husband & husband. These two stylish gents have been on the radar of all theatre types in this area for decades; they attend more opening nights than the critics, and have been so supportive of the local theatre scene that they received an honorary Helen Hayes Award in 2008. I was in the audience that night, and can verify that the crowd rose into an immediate standing ovation when they took the stage to accept the commendation.

Do you think these guys were meant for each other? Get a load of this story. They met in Providence in 1942, striking up a conversation in a hotel bar, so taken with each other that they ignored Boris Karloff, who was also in the room. Three years later, Davis was appearing in a USO production of Room Service being presented on a military base in Hawaii, and was spotted by Schalizki, who was in the audience. They missed a connection there, and three more years passed. In 1948, they wound up in the same bar in Baltimore, and they've been together ever since.

Of course, they could not publicly acknowledge their relationship for many decades. They were well-liked and popular, and the fact that they were "confirmed bachelors who lived together" did not stop them from becoming two highly visible, highly sought-after members of DC society. The tacit acceptance of their relationship did not extend to the law, however, so in 1990, Henry legally adopted Bob, who was a year older than he. In this roundabout way, they hoped to get legal protections afforded traditional families, including inheritance tax breaks and the right to make medical decisions for each other.

That adoption was voided a few weeks before the couple took their vows on June 20th, exactly 62 years (to the hour!) after they had begun their relationship in that Baltimore bar in 1948.

I doubt those drag queens, hustlers, and homeless homos who started the riot at the Stonewall Inn 41 years ago could ever have imagined that one day, they might have the right to marry. And even as Don't Ask, Don't Tell is being gradually rolled back, Henry Schalizki and Bob Davis, who both served their country in WWII, have two decorative urns waiting in their penthouse overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue. When the time comes, their remains will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

How's that for feeling proud?