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Gay Community: Public Diversity and Private Divisions

April 23, 1993

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The gay community, from Republican lesbians and Radical Faeries to drag queens and Vietnam veterans, aims for an unprecedented show of unity at this weekend’s march. But getting there was not without its share of infighting.

Some of the unrest stemmed from the sharp divisions that have long been part of the gay community. One thing, perhaps the only thing, that unites the diverse participants is the belief they deserve equal rights.

″What they all have in common no matter how they identify - gay, lesbian or bisexual - is that they are the targets of gay and lesbian oppression,″ said John D’Emilio, a gay historian at University of North Carolina.

Some who plan to participate in Sunday’s march aren’t completely happy with the way some of skirmishes have been settled.

Some ″transgendered″ people - who include transvestites, female and male impersonators and transsexuals - are troubled that they weren’t included in the march’s official name: the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation.

″There are some in the national transgender network who are definitely upset, but that’s a more radical element,″ said Jessica Xavier, treasurer of the Transgender Educational Association of Washington, D.C. ″I think most of us feel that we can support the march and its goals.″

Xavier said some in the gay community have difficulty accepting transgendered people.

″If there is ever a need for another march, I believe you will see transgender in the title,″ she said. ″That’s one of the goals of the transgender movement - to be fully included and not to be marginalized.″

Bisexual activists, on the other hand, were incorporated in the name of the march - but not without a struggle, said Loraine Hutchins, a coordinator for BiNet USA, a bisexual-rights organization. The bisexual contingent narrowly prevailed when march organizers selected a name last year, she said.

″It’s monumental. ... It’s a new turning point,″ Hutchins said.

The gay community has trouble accepting bisexuals ″for the same reason that straights do,″ she said. ″Because if we admit it’s not an either-or world, then we might have to deal with a little more complexity in our lives.″

D’Emilio, who has written about the gay movement’s history, said there have always been divisions, but ″I think we’re in a period where cooperation is more characteristic than not.″

In the 1960s, he said, there was division between old-style moderates and young radicals committed to major social change. In the 1970s, the rift was between women and men and between lesbians and drag queens.

Today, he said, younger, direct-action groups like Queer Nation and ACT-UP are respected by older, mainstream organizations such as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Human Rights Campaign Fund.

But there are still groups who feel left out - particularly minorities.

Alfred Collie, who is black, senses ″a kind of aloofness; unfriendly attitudes and an unwillingness to communicate″ when he attends predominantly white gay events.

Nadine Smith, a co-chair of the march, said minorities feel a different oppression than white gays and bisexuals.

″For those of us in the people of color communities, our families are our safe havens from racism,″ said Smith, who is black. ″So it’s a bigger decision than just ’Will I come out?‴

One group on the movement fringe doesn’t take the situation too seriously. The Radical Faeries - known for outlandish gender-bending clothes - have no political agenda.

″We were very unhappy when we registered as a contingent that we had to categorize ourselves,″ said Jack Harvey, a member. ″I personally wanted to be ‘lesbian health care providers from Tennessee.’ But we’re marching with the religious organizations, for lack of a better place.″