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Monday, June 29, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Gay Pride Parade A Social Statement -- 40,000 Rally To Hail Diversity Of Life Styles

Times News Services

It is at once grave and absurd, sweet and raunchy. It is a funky quilt of denim, sequins, taffeta and leather.

The 1992 Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Pride Parade/March and Freedom Rally is a transcendent event because of its gaudy procession of contrasting set pieces.

A woman forced from the Air Force this spring after declaring she is a lesbian comes away beaming after a few words with Margarthe Cammermeyer, the former Washington National Guard colonel who recently was discharged after she revealed her homosexuality. "I said, `Thank you,' " said Christine Traxler. "She said, `Hang in there.' "

A few yards away towered Cardinal Lust - "Your Eminence" if you please - who took a drag on a cigarette. Wrapped in yards of red satin-like material and sporting a matching miter, Joey Boyd had marched in the parade with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a light-hearted group of faux nuns and priests who raise money for AIDS patients.

The apparition of AIDS walked beside many marchers in this event, a fact that often leavened the general merriment.

Organizers believed the event drew a crowd larger than last year's 50,000 people, though police estimated the gathering as around 40,000.

There were crowds elsewhere around the country, too. In New York City, between 40,000 and 60,000 gay men, lesbians and their friends and families marched, as spectators jammed the parade route, which ran down Fifth Avenue.

The already highly inclusive name for the Seattle event took on yet another word for this year - "transgender," to honor those who cross their dress and change their sex.

Claire Roberts ("When I am expressing this side of my gender, I am Claire"), who staffed the Emerald City Cross Dressers Social Club, said the parade crowd was "very supportive" of him and other cross-dressers who had marched.

The parade roared to life shortly after 11 a.m. as Dykes on Bikes, 53 motorcycles strong, gunned their engines and wheeled up Broadway to the cheers of the crowd.

It was two hours later when the last of more than 130 parade units left the starting point at Broadway and East Pike Street.

"I think it's the best parade in town," said Astrae Doty Vargas of Seattle, holding her 5 1/2-month-old son, Camilo, in her lap. It was Camilo's first parade. His father, Arturo Vargas, was marching in it as part of the People of Color Against AIDS Network.

Urvashi Vaid, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, would remind the crowd later at Volunteer Park that "If you are queer, your very existence is a political act. . . . If you are queer, your very survival depends on your political activism."

As it turned out, Vaid preached to the choir.

Karen Stone of Seattle said she came to watch the parade because she has a lot of pride in being lesbian, and "It's important to show our strength in numbers."

Miki Cullins, also of Seattle, said she came because she had a lot of friends in the parade.

Asked if she was concerned about a conservative backlash against homosexuals, Cullins said: "Conservatives are in the minority and they damn well better realize it. I respect their right to say their piece, but they will not determine the direction of this country."

Many politicians seeking office also made appearances.

A former Mormon bishop, Carl McGrath, piloted a float that looked like a pioneer wagon and represented Affirmation, a Mormon group that supports gays. McGrath's son, Geoff, was excommunicated when he revealed he was gay. "The church," said Carl McGrath "is not very happy with us."

At the rally, more contrasts abounded between the frivolous and the serious. A woman sold $5 bandannas to be knotted around dogs' necks. They featured the pink triangle, a de facto gay logo. She would not give her name. "I'm an elementary-school teacher," she explained, "and it would just be too much flak."

About the only ugliness of the day ensued at the booth for Ross Perot, when a young man popped balloons and denounced the person behind the table as a "Nazi." The young man apparently alluded to Perot's declaration that he would not appoint homosexuals to his would-be presidential cabinet.

The table was staffed by Carl Pohjola, a lifelong Democrat who said he had been criticized by passersby much of the day, but that he believed Perot knows how "to move this country, finally."

The spirited crowd quieted for Cammermeyer, the ousted National Guard officer, and laughed with her when she said that her children knew she was a lesbian before she did. Cammermeyer served as an Army nurse for 26 years and earned the Bronze Star for her Vietnam service.

She is suing the military over her ouster, and she drew hoots and cheers when she said, "I hope, because of my background, I can cause enough discomfort, so people like Bush and Quayle and the Tailhook gang can think hard before they describe and criticize homosexual behavior."

The Tailhook organization, a military club, is under Congressional scrutiny because of an incident in which female Navy officers were allegedly harassed when they were made to walk a hallway gauntlet of partying men.

Traxler, 27, an Air Force Academy graduate who had served almost four years on active duty, said she was discharged in April after revealing to her commander that she is a lesbian.

For Traxler, Cammermeyer's stature is unquestioned.

"It really takes someone like her," Traxler said, "someone who has served in Vietnam, someone who has had a long and distinguished career, to stand up for herself - and the rest of us - and show the government that it is wrong."

-- Reuters contributed to this report.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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