Why? All right, here's the simple and most honest answer: Beyond the political importance, it's the only fun and exciting thing left to do. Let's face it: the generic American gay pride, particularly in a city like New York, has become just too safe, dull and predictable. Do heads really turn anymore when people walk down 5th Ave. in leather chaps and nipple clamps? But just try that one in St. Peter's Square.
And in terms of large national gatherings, we've done marches on Washington until we're blue in the face. And the last one?the Millennium March on Washington for Equality, which took place this past April?was nothing more than a campaign rally for Al Gore and a marketing bonanza for the Human Rights Campaign, the Washington gay lobby, which had its slick banners and logos everywhere. Something's just plain wrong?not to mention embarrassing?when the kickoff event is a $500-per-plate black-tie dinner in the Ronald Reagan Bldg. at which Charles Nelson Reilly emcees a cabaret show that includes gay sailors, bad drag queens and lesbian moms with fake babies dancing onstage. Things seem to have gotten so staid and comfortable that we're now robbing each other rather than focusing on the enemy. The only thing that will be remembered about the Millennium March is that the FBI?at the urging of gay leaders?is now investigating the disappearance of up to one million dollars from the Millennium Festival, an eight-block fenced-in street fair selling everything from bumperstickers to "Equality Wear" pullovers.
When it's come to this?from the 1950s, when we were trying to get the FBI out of our business, to 2000, when we're asking the FBI to investigate?you know it's time to move on. Besides, the media's lost interest as well. Since Stonewall, we've gathered in front of every available backdrop for a photo-op. We've done the White House?boring. We've done the Capitol, we've done the Supreme Court, we've done every damn statehouse, and every big and little city hall, town hall, county hall?you name it. We've done Wall Street, and Hollywood. And yes, we've even done St. Patrick's Cathedral. But that's small potatoes. This, however, will get us the lead of CNN International?"Showdown With the Vatican."
Okay, it's not exactly the only, or the most evil, institution left to take on. There's always the Taliban, yet something tells me we're not quite ready for that. But the time does seem right to finally take on the Catholic Church in a big way at its nerve center.
The Pope, as you may have heard, is freaking out. Thousands of homosexuals from around the world descending on Rome in a Holy Year?the Jubilee?in which Catholic pilgrims will be coming to the Vatican to pay homage and fill its coffers, is John Paul's worst nightmare. Not that there aren't lots of gays in the Vatican?one current bestseller at Catholic bookstores contends that (surprise, surprise) the priesthood is a haven for closeted gays. Still, the Pope had probably hoped against all hope that out-of-the-closet gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered people and assorted other heathens would never rise up in predominantly Catholic Italy, supported and encouraged by gays from throughout the rest of the decadent Western world.
In truth, we're not even, officially, going into Vatican City proper?which is an authoritarian state run by an all-powerful dictator who can do whatever he wants, and no doubt the Swiss Guard will be on high alert. Nonetheless, the Vatican still finds it an affront to have queers cavorting around Rome's monuments just across the river. It's done everything within its power to stop the weeklong events, which will include conferences on religion and global anti-gay persecution, a gala outdoor fashion show at Circus Maximus and a march through the streets that was planned to go past the Colosseum.
The Vatican's tactics have included getting the newly elected Italian government to revoke all the permits that the previous government had authorized. In Italy, governments rise and fall like the sun itself, making the state incredibly unstable. The only thing that stands there like a rock is the church, which exploits the political instability to its advantage. Even Rome's mayor, a liberal who'd supported gay rights in the past, has now bowed to the church, taking back approximately $200,000 of city funds he'd pledged. The prime minister has called the festivities "inopportune," and has asked that they be postponed.
The irony of it all is that the Vatican has done more for the gay rights movement in Italy than anything ever before. It has energized the long-subdued Italian gay community, which has now become the cause of the moment among political liberals. One cabinet minister came out as bisexual amid the furor, and the wives of both Rome's mayor and the prime minister have publicly broken with their husband's positions. Not to mention that the monthlong international publicity will no doubt guarantee that activists from all over the world will be there. As the date comes closer?July 8?the battle is now focused on the march route: As per the Vatican's wishes, the government doesn't want the march going through the city center, but activists have vowed to do so, desiring to march past the Colosseum, a symbol of persecution. Meanwhile, neo-fascist counterdemonstrators have been given permission to march in the city center on the same day.
You have to admit that it sounds just a bit more stimulating than watching floats parade down 5th Ave. or shopping for an "Equality Wear" t-shirt at the festival at the end of Christopher St.
Michelangelo Signorile is editor-at-large for [Gay.com].