Introducing “Lavender Pen” by John Jude Duran a series of interviews with pioneering and iconic LGBT figures across Southern California. In this three part profile, Duran speaks with the Rev. Troy Perry-the founder of the Metropolitan Community Churches in Los Angeles on October 6, 1968. MCC now has 222 congregations in 37 countries. Perry is also one of the co-founders of Christopher Street West-the annual Pride celebration in Southern CA. He was featured in a 2007 documentary film on his life titled “CALL ME TROY”.
DURAN: I’ve been so looking forward to this interview because you and I have been friends for such a long time. I’ve interviewed you before but never for 45 minutes this will be wonderful.
PERRY: (laughs) well here we go so here we go it’s great to be on the show with you too. Thank you!
DURAN: So let’s go back to Florida because I think that’s where it all gets started. You want to tell us a little bit about Troy as a child growing up in Florida — as a Christian and a closeted gay person?
PERRY: I was born July the 271h, 1940 in Tallahassee Florida the state Capitol. North Florida at that time was not like South Florida at all. All of the early families that moved into Florida in 1820 — when the US government bought Florida from Spain — they offered 168 acres for any Anglo families that would move into the state of Florida. As a result of that, my grandfather Tom Allen on my mother’s side of the family, were given a farm. That farm was in our family for years until my mother sold it after my dad died.
I was one of those kids that loved church. I loved going to church. I loved everything about religion. It just turned me on. My mother’s family were all Southern Baptists. Dad’s family were the Church of God Pentecostals. So if you had two groups that are fundamentalist churches those are the two.
I also had my best little friend Delmar Popple. Delmer was a Seventh Day Adventist. So on Saturday, I would go to Sabbath school with him. And then on Sunday morning — it would be the Baptist church. Sunday night — the Pentecostal church. So, I had an education and religion that was very interesting. It was different all three of those groups
Delmar and I were nine years old. We started having sex with each other. We were both just little kids, but it felt so good. As the years went by — we still continued to have sex every once in a while. When I was 12 years old, my father was killed in a car wreck while being chased by the police in Tallahassee, Florida. My father was the biggest bootlegger in North Florida. He sold the liquor to the governor’s mansion. He sold moonshine to everybody else. But the Governor got good bonded liquor. (laughs) In other words — top drawer. He was not dry. But almost all of Florida was dry at that point. There was such hypocrisy around things like that. People drank even though it was illegal.
When my dad died, I already felt called to the ministry, but I hadn’t aded out on it. Then my mother remarried when I was 13 years old. The man she married was just awful. He lied to my mother. He told my mother he owned a bakery in Tallahassee. We owned a lot of property. My father left my mother well off. This man — typical of that time period — my mother married him and everything immediately was transferred over into his name.
Because men were the ones who owned property. They were the ones who took care of your banking. They took care of you. He took care of himself by spending that money. He could not stand that I went to church. That really bothered him. He made me quit going to church. He wanted us to move. So, he took the money that we had — and bought a fishing camp, a motel and a restaurant in Daytona Beach, Florida and he moved us there so that we were away from everybody.
And it was while we were there that this man Bob Martin beat up on my mother. He is no longer alive. And he did it in front of us kids. He tried to make one of my brothers eat liver. And when my brother kept regurgitating it, he started stuffing it down my brother’s throat. My mother jumped up to stop him while screaming at him. He was an alcoholic and he was drunk. And when he didn’t, my mother picked up a Coca Cola bottle and hit him with it.
Well with that the fights started. He started beating up my mother. I ran over to get the telephone to call the police. He turned around and ran over and pulled the phone out of the wall. Now all my brothers were screaming. The only thing I knew to do was to run over to the neighbors and told them he was killing my mother. Call the sheriffsf The sheriff’s department came and she had him arrested. A few days later, he kept calling saying it was all a mistake. I drank too much. It won’t happen anymore. Please let me come home. Well she let him come home. Very typical of women in that time period. Men ruled the roost.
To make a long story short, he came in and said it’s all going to be OK. We are all going to be all right. But he was looking at me like I was the one who called the sheriffs. And I was as well as dead. I could tell it by the look in his eyes. And I was very nervously trying to figure out what is going to happen next. He announced a half a week later, that his brother was coming to visit us. This redneck guy showed up. And it was not his brother. And he told my mother that this man could sleep with Troy. And that man raped me. And I had never had sex before other than sweet wonderful sex with a boy my own age ….
DURAN: And how old were you when this happened?
PERRY: I was 13 years old. He raped me.
There’s a difference when you grow up as a gay man and you know the difference between a loving relationship with another human being versus someone who is just trying to hurt you.
I knew if I stayed, this man would try to drown me. I took tourists out on boats to fish. So, I made up my mind that I was going to run away. I took my toothbrush and I walked out of my school down to the Greyhound bus station. I had taken money out of the cash register – $10.
I had been tipped over and over again. And he took my tips away from me. I felt awful taking the $10. But I was determined to get out of the state of Florida and to get to one of my uncle’s farms in South Georgia. I was dropped off the highway to the dirt road that went up to these farms.
And I walked another six miles to get to my uncle’s farm. I knocked on the door. Scared my relatives to death. I mean, you can’t make these stories up. My aunt sent me to school with my cousins. The sheriffs showed up that afternoon and said Miss Perry – I got a telegram from Florida and they want to know if your nephew Troy is here. And she said “yes he is”. And he said “can I talk to him?”. And she said “no you can’t. He’s at school.”
And he said “You put him in school?”
And she said “yes sir”. So, he said I will tell them that he’s alright. And it was while I was there that I felt a call to ministry.
DURAN: I have to stop and ask Troy. Because I know your story and I have never heard all this. You had a father who was a bootlegger. So, that’s your first introduction to alcohol. Then your stepfather who’s an alcoholic. And then you are traumatized by sexual violence by the age of 13. Is that the foundation then? The trauma that you think brought you into ministry?
PERRY: No. I had a call to ministry like I said. I fell in love with church. I don’t think it was. But it could have been. I am not a psychiatrist or a psychologist. I cannot self-diagnose. But it was one of those kind of things where I arrived at the farm where I had an aunt who was of the founders of the snake handling churches (Both laugh). This is fanatical Pentecostalism.
She had a little church in the town. She invited me up to come up and be in her service. In the Pentecostal tradition, we believe that God works in the gifts of the Spirit. We believe we receive revelations. We believe in speaking in tongues. I could go on.
But I go to her church, and at the church service she called me forward and laid hands on me. Troy Junior – she said. Do you feel called to preach? I know that. The Lord wants to use you.
But not in the church that you’re in. And I thought – she’s crazy as a bed bug. I loved the church I am in. This is just nutty. She said, would you preach next Sunday? I went back the next Sunday and I preached. We had an incredible service. Even at age 13 – I still had a mouth on me. I could talk. And she again laid hands on me. You remember what I told you last week? God is going to mightily use you. But it won’t be in the church that you think it is.
DURAN: I think your aunt was an Oracle. She was foretelling the future for you.
PERRY: Yes she was! We believe in the gift of being able to do that. What transpired next I started preaching. To make this long story short, I moved back to Florida with my mother. Then we lived in central Florida and at age 15 – I was licensed to preach in my Southern Baptist church.
The west winter haven Baptist Church. Then at age 18, I go to my Pastor in the Pentecostal church – I loved the Pentecostal church that’s where I want to land. I talk to my Pastor and told him I want to talk to you about these feelings that I have. Here I am this teenager who thinks I am the only person in the world with me. I went into the public library in Mobile, Alabama and read a book that said that homosexuals were sick. That we wanted to wear our mother’s clothes. Every stereotype you can imagine.
I slammed the book shut and said “oh thank God I am not like that. I don’t want to wear my mother’s clothes. (laughs) I know that sounds crazy. In telling my Pastor, I didn’t have the word homosexual – but all around the mulberry bush I painted a picture of my feelings. And he said “oh my God. I know what you are trying to tell me. All you have to do is marry a good woman. And that will take care of that problem. And so I married his daughter. (both laugh)
DURAN: So, you married the Pastor’s daughter to save you from homosexuality?
PERRY: Yes. I told my wife that I had feelings, but I didn’t have a good description. But I had feelings that I wanted to go to bed with men. But I prayed that I wouldn’t. But sometimes I would see a man that I was very attracted to …..
DURAN: Is this the 1950’s?
PERRY: Yes. This is 1958. I am 18 years old. We both get married. We are both virgins. Sometimes I look back and in the Pentecostal tradition and we never talk about sex except in the most broad way.
That you don’t commit adultery. You don’t commit fornication. So, here I am little gay boy in Illinois going to Bible College in Chicago for 2 years. And just as I am getting ready to finish up – somebody reported me to my state Bishop and told him that I had sex with him. And the Bishop came to visit me. Ex communicated me. Told me to leave the State. These kinds of things give you lessons for gay liberation. He gave me $20 to drive back to Florida. Thank God gas was 10 cents a gallon back then (both laugh). You know what I mean?
We moved back to Florida. And I kept wrestling. Still involved with church. The Pentecostal church. I made the mistake of telling the local pastor the same story. He said he had done the same thing. But when the congregation found out I could preach – it became very interesting. And stupid me – we split and started another Pentecostal church. It was really a mistake. A split is a split.
But I learned my lesson there. I was fine until we moved to California. My wife and I moved to California. I was working for Brand Plastics in Illinois. The owners of the company said would you be willing to move to California and be a shift supervisor. I said well I am going to enter the ministry. And they said if you do that – we will pay you good money. And so my wife and I moved to California. And brought our 2 children. We moved to Torrance. I worked there at the plastics firm.
Then the Bishop of the new Pentecostal church that I had joined was a sister church that had split from the old Pentecostal church. And they never spoke. So I knew the Bishop from the first church would never tell the Bishop from the second church anything about me. They didn’t speak. They wouldn’t give each other the time of day.
So, I was ordained in the new group. The Bishop appointed me as Pastor of the Church of God of Prophecy in Santa Ana, California. So while I was there, something happened that would change my life. I walked into a bookstore in Santa Ana, California where I was going to buy a magazine. And there was an article in the magazine that I wanted to quote from when I preached. I bought it.
But as I was getting ready to leave – I saw physique magazines. I had never seen a physique magazine in my life. Those were the good old days when they were still wearing bathing suits (both laugh). I was turned on. And I knew – oh my God – you keep wrestling with this. What is it? And finally I learned that word homosexual. I said to the woman behind the counter “do you have any books on homosexuality?”
She said I’ve got a few and gave me a copy of everything she had. I wrote a check out for $12-which was a lot of money back then. When I got the books home, my wife was not there. I wanted to see what I could read quickly. While the novel turned me on, it was the article “The Homosexual in America” by Daniel Webster Cory that changed my life. It described me to a tee and told me there were people like me.
And then I read the magazine from One Incorporated; it said there were millions of people like me.
I said, “I have found out what I am.”
I had someone attending my church. He was a Marine from the Marine base. And I said, well I am going to invite him to stay the night at the house. And if he accepts and we have sex – then I know I am a homosexual. We had sex. Good sex. And the next morning I am driving him to the Marine Base in Orange County and he said “how could you do what you did last night?” I said “what I did? We both did it! It wasn’t just me! It was both of us”.
I knew he was going to report me to the Bishop. It was going to be the same thing that happened in Illinois.
This time, I really didn’t care. It didn’t matter. I had learned a life lesson.
My mother used to say to me “why do you have to tell everybody that you’re a homosexual?” I said “mother – because they ask! The federal government wants to know if I am going to serve in the military. If I am willing to die for my country. The State of California wants to know if I am going to be a school teacher. The county and city of LA want to know if I am going to collect garbage. I guess they are afraid I am going to rape garbage cans. And everybody want to know what I do in the privacy of my bedroom. And I am not gonna lie Momma. That’s the end of that. “
There’s always a price to be paid when you are open and LGBTQ. Some people outside of the community will say awful things about you. And sometimes people inside the community will say awful things too.
The Bishop showed up. My wife said, “what is going on? The Bishop is here.”
I said “I don’t know where to start.”She said “does it have anything to do with those books you hid between the mattresses?” (both laugh).
And I said “yessssss.”
I told her just get ready. We will take the kids and go to a coffee shop after I talk to the Bishop. The Bishop said I think you know why I am here. And I saw two clergy with him. And I thought I am going to be ex communicated. I said “yes sir I know.”
The Bishop said “I am ex communicating you from the church. I called the clerk from the church and they are calling all the membership down for a meeting. I don’t want them to know why I am ex communicating you. I just want you to tell them you feel like you failed the Lord. And we don’t have to tell them anything else.”
I did that. Within 10 minutes after I told the congregation why I was leaving, the congregation backed the Bishop up into the comer and said “we love Rev. Perry and his family. My God. We don’t believe Reverend Perry has done anything wrong. He always said if he did – he would confess it to us.”
That was the thing we did in the Pentecostal church if we sinned. And here I am. The Bishop used the word homosexual. And not another word was said. People were so shocked. The Bishop said how quick can you get out of the parsonage? We lived in a home that was owned by the church. Can you move out tonight?
I said “no sir. I am not moving out in the middle of the night”
“Well how soon can you move out?”
I said “as soon as I can sell my furniture and talk to my wife about what we are going to do. “
Well I left the meeting, took my wife and went to the coffee shop. She said “so you still feel like you’re a homosexual?” I said “I know I am.”
She said “well that book said there are homosexuals who are heterosexually married. And maybe we can stay together.” I said “Carol, there is no way we can stay together. I have to find out who I am. And once I find that, I will know better. But there is no way I can do that while I am with you. And so, I think we need to separate.”
She said she wanted to go back to her mother and father. And they were Pentecostal ministry. And they equated homosexuality with demon possession. They told her over and over again. As I said, there is a price to pay when you’re a member of our community. Mine was – I didn’t see one of my sons for 17 years. She took my children. And I never saw the oldest boy again since we separated. And the youngest boy – that’s another story. Didn’t see him for 17 years. And with that – it took a week to buy my furniture, put my wife and 2 kids on a plane. And that was the last time I saw her. She just passed away. So that was that.
I then moved into Los Angeles. I moved next to a guy named Willie Smith who had 3 teenage boys. And these were wonderful young men. Their mother was a hippie mother. One of those California hippie mothers. She knew everything about everything. She had gay friends it turns out. I started talking to her. I told her I was trying to find gay places where I could find the gay community. She said “oh my 14 year old son Darrell can tell you. (laughs)
DURAN: What year is this Troy?
PERRY: When my wife left-yes. This is 1964. And with that Darrell said “I know where there is a gay restaurant. And that mother let me take her son with me to that restaurant where you get off the 101 Freeway at Pagola’s. Hollywood Blvd? Or maybe Sunset? I went in the restaurant and I was in heaven. It was full of gay men! It was so obvious.
And I am sitting there and a young man came over to the table and was very flirtatious with me. Well I thought he was. As it turns out, he came over and introduced himself. His name was Willie Smith. He became my gay mother to take care of my coming out. And Willie Smith and I became roommates. He was from Yuma, Arizona. He was a Seventh Day Adventist boy.
He was shocked that I knew something about his church. We became best friends. He had an apartment in the middle of gay Hollywood. And we had parties where we met lots of gay people. So we decided to become roommates. I thought we would look in Hollywood but Willie said that Madeline Smith – the woman in Huntington Park and her 3 kids. She says there is an apartment next to her. And we rented the apartment next to Madeline. So here we are. Meeting gay people. Going to gay parties.
All at once I received my draft notice from the military. Viet Nam was starting. Richard Nixon was building up the military. Is it true that you and your wife are no longer together? And that you are no longer pastoring a church? This said to me that she or her relatives had informed the government that we were separated.
I said yes, but I pay child support. They reclassified me from clergy to saying we will pay your child support. Uncle Sam needs you. The gay folks that I knew said are you going to let them draft you or are you going to check the magic block? What magic block? Right under tuberculosis and cancer – is homosexual tendencies. (both laugh). And I said “No. I don’t have homosexual tendencies. I AM A HOMOSEXUAL.”
And this is when my mother was asking again “why do you have to tell people?” And I said because people want to know! I go into the military. My God. I lasted one week in boot camp when I decided I do not like the US Army. I marched into my first sergeant and said “I have a problem.” He said “what?”. I said “I am a homosexual”.
He said “oh my God. Can’t you think of something better to try and get out of the Army. Everybody becomes a queer the first week in boot camp.” (both laugh). He says “I don’t’ believe it. Get back in line.”
And I told everybody in my unit that I was gay. I ended up with a top secret clearance. I went into the signal core. I was the equivalent of a cryptographer on early computers. Ended up in Germany. I would have died for my country. Was openly gay in my unit. I discovered the gay bars in Germany. I discovered Holland. And went to Amsterdam. First experience – a young man there. Two police men came into the gay bar. I froze. We had such a bad police department back in LA.
And I said “there are 2 police officers over there.”
And he said “yes?”
And I said “aren’t you worried?
He said “no.
I said “what are they doing in here?”
And he said “they are having a beer’. (both laugh)
I mean I saw a different view when I was in Europe. To see how other cultures treated it (homosexuality). I left the military as a staff sergeant after 2 years which was unheard of in those days. But I was really good at what I did. My company all liked me. We went to gay bars in Germany. A few years ago I was invited to the gay pride parade in Stukaart, Germany, to talk about gay life in Germany from 1965-1967. And I was told the story of men who were sent to prison for 15 years because they did not try and remove the punishment for homosexuality from the Nazi code. So everybody else was turned loose.
But this gay German soldier was sent to prison for 15 years for going to bed with an American GI. How was that fair? So, I came home to LA and fell in love for the first time in my life. He walked out of my life. I cut both of my wrists and crawled into a bathtub hoping l would die.
DURAN: So, what year are we up to now? Is this the late 1960’s?
PERRY: Yes. I got home in 1967. Now, it’s the late 60’s. The love bug bit me.
When he walked out of my life I walked into the bathroom, took out a razor blade and cut both of my wrists. Just hoped that I would die. And my roommate Willie Smith cam
m door down. And he and the neighbors got me up and rushed me to county general hospital. And while I was in the hospital, a woman walked up and shoved a newspaper in my face and said “I don’t know why you did this. This is crazy. I tried it too.” This woman had scars on her arms I couldn’t believe. Can’t you just look up? And she ended up pushing every religious button I had. And when she left the room, I prayed for the longest time. And I said “God. I know you’re not going to answer this prayer. My church taught me that you don’t love me. You don’t hear our prayers. The Bible tells me that you don’t love me. But I ask for forgiveness for the sin I committed in Romans 126-28. No. Not the sin of homosexuality. But putting my partner on top of a pedestal and loving him more than I loved you. I am still a homosexual, God.”
I had to remind God that I was still a homosexual. I had that wonderful feeling that we Pentecostals call feeling the joy of our salvation. It felt so good. I go home. Willie takes me home. He says the next day “are you going to be ok?”
I said “I am going to be just fine.” Then I started worrying “Oh God I am going to have to buy some long sleeve shirts to I won’t get fired from my job.” Here I am just trying to kill myself and I am worried about losing my job. And while I am doing that I start replaying what had happened the night before. All at once. That joy that I had felt hit me. I said Whoa. Wait a minute. I don’t know what I am feeling. But this can’t be you God. You can’t love me. God spoke to me in that still small voice.
“Troy. I love you. I don’t have stepsons and stepdaughters.” And with that I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I could be gay and be a Christian. And I didn’t have to explain myself to anybody. But – from that moment on I had the itch all over again. I would try to go to church and I would last 3 weeks. First Sunday “oh my God you know how to pray”. Second Sunday – “are you married? Well, I am getting a divorce? Why? I am a homosexual.” Third Sunday – Frozen out of the group. It was that way. Finally, I really prayed and said “alright God. If you really want to see a church started that is outreach to the gay and lesbian community but open to everybody – everybody is welcomed – you just let me know when.” And that still small voice said “now”.
And with that, I took an ad out in the Advocate on October the 6th, 1968, and went home and told Willie Smith. He probably had a heart attack and said you have taken out an ad in a gay newspaper giving our home address? In Huntington Park? (both laugh) Are you crazy? And people are always saying “oh you were so brave”. I wasn’t. Actually stupid. But that’s what the Pentecostal said you always had to do when starting a church. Give your name and address and that starts the church.
And that date October 6, 1968 nine friends showed up for church. One person of color. One heterosexual couple. One Jew with his Gentile lover. Both doctors. And that first service I was more worried about the second service. You might draw people the first Sunday – but it’s the second and third Sunday we preachers worry about. The second Sunday we had 14 people. I said “oh thank God we are growing”. The next week – we had 18 and I said “blessed be the Lamb forever!” Fourth Sunday we had 9 in attendance and I almost had a heart attack. And God said, “just tell them what I told you to tell them. Don’t count the crowd.” And within a year and a half, we had over 1,000 people in attendance in downtown Los Angeles.
But the message that God gave me that changed my life was this – “If God loved me, then God had to love other gay people”. God is so good. And that is what changed my life. I am always quoting from the book of the prophet Jeremiah where God says to the prophet – “I knew who you were in your mother’s womb” and we believe that.
We believe that God is omnipotent and knows who we are. We do not jump out at birth like a little jack in the box and God jumps back and says “Oh my God! A little homosexual!” (both laugh)
We don’t owe an apology to anybody. And that was my church. That was my sermon. And my life changed forever. I became an activist really fast. Started moving ahead in 1970. I was one of the 3 founders of one of our gay pride organization. The first gay pride parade in the world …..
DURAN: Wait. Before we get to Christopher Street West, I want to wrap up this segment – because I have learned so much now from what you said. You came from an alcoholic household. You ran away as a teenager. You were raped as a child. You got drafted into the military. Your wife and children left because of everything that happened. You fell in love. You attempted suicide. There is so much trauma here. It’s almost like a diamond is formed by incredible pressure. A lump of coal under volcanic pressure becomes a sparkling diamond. Do you think all of that was necessary to give you the courage for what’s going to happen next in your story?
PERRY: Absolutely. I call them lessons. Things of what not to do. What to do. How to be brave. Adults can run over children. But when you become an adult – as the apostle Paul said – when I became an adult I put away childish things. As an adult, there was my difference. I had to tell other people how wonderful it was to come out. That was my message for 5 years when I pastored the LA Church.
Come out! You don’t know how good it feels. And there is no secret that anyone can use to destroy or hurt you! You will scare people to death. But people will also look at you and know this is a good person. A good employee. A good soldier. You know it’s so bizarre how life is.
But we all crave that. We want to know that we fit in. I am an assimilationist. People don’t like to hear that – but I am. Yes I pay my taxes. As a result of that – I am going to vote. I am going to change the government. I am going to remind people that I am a citizen too. And all the laws are going to pertain to me too. And that’s the way I am going to live my life …… .
You know John, one of the first persons to capture me was a woman named Hershman who wrote on gay liberation. She is a Jewish grandmother. Not a lesbian. And she captured me so incredibly. And what you said John, I have never thought of in those terms. You’re right. It’s pressure sometimes that turns us into who we are. We say “no more of this. I am not going to put up with it.”
DURAN: So, not it’s 1969 and 1970 Los Angeles. There is no Harvey Milk. Harvey is doing a camera shop up in San Francisco. There’s no out LGBT legislators. MECLA (Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles) is getting started. The early days. The Advocate is getting started to publish. And Stonewall happens in 1969 in New York City. And then tell me what happens in 1970 here in Los Angeles?
PERRY: I received a phone call from Morris Kight. Morris called me and said “Brother Troy”. He was like our Pentecostal church where we called each other brother and sister. He said Brother Troy – I just got a letter from New York City. And I want to bring it over. Bob Humphries is with me. Can we come over to the parsonage and talk to you? The letter exists and is in the One Archives. I am not sure who the person is who wrote Morris. But Morris says Troy you know what happened in New York City? And I said yes.
There was an article in the Advocate about it. People stood up for their rights. He said well I received a letter and they want to know if we would something here one year later to memorialize what happened there. He said we can hold a demonstration. I said whoa Morris. Let’s really think this through. If this is going to be a memorial of what happened there – we are doing demonstrations already. l was already leading demonstrations in downtown LA. In Hollywood with 1000 people. I said Morris let’s hold a parade.
We got the Rose Parade. We got the Hollywood Christmas Parade. LA is big on parades. And he said that’s a marvelous idea Brother Troy! Let’s find out what it will take. And Morris who was so good and knowing people. He said we need to sign a piece of paper and take it down to the police commission. It should be a breeze. Well they brought it in.
You had to be a non profit organization. The Church was the only non profit group that had done that with the US Government. I had quickly done that. And so this was before even the Gay center had theirs.
Morris said will the church do it? I said absolutely! So I signed it. This paper is also in One Incorporated archives. And we got the permit in the name of the Metropolitan Community Church. So we went down to the police station. And everybody said to us don’t use the word homosexual. That will poison us before we even get started. I said well as long as they don’t get nasty. I told my mother I wasn’t going to lie. And don’t you know. The amazing thing Rob Eichberg who started National Coming Out Day – his father was the President of the Police Commission. He did not know he had a gay son.
This is how – you talk about – bodies being buried everywhere. And I could tell they knew who we were. You don’t show up in front of the police commission without them knowing who you are. And here we are. I took it for about 30 minutes. And then they asked the magic question: “Who do you represent?” And I said “I represent the HOMOSEXUAL community of Los Angeles” and you would have thought I shot them in the face. I mean (Chief) Ed Davis immediately started. Oh my. Everybody starts talking at once. And Chief Davis says “if you give this group a permit down Hollywood Boulevard, I’d rather see thieves and burglars marching than this group”
Finally, the President got them all calmed down. We need to talk. Would you all please leave and come back in an hour and a half? Well, an hour and a half later, well actually wasn’t even that. 45 minutes later we said maybe we better go back in the room. We don’t want them to dismiss the meeting and say we left and never came back. And Morris agreed. And sure enough, we went back in early and they had started. And they said alright – we made a decision. You can hold a parade IF number one – you have 5000 people marching in the parade. On floats or whatever. Number two. You are going to put up 2 bonds. The first one is a million dollar bond to pay for all the damages that is going to happen to all the businesses when people throw bricks at you people. I said “oh like the Jew in Germany?”
Oh they did not like that. I didn’t’ care. That’s exactly what the Nazis did on Kristallnacht. They made the Jews pay for it. Then you are going to put up a cash bond for half a million dollars to pay for the police overtime that it’s going to take to protect you people. We thanked them profusely. We left the meeting. We went back to the parsonage. Morris said he was going to call the ACLU and get us a lawyer. He called the ACLU and they sent this wonderful attorney Herb Selwyn. He called the commission to put us back on their agenda.
We went back in the next week and he told them we had to appear before the commission twice before we can sue you. (both laugh). So we are here for the second meeting. They left the room and came back in. And the stupid thing. They left the 2 things out we couldn’t do the million dollar bond and cash bond. We couldn’t do that. We knew it. The only thing that they took off was the requirement for 5000 people. This was on a Friday. So on Monday morning, Herb went into court.
The parade was supposed to be the next weekend. The judge listened to us and to them and the Judge said I don’t care if you have to call out the National Guard. These people are taxpayers. I asked you and you admitted you have never asked another group to ever put up a bond. Pure discrimination. They are going to have their parade. Then we all got out and were jumping up and down.
And then we were so nervous. We didn’t think we were going to win. We really hadn’t pushed people to build floats or to do anything. (both laugh). So we got on the phones and called every gay and lesbian organization in Southern CA. There weren’t that many. That first parade. I had no idea if anybody would even show up. And they did. I have never seen more people with hats and dark shades in my life than that first parade (both laugh). I told people there will be something for everybody. I told people to bring your pets. I said you can march with your pets. And don’t you know that Time magazine took a picture of that pet section. Of the young man walking a great big Alaskan husky with a sign on it that said “we don’t all walk poodles.” (both laugh)
It was things like this. We had every group. The early groups. The gay activists alliance. The Mattachine society. There were cars and floats. Our church. Our choir. We had march music. Our choir singing “onward Christian soldiers” Back then you could get away with stuff like that. We had a float with a fairy being crucified with all of these cops chasing other fairies around the float. You name it we had it.
DURAN: How many people were in the parade and how many spectators?
PERRY: I think we had about 2,000 in the parade and about 5,000 spectators. We were on Hollywood Blvd. It only lasted a few blocks. But we didn’t care. We had made our point. They fought us every year for 4 years until it became almost impossible to hold the parade in Hollywood. And that’s when we moved into (unincorporated) West Hollywood. And I would say why is it that don’t have any problems with the Sheriff but the LAPD can’t keep their hands off of us. And everything started then. From there to national marches in Washington to fighting the Briggs initiative in 1978.
Part two of this profile continues Monday, Jan. 6.