Palm Beach ACDC at the March

By Fred Fejes

I went to the 1987 March with eight male friends from South Florida. The previous year we had organized a gay/lesbian political organization in Palm Beach County Florida, the Atlantic Coast Democrat Club (ACDC).  It was one of the first efforts at political activism in South Florida which was still suffering from Anita Bryant post traumatic apathy.  When we heard about the march in early 1987 we made it one of the main focal points of our activity. One of our members dug up a film from the 1979 march which we showed a number of times at various events to generate interest.  Another member, from “the island (Palm Beach),” paid for a large marching banner with our club’s name on it.

Most of us arrived on Thursday. I had been a student at Georgetown in the late 60s-early 70s and had friends in DC. Marches on Washington had been very much a part of my college experience as during my time at Georgetown there were a number of very large marches against the war in Vietnam in which participated. I recalled all of them as very tense but exciting affairs with a lot of police and army. Sometimes the police came at marchers with clubs or used tear gas.

Before the March activities began I visited friends and made a visit to the Vietnam War Memorial which had been dedicated in 1982 but I had never seen. I remember looking for the names of two friends from my central Illinois high school. We had been on the football team together. Our coach was a gung-ho pro-war “patriot” who constantly berated the “long-haired” anti war protestors and drummed into us  how important the war in Vietnam was. My two friends bought his line and enlisted when they graduated. Within two years they were dead. When I found their names it was a very emotional moment. And then I thought about the anti-war marches and how strange it was that I was once again in Washington marching for an unpopular cause attempting to get an unresponsive government to listen.

I remember going with some of the Florida people to the marriage protest in front of the IRS the day before the March. It was going to be a mass marriage and initially I thought it would be a campy affair, but when it took place it was quite moving.

At the March we unfurled our banner and joined in. I don’t remember much of the details, only that the energy was very high. It was fantastic seeing all these people. When the speeches started I found myself circulating and just getting off on seeing all the different people and groups represented. I almost felt high.

Almost by accident I found myself on the edge of the AIDS quilt. It was only then I remembered that there was going to be a display of the Quilt. Quilt-making activities had not yet reached South Florida so I was really interested. I started reading the various panels and then it hit me what they were—it was like visiting the Vietnam Memorial all over again. I didn’t know any of the individuals but I found myself on my knees weeping. One of the Quilt monitors came over and held me until I quieted down. 

I remember the next day or later going to the protest in front of the Supreme Court. I remember it as an angry protest against the Court’s decision upholding sodomy laws.

When we left our plane was delayed because of a hurricane passing through South Florida. But when we got back we were very energized and continued to build our activities. Out of these efforts other organizations were formed and Palm Beach County became the first to pass a non-discrimination ordinance in 1990. Of the eight people who went to Washington, however, four of them succumbed to AIDS.

Like the anti-war marches, at the time the 1987 March seemed to be an almost futile but necessary effort- -futile in the sense that we did not expect the government to respond, but necessary because we needed to do it for ourselves to affirm our dignity and the justice of our cause.