A Somber Message Underlies Festivities at Gay Celebration

Times Staff Writer

Karl Holm and Michael Alvidrez sat in the shade of an umbrella sipping their beers and watching the crowds walk by in the Sunday sun.

As part of the crowd this weekend at the Pioneer Days in Studio City, an annual event to promote the gay and lesbian community, they obviously were enjoying themselves.

"You see people you haven't seen in a long time," said Holm, who runs an antique clothing store with Alvidrez. He took another sip of beer and added seriously: "It's good to see they're still alive."

That was the mood at the carnival: festive and friendly, but with an undercurrent of deadly seriousness.

As with most carnivals, there were bands playing continuous music on a temporary stage in a parking lot in the shadow of Universal City. There was a Western saloon where gamblers could try their luck at the gaming tables. And, of course, there was food. Lots of food, from sausages to hamburgers.

Flyers on AIDS

But unlike other carnivals, there were volunteers handing out literature on the prevention of AIDS. There also were booths to sign up for workshops on understanding and dealing with the disease that has terrorized the gay community. There was a display of designer condoms where, their creator boasted, "passion meets fashion."

Everywhere though, there was the spirit of community. People shook hands or hugged one another as they passed.

"This is a real important event because it gives us a chance to have a sense of community," said John Maceri, president of the Valley Business Alliance and one of the event's organizers. "We can raise money for the people of our community."

Much of the money from the two-day event, first held in 1978, will go toward projects in the gay community. Money raised at a tea dance Sunday night was earmarked for the new San Fernando Valley AIDS hospice. Other money is put back into the community as a whole, Maceri said, emphasizing that that the carnival was not strictly a gay event.

Attacking Stereotypes

Maceri said he expected the carnival to attract about 10,000 people, both gay and straight, before it closed Sunday night. By Sunday afternoon, the walkways between booths were crowded and a line of people waiting to attend the festivities had formed outside the gate on Ventura Boulevard.

"We want to break down stereotypes," Maceri said. "People think that all gay men run around in dresses and gay women are a bunch of dykes. That isn't true."

Maceri's group, which comprises gay businessmen in the Studio City area, was embroiled in a bitter dispute with a homeowners group in mid-August when a vitriolic flyer urging residents to rid the community of "homosexuals, transvestites . . . and social sickness groups" was mysteriously circulated. The controversy was settled when the Studio City Residents Assn., during a closed-door meeting, denied distributing the flyer.

Although he still is unsure of who wrote the flyer, Maceri said the meeting forged a "real good working relationship" between the homeowners group and the business association. The homeowners group shared a booth at the carnival with the Studio City Chamber of Commerce.

"What was meant to be divisive ultimately brought us closer together," Maceri said.

On stage, a band played as Morris Kight guided guests through his McCadden Place Collection, an exhibit that depicts the history of the gay and lesbian movement. Kight, who also serves on the county's Commission on Human Relations, is the exhibit's curator.

A sign in the exhibit reads simply in big, black capital letters: "FAGOTS STAY OUT." Until 1970, it hung over the bar at Barney's Beanery in West Hollywood. Now, it is the centerpiece of Kight's collection.

"It is as valuable to our group as a piece of the cross is to Christians, or the ark of the covenant is to Jews," Kight said.

"This," he added, pointing at the sign, "is our great indication of our oppression."

Across the parking lot, the mood at the Condomania booth was more festive. Standing behind a table of designer condoms brightly decorated with humorous slogans and pictures, Larry Eisenberg talked almost nonstop about his product.

"It's just another way to be responsible," he said. "People just go crazy. I think it diffuses some of the distaste people have for the condom with humor."

In step with the mood of the day, Eisenberg ended his conversation on a note of seriousness.

"We treat it with a wink, but we all know why we're selling condoms."

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