Last Saturday, over 250,000 excited people lined the streets of Washington, D.C. to cheer, yell, shout and generally exude amazing enthusiasm for the annual Capital Gay Pride parade winding through streets in the northwest part of town. A part of the annual parade and festival has become the practice of singling a small handful of people each year to be feted as “Capital Pride Heroes.” Our Falls Church News-Press’ own founder, owner and editor Nicholas F. Benton was so honored this year. He rode, waving back at the crowd, at the head of the parade.
Other than to just acknowledge this and brag a little, our readers should know how sometimes a wider audience, including with the benefit of perspective over decades, can more clearly see the significance of contributions people make better than those who are narrowly focused on issues and battles as they’re engaged day to day.
This perspective is especially meaningful to those who’ve been involved in the struggle for civil rights and social justice from times back when real sacrifices were involved and very few if any protections from open displays and violent expressions of hatred and prejudice.
The organizers of Capital Pride chose our Mr. Benton as a “Hero” because he was a pioneer back when the struggle for lesbian and gay rights was a very risky proposition on a whole array of levels. In the midst of the civil rights and anti-war ferment of the late 1960s, our hero burst forth from a graduate theological seminary to organize the Berkeley, Calif., Gay Liberation Front and write the editorial for the first-ever issue of the Gay Sunshine newspaper. He went on to write, organize and demonstrate relentlessly, becoming one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s most well-known gay activists in the days prior to Harvey Milk.
But the more he pushed to make social justice issues the focus of the movement, the more he ran afoul of those insistent on making radical hedonism and “sexual freedom” its rallying cry. He burned out after a few years, and took his social activism in different, pro-socialist and sometimes stupid directions.
Fast forward to 1985, when he came to Washington, D.C. and founded his own news service, then to 1991 when that took the form of founding the Falls Church News-Press. His purpose was to serve a community with something it didn’t have but needed, its own general interest newspaper. It’s been 23 years since, and counting.
So, Benton was chosen as a Capital Pride Hero not only because of his early activism but because his work as an openly-gay person has contributed meaningfully to his community, in this case, a readership in and around Falls Church. To Pride organizers, the importance of being openly gay cannot be overstated. For lesbians and gays, this continues, as it always has, to be the single most important ingredient for opening the world up to full equality.