Reno resident Paul Cain set out to write a different book about the gay movement in the United States. The result: Leading the Parade: Conversations with American’s Most Influential Lesbians and Gay Men. In the book, Cain, who is gay, explores the personal stories of friendships and relationships in the words of those who’ve fought in the trenches for gay rights. The book is sold at Sundance Bookstore, 1155 Fourth St.
What inspired you to write a book like this?
Well, I was really doing it because I wanted to celebrate 50 years of activism, the gay movement as we know it, at least in this country, which began around the mid-’40s.
What types of questions did you focus on?
I couldn’t just walk in and just start asking people about their own lives. I figured probably what made the most sense is figure out how they all fit together into the mosaic. I think that’s one thing that Leading the Parade does that a lot of similar books haven’t done. You get them not only talking about themselves but [about] other people who interacted with them and also played a primary role in the movement. There were some very interesting stories that came out of that.
Barbara Gittings was one of the four mothers of the movement as we know it today. She still is around, now in her late 60s, and she’s terrific. But in two of the first interviews I did, people commented on her appetite and that she could eat like a horse. The first time I heard it I thought it was funny and the second time I heard it I almost fell out of my seat. It gave me an avenue to explore when I talked to her.
How long did it take you to write the book?
About nine years. I got the idea around the summer of 1993. It would not have gone anywhere because I didn’t know any of these people. The only person I had met was a fellow in L.A. His name was Jim Kepner. Jim had been involved in the movement for many years. So when I decided [to start] the process, I decided to contact Jim. If he had said no, I don’t think there would have been a book.
You state that you get frustrated with gays who don’t know their history. Could that be a sign that gay rights have advanced?
It relates a lot to what a lot of the gay intelligentsia have referred to as post-gay. Yes, you can certainly look at that as a healthy sign—certainly now with Ellen DeGeneres and Anne Heche and Will & Grace. If you live in New York or San Francisco or West Hollywood, yes, perhaps there is a little more of this post-gay idea because, in your life, it’s not an issue anymore. But if you live out in the hinterlands like Winnemucca, Elko or Ely, they certainly are not going to say they are in a post-gay movement.
Is there a sense of complacency regarding AIDS in the gay community?
There is certainly the tendency now for people to think we are in the post-AIDS era. Well, last month a very dear friend of mine who fought AIDS for about 15 years died. There are some wonderful things out there but they are not panaceas. You don’t find AIDS talked about very much. But AIDS is still very much with us.