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‘Home at last’ | Before Capital Pride, there was a bookstore and an idea; How the district's pride celebration all began

Deacon Maccubbin and Jim Bennett have been partners for over 40 years, and have been activists in the gay community. In 1975, Maccubbin had a big idea.

WASHINGTON — Over 40 years, Deacon Maccubbin and Jim Bennett have been ‘married’ four times. First, there was the church wedding in 1982, before gay marriage was legal. 

A decade later, the District passed a domestic partnership law, and the duo quickly registered, although Congress blocked funding. When the money did start to flow, the two signed up again.

Finally, in 2015, following the landmark Supreme Court case of Obergefell V. Hodges, the long-time couple was able to get married officially.

“There’s something to be said about perseverance,” laughed Maccubbin.

His husband, who sat by his side on their Montgomery County porch, offered a more dry response.

“Isn’t that enough,” he laughed.

Over the decades, the couple has played a pivotal role in the fight for equality in D.C., and helped spark what we now know as “Capital Pride.”

Credit: Deanna Washington
Deacon Maccubbin and Jim Bennett, longtime gay advocates in Washington, D.C.

Before there was a march and a citywide celebration, there was a smaller group of dedicated activists in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. That’s where Maccubbin opened a gay and lesbian bookstore in 1974, called Lambda Rising.

This bookstore quickly became a community center for the gay community and a destination for LGBT travelers from across the country.

“On a Saturday right after we opened,” recalled Maccubbin. “In the middle of the afternoon, there was a guy who came in, stood in the middle of the store, and just kind of did a 360 all the way around looking at the walls. And then he sighed and said ‘home at last.’”

This store would become wildly successful. After opening on 20th Street NW, it would move to a larger location on S Street NW in 1979. A few years later in 1984, the store was moved yet again to Connecticut Avenue NW, to keep up with rising demand.

"Our stores were a community center," said Bennett. " A meeting place. People felt safe. They could see people who were like themselves." 

Credit: Deacon Maccubbin
Lambda Rising, a popular LGBT bookstore which shut down in 2010, after nearly four decades

Growing right alongside the bookstore was the pride celebration. In 1975, just one year after the store opened, the idea first surfaced at a party in D.C.

“We used to go to New York every year to march in their pride parade,” said Maccubbin. “But in early ‘75, we were sitting around talking about making arrangements to go to New York. And somebody said why do we go to New York every time. Why don’t we just have a party right here in Washington?”

From there, Maccubbin and other activists began collecting signatures for a community block party on 20th Street NW. In the end, only one person on the block refused to sign, Maccubbin said. 

That set the stage for the first-ever pride celebration in D.C. on June 15, 1975. 

“On the day that it actually happened, it was supposed to begin at 2 p.m.," said Maccubbin. "And at about ten minutes to 2 p.m., there was nobody on the street. And those of us who were organizing it were sweating because we thought nobody was going to come. I said 'don’t worry. They’re going to come. They’re all on gay time.' And sure enough at 2 p.m., we had 2,000 people on the street.”

Credit: Deacon Maccubbin
Deacon Maccubbin speaking at the 1975 pride celebration

And this first block party was just the beginning. By 1977, the crowds had grown even larger, attracting advocates and even politicians, such as then-councilmember Marion Barry. In an archived WUSA9 video, one attendee expressed why he was there. 

"We are making a concentrated effort here to be ourselves," he said. "To show the public that we're not a bunch of degenerates." 

Ahead of the 1980 event, Maccubbin handed over the planning responsibilities to the P Street Festival. The event would continue to grow in numbers, and by 1980, it was over 10,000 people strong, according to Maccubbin. 

Over the years, the event would take on many forms. In the '80s, during the AIDS epidemic, these events were used as a way to provide health resources, as well as to come together to grieve and mourn.

"It was a chance to celebrate how far we had come at that point," said Maccubbin. "But also to look forward."

And this advocacy has not always been easy for Maccubbin and Bennett. Maccubbin said he has been arrested eight times for civil disobedience, and at the store, they have faced discrimination. 

"We had problems getting advertising out in the community," said Maccubbin. "Because people would reject our advertising. We had windows smashed from time to time. We had bomb threats. Harassments. We were assaulted. Things happened from time to time. But we always knew that there were people in the community who had our back."

The attendance of these events has skyrocketed since 1974, with the Washington Blade reporting more than 400,000 people may have attended the 2019 parade or festival.

Credit: Deanna Washington
Deacon Maccubbin and Jim Bennett sitting down to discuss 40+ years of advocacy

As for Lambda Rising, the iconic book store closed its doors for good in 2010, after 36 long years. The longtime advocates said that the responsibility for pushing for more LGBTQ rights now belongs to the next generation. 

"It's perfectly ok to party and to have a good time," said Maccubbin. "But there's work to be done. Don't forget that." 

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