It’s not unusual to see Deacon Maccubbin at Capital Pride events but it will be even easier to spot him this year. On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the event he founded in 1975, he will serve as grand marshal of the parade Saturday along with actor Wilson Cruz.
Maccubbin, who owned the Lambda Rising bookstore that closed in 2010 says the two ventures — Pride and the shop — were heavily intertwined.
“Lambda Rising was never envisioned as a money-making enterprise. If someone had told me you could make a profit selling gay books back then, I would have laughed,” says the 72-year-old Norfolk, Va., native. “But, in fact, Lambda Rising did well enough to grow and expand, to move into larger and larger quarters and, eventually, to have stores in five states and online, as well as a major mail order component shipping LGBT books and rainbow flags around the world. Lambda Rising was never just a business. It served as a de facto community center back before D.C. had one and was a huge stimulus for the visibility of the LGBT community.”
He says the first D.C. Pride event, a one-day community block party-type event on 20th Street, N.W., looked a lot different then.
“That first Pride drew 2,000 people. By the fifth year, it was 10,000 people and had outgrown the space we had for it, so we turned it over to a non-profit which moved it to a larger space nearby. This year, attendance is expected to approach a quarter million. Yes, that blows my mind,” he says.
Maccubbin and partner Jim Bennett live in a Dupont Circle condo filled with antique art and sculpture of nude male figures. Maccubbin also collects copperplate engravings from the 17th and 18th centuries and has many rare and sometimes autographed LGBT books. He enjoys travel, music and theater in his free time.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I’ve been out since 1969 when I was 26. The first person I told was the hardest, but also gave the best reaction. He was a straight friend and we were close as brothers but I was feeling guilty that I hadn’t been honest with him about being gay. After many months of fretting about it, I finally screwed up my courage and told him. His reaction was instantaneous and priceless. “Is that all that’s been bothering you?” he said. “Heck, I knew that all along. I don’t give a fuck.” At that moment in time, he meant more to me that just about anyone, and if he didn’t care, then I felt free to tell the world.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
I have several, but Frank Kameny, Barbara Gittings, Bayard Rustin, Harvey Milk and Leonard Matlovich have always been at the top of my list. They were all people who were willing to take huge risks to advance equality.
What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
The Lost & Found was my favorite when it first opened. … And I loved the piano bar at Friends on P Street. These days I’m partial to Nellie’s and Town, though in truth I’ve never been much of a bar goer. I’m more likely to be found at the Kennedy Center or Wolf Trap or Strathmore.
Describe your dream wedding.
Ours! It was our Holy Union on Feb. 26, 1982 at MCC (then meeting at Congregational Church at 10th and G Streets, NW). I think it was only the second such event held in a public way in D.C. and about 350 people attended. Rev. Troy Perry and Rev. Larry Uhrig officiated and Julia & Company (featuring Julia Nixon, star of “Dreamgirls” on Broadway) performed at the reception. The Blade and the Post both covered it. But as wonderful as it was, it wasn’t any more special than our second wedding, held on the same day in February this year, when we got our actual marriage license and renewed our vows at home in front of our three closest friends.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
Getting corporate money out of elections and ensuring the right to vote. Because success on so many other issues depends on it.
What historical outcome would you change?
The assassinations of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Harvey Milk.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
I had the opportunity to interview Jimi Hendrix, Eric Burden & the Animals, James Brown and other music icons of the ‘60s. And I worked as a production assistant on the D.C. location set of director Michael Bay’s “Terminator 3.” But the best was having Lambda Rising used as the set for a scene in “Enemy of the State.” Will Smith used my office at the bookstore as his changing room and some of our employees got to be extras in the film. That was fun.
On what do you insist?
Full equality for all. Nothing less. And I make no apologies for it.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
I rarely do either but my most recent post was to spread the good news of Ireland’s vote on marriage equality.
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“Just Do It.” Most of the things I’m proudest of accomplishing in my life were things other people said would never work or couldn’t be done. I listened to them, considered their points, then did it anyway. … It was even true with myself — there was a time when I thought I would never find a soulmate, but then I met this handsome, loving redhead named Jim Bennett and, 37 years later, we’re still joined at the heart.
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
I’d wonder why anyone would want to change.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
Despite being heavily involved in the church in my early years, I believe in the scientific method, which is why I’m now an atheist. But I do believe in the spirit that lives within every individual and I believe we should honor that.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Keep your eyes on the big picture, the long-term goals, but never underestimate the importance of small victories as well. Strengthen ties with allies. All of us are stronger when we stand together.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
How about YOU walk across hot coals and I’ll meet you at the other side with a bucket of cold water?
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
That bisexuals are really gay people who can’t commit. It’s a stereotype that our own community sometimes buys into and it’s both harmful and untrue.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
“Milk.” Or the original “La Cage aux Folles.”
What’s the most overrated social custom?
Facebook. And Twitter is a close second. Mostly meaningless blather intermingled with spam. Why does anybody waste their time on it? Why do I?
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
I don’t covet anything, but I’m most grateful for a Pioneer Award given me by the Lambda Literary Awards some years ago, as well as the Rainbow History Project’s Community Pioneer Award.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
How fleeting life is. How much I’d regret the things I didn’t do, the trips I didn’t take, the friends I lost touch with, the friends I lost. I learned those things in the ‘80s and have tried to make up for lost time since.
I first came to Washington on a two-week vacation in 1969, fully intending to return to Norfolk. I got a $15-a-week room in a boarding house just off Dupont Circle and set out to explore the city. The juxtaposition of the buttoned-down bureaucrats, the high-powered politicians, the diplomatic staffs from around the world, the counterculturists, the hippies, the civil rights workers, the anti-war protesters — it was all so fascinating and I plunged right in. After two weeks, I called home and told them to sell everything I owned, “I’m staying in D.C.” I’ve been here ever since, mostly in Dupont Circle. I think Washington is still one of the most fascinating, most vibrant, most livable cities in the world. I don’t think I could have created Lambda Rising anywhere but in D.C.