Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

Jones says equality march approved for October


Cleve Jones is organizing the "Equality Across America" march in Washington, D.C. this October. Photo: Dan Nicoletta
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Longtime gay activist Cleve Jones said that he has received approval for an equality march and rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for Sunday, October 11, which is National Coming Out Day.

Jones said that he's "100 percent confident the march will be allowed to proceed." He said organizers have been told "quite clearly and emphatically that there's no impediment to doing this."

Jones said that for now, the rally is being called "Equality Across America."

There has been vigorous debate in the community about whether to have a national march this year. Some have expressed concern about the event, saying that there isn't enough time to plan it and that resources should be used for other purposes. There's also been confusion as to whether space on the Mall would even be available.

Others believe this year is the right time for a march, citing inaction by Congress and President Barack Obama on LGBT issues.

"The biggest challenge is not getting people to view this march through the lens of previous marches," said Jones.

Previous national marches have been highly produced affairs, with celebrity speakers being flown in. Jones said that organizers for October's event are not planning an elaborate march and rally.

"We're doing a different type of thing," Jones said. "Bit by bit, we're making it clear to people that we're absolutely not going to spend millions of dollars on producing a march on Washington."

The rally will be on the west Capitol lawn, the portion of the National Mall closest to the U.S. Capitol building, said Jones.

Jones said organizers are also attempting to get use of the Lincoln Memorial site for an HIV/AIDS action on Saturday, October 10.

"We've had nothing but cooperation from the D.C. police, the Capitol police, and the National Park Service," said Jones. "They are ready for us and can accommodate a march and rally of any size. We are the only people who have thus far requested the use of that area on the 11th."

While Jones doesn't have a formal permit, he said that he does have a time stamp that he has applied, which is how he said the process works.

"That's your proof of when you applied," Jones said. "That's your documentation of where you are in that queue. Ours has been time-stamped. There's nothing before us."

Sergeant Kimberly Schneider, public information officer for the Capitol police, said an application for the demonstration has been submitted, but it hasn't been approved. She said she didn't know if there was anyone in line before the equality march.

Jones, who founded the Names Project and AIDS Memorial Quilt, said he's been through this procedure "many, many, many times."

"This process is not what people think it is," Jones added. "It has to do with freedom of speech. The authorities don't have the right to pick and choose who uses the space. It's first come, first serve to use it."

There are other organizations that have reserved other portions of the Mall for that weekend.

Sheila Gotha, permit assistant for the permits office of the National Park Service, previously confirmed to the B.A.R. that the Million March for God has reserved the Mall for October 10, and a three-day breast cancer event will occupy the Mall and other areas at the same time.

Organizers of the Million March for God could not be reached for comment, and it's unclear if that event is still happening, though Gotha said the office had not received any cancellation notice.

Jones said he's worked around the breast cancer group's events in the past, and "we would do nothing to interfere with what they're doing."

Building action teams

Jones said there's no interest "in producing a march that is a feel good, multimedia extravaganza. We view the march as a vehicle to create and build action teams in all 435 congressional districts, and their sole purpose is to pressure every single member of the House of Representatives to unequivocally support equal protection under the law, as is required by the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution."

Jones said the equality march is also being marketed differently than previous marches on Washington.

"This is being organized from the grassroots," Jones said. He said that he has been "getting thousands of e-mails from people all across the country."

"We had a huge amount of e-mails that have been continuing as a result of the administration's position on DOMA [the Defense of Marriage Act], and I think that it's now abundantly clear the administration and the congressional leadership of the Democratic Party are turning their backs on our community and reneging on their promises," said Jones.

The Obama administration angered gays recently when the Department of Justice filed a brief defending DOMA last week. The brief, which was roundly criticized by LGBT legal groups and others, was filed in connection with a federal lawsuit by a married same-sex couple asking the government to treat them equally with respect to federal protections and benefits. [See story, page 1.]

Jones said that the start point for the march hasn't been determined.

"My goal is to do this for less than $200,000 and, really, the figure in my mind is $150,000, said Jones, who said organizers would not be renting offices or hiring staff. "I have pledged to do everything I can to keep this as cheap as possible, and I'm going to stick to my guns."

Jones said the two biggest expenses would be portable toilets, estimated at $26,000, and the sound system, which he figures will be $50,000.

He said he wants to encourage efforts around the country to try to raise funds locally so that people who might need extra help getting to the march, such as young people, can make it to Washington.

A search on showed that one adult could fly roundtrip from San Francisco to Washington that weekend for $239 on Virgin America. A three-night stay at a Motel 6 in Washington would cost at least $225 per adult.

Jones said money for the march would come from some individual donors, Internet contributions, and probably a couple of small fundraisers.

"I realize that many people are struggling, he said, referring to the depressed economy. "All I really have to say to that is if you want to wait for an economic recovery to gain your rights, you might well be waiting a long time."

As for those helping Jones organize the march, in California, people include Robin McGehee, who was the lead organizer for the Meet in the Middle rally in Fresno last month, and Kip Williams, with One Struggle, One Fight. That group organized a march to Sacramento in March.

Jones also said that it's not known what the HIV/AIDS action will be like, but organizers are hoping to partner with Washington-based HIV/AIDS organizations.

One person who's been calling for an HIV/AIDS component to the weekend is local blogger and AIDS activist Michael Petrelis.

"Instead of bringing a few hundred people to D.C. in October, then leaving town, I have a counterproposal," Petrelis wrote in an e-mail to the B.A.R. "We desperately need an activist group in Washington devoted to actions such as picket lines and press conferences. It is shameful that the Human Rights Campaign and the LGBT community in the capital has been unable to mount any sort of public protest at the Justice Department over the DOMA arguments. ..."

National LGBT groups seem lukewarm over the march plan.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement, "We shouldn't wait until October for a march in Washington to do the critical grassroots organizing that can happen today. As we understand it, the purpose behind the call for a march is to organize grassroots representation from every congressional district in the country and encourage people to organize in their home districts. We encourage such efforts, but believe that organizing doesn't need to wait until October, in fact, it can begin today."

Pamela Brown, national policy director for Marriage Equality USA, told the B.A.R. that the group's focus now is its "Get Engaged" tour. She said that on the tour, which will be completed by the end of July, they'll be asking people if energy should be focused on trying to repeal Proposition 8 – which banned same-sex marriage in California – in November 2010, or whether energy should be used for putting a measure on the ballot in November 2012 and then supporting efforts like the march on Washington.

"Our big goal is we want grassroots feedback on how we move ahead, and this tour will help us do that," said Brown.

For more information on the national march, visit

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