D.C. march organizers scrap AIDS vigil
by Seth Hemmelgarn
It appears that a vigil for people living with HIV/AIDS will not be part of October's National March for Equality, as one of the lead organizers told the Bay Area Reporter that no agency could be found to spearhead the event.
When he first called for a march on Washington, D.C. this spring, longtime gay and AIDS activist Cleve Jones told the B.A.R. that march organizers were trying to get use of the Lincoln Memorial site for an HIV/AIDS action on Saturday, October 10, the day before the march. Jones, who is HIV-positive and founded the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, has long been outspoken on HIV/AIDS issues.
But those plans have apparently fallen through.
Kip Williams, who has been helping Jones with organizing the equality march, said this week that the AIDS vigil had to be canceled.
"There were a number of organizations considering taking the lead," Williams wrote in an e-mail. "In the end, no one had the resources or capacity to step up."
With a month and a half to go before the October 11 event, organizers for the National March for Equality in Washington, D.C. are working to finalize plans for what has been a controversial proposal.
The march, planned for National Coming Out Day, has been criticized by some people as an unwise diversion of time and resources as the LGBT community gears up for likely November ballot measures in Maine and Washington state that could repeal same-sex marriage and domestic partnership rights, respectively.
But march proponents are undaunted.
"It's never the wrong time to speak up for your rights," said Williams, an organizer with Equality Across America, which is handling the event.
In terms of the march's budget, it is estimated to cost about $200,000. Of that, there are pledges for $120,000, according to a march spokesman. The Tides Center is expected to serve as the event's fiscal sponsor.
Williams emphasized that there's more to Equality Across America than just the march.
"We don't see this march as a goal," said Williams. "This march is a vehicle to a larger goal. We want to work to bridge the gap between the national organizations and the grassroots community organizers."
Williams said the rally is going to be on the west Capitol lawn and the parade route was still being negotiated.
A Capitol police spokeswoman did not respond to a request for confirmation by press time.
National organizations are divided over the march. The Human Rights Campaign came out in support, while the Equality Federation does not endorse the march.
In response to criticism of the event, Williams said, "We've had a moment thrust upon us by the election of [President Barack] Obama and the spirit of hope and change, and also by the sense of entitlement in the new generation of grassroots organizing..."
He said the community needs new strategies and new messages to build the national movement, "or we're going to risk losing the new energy and activists."
"If we see ourselves as free and equal people, then we need to act like free and equal people," said Williams.
So far, he said last week, the only confirmed speaker organizers have lined up is Julian Bond, board chairman for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"GLBT rights are civil rights; there are no 'special rights' in America. Everyone has rights – or should have – and I am happy to join in this battle for justice and fairness," Bond said in a National Equality March statement.
Before the march
Williams said that for Saturday, October 10, he's been working on lining up a series of trainings and networking groups with national organizations such as HRC and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, although details haven't been finalized.
This could include training on grassroots lobbying, and would allow people to connect with others from their region and congressional district to discuss strategies for when they return home, said Williams.
According to a statement from HRC, it will train participants in starting and carrying out successful in-district lobby visits.
In the statement, HRC President Joe Solmonese referred to the event as an "extraordinary opportunity to capitalize on the energy and commitment of our community and achieve results."
Asked in an e-mail about the Task Force providing training and whether the organization has endorsed the march, Inga Sarda-Sorensen, director of communications, responded that the agency hasn't made a statement "about either endorsing or not endorsing the march."
Although the Equality Across America Web site says it's fiscally sponsored by a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and donations are tax-deductible, questions have arisen about that, including in Internet postings copied on activist Michael Petrelis's blog.
According to the Internal Revenue Service, a 501(c)3 organization can't attempt to "influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities ..."
But among other things, the Equality Across America Web site calls for repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on gays serving openly in the military, and support of the proposed federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
"The Equality Across America Web site points at some particular legislative issues, but that is not the agenda or the demand of the march," said Williams.
He said participants won't be marching for marriage equality, DADT repeal, or ENDA.
"We are marching for full federal equality in all matters governed by civil law," said Williams.
Williams said the group has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Tides Center to be its fiscal sponsor, but while that agreement is being formalized, WhiteKnot.org is acting as the temporary fiscal sponsor.
In an e-mail to the B.A.R., Christine Coleman, Tides Center director of communications, wrote that the organization expects that Equality Across America's transfer to Tides for fiscal sponsorship will happen soon.
She wrote that as a fiscal sponsor, Tides receives charitable donations and grants on behalf of their fiscally sponsored projects and is legally and financially responsible for all project activities.
Petrelis has been pushing for financial information for the October event. A recently released, "working forecasted budget" for the National Equality March shows about $200,000.
March spokesman Loch Powell wrote in an e-mail on Friday, August 21, that organizers had pledges nearing an estimated $120,000.
It's not clear who else might be speaking, though some political leaders are expected to attend.
Jerilyn Goodman, a spokeswoman for openly lesbian Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) wrote in an e-mail that Baldwin is scheduled to be in Washington for the events.
A spokesman for openly gay Congressman Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts) said he didn't know if Frank had heard of the march.
A staffer for openly gay Congressman Jared Polis (D-Colorado) didn't respond to a request for comment by press time.
Williams said in an e-mail that he hadn't spoken to the lawmakers yet, but he hoped to soon.
Jones wrote in an e-mail that Obama has been invited. Shin Inouye, Obama's director of specialty media, referred questions about the march to Brian Bond, who does LGBT outreach for the office of public engagement. Inouye said Bond was on vacation.
In a Washington Blade editorial, Toni Broaddus, executive director of Equality Federation, wrote, "Although we cannot endorse the march, we will not oppose it. This is not the time for a national march. This is the time to be speaking in our own communities, to our elected representatives, to our neighbors and to voters."
She urged people to volunteer in Maine.
"Our ability to defend marriage equality in Maine will have far more ramifications for this struggle for equality than our ability to quickly throw together another march on D.C.," she wrote.
In response to the editorial, Williams emphasized to the B.A.R. , "the importance of the national message and expanding our goals and tactics beyond a handful of rights and a handful of states."
"Although the local and statewide struggles are still extremely important ... it's urgent that we press our national demand for equal protection," said Williams.
Equality California also is urging people to go to Maine and help out in that state.
"We are encouraging people if they have the time and the resources to go out of state three, four, five, [or] six days go to Maine" said EQCA Executive Director Geoff Kors, who said EQCA isn't opposed to the march.
He also urged people to help protect domestic partnerships in Washington, where there also may be a possible repeal on the November ballot.
"But I totally understand why people would want to go to a march on Washington," Kors added.
He said that EQCA had sent $75,000 to Maine last week: $25,000 from the organization and $50,000 from donors.
No one seems to know how many people will show up. Williams wouldn't "put down a number" on how many people are expected to attend the October event.
"A more interesting goal to us than the total number of people there is being able to account for people from every congressional district in the country," said Williams in a phone interview.
Some national participation will involve a caravan.
Chelsea Salem, with the Queer Advocate Brigade, wrote in an e-mail that there are currently seven organizers from four states who are committed to their caravan, but they're planning on 10 to 25 riders.
Salem wrote that riders coming from the West Coast will meet in San Francisco on October 2 for a kick-off rally. From there, they'll be piling into one or two large passenger vans.
Not only is October 11 the day of the march and National Coming Out Day, it's also Jones's birthday.
Asked about the timing, Jones, who will be 55, responded in an e-mail, "No, my birthday has nothing to do with [the] date of the march and suggestions to the contrary are just silly. The date was selected because it is National Coming Out Day, the 30th anniversary of the first March on Washington for LGBT rights and it is a three-day weekend for many, including government employees and students."
For more information, visit www.equalityacrossamerica.org.
Matthew S. Bajko contributed to this report.