National Equality March
draws 100,000 to DC
by Bob Roehr
About 100,000 LGBT people and their supporters marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to a rally on the west lawn of the Capitol Sunday, October 11. The National Equality March, held on National Coming Out Day, called for action to correct the second-class citizenship of gays.
The march, which was quickly organized on a shoestring budget by mostly younger gay activists, billed itself as a coming out of sorts for the next generation of queer leadership. Some veteran activists, notably AIDS quilt founder Cleve Jones and political activist David Mixner, also had a hand in putting the event together.
"Let us be clear to America, we are looking at a system of gay apartheid," said Mixner, who worked as an adviser to former President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. "One set of laws for LGBT citizens and another set of laws for the rest of America."
"We elected you Mr. President, not to be led by Congress but to lead Congress," he added.
Mixner urged Obama, "Today, in your office, cut off all funding for the prosecution of our soldiers. Tomorrow, when you walk into your Oval Office, issue a 'stop loss' order [which can be used to retain any member of the military whose skills are needed]. And then you will have the moral authority, and we will be behind your back demanding that Congress repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'"
Mixner called upon the senior Democratic leadership to speak out against the anti-gay measures on the ballot November 3 in Maine and Washington state. He said it simply was not right "to allow Americans to vote on our rights, to choose whether we can be free human beings."
He spoke of how so many of those he loved had suffered from homophobia and discrimination.
"All I can think about is how many more tears should be shed so some politicians in a back room can figure out when it is convenient to join us and fight for our freedom," Mixner added.
In addition to Mixner, others also addressed the crowd.
"Justice delayed is justice denied. It is 40 years since Stonewall. How long are we supposed to wait? Nobody should be patient when it comes to the denial of their human rights," said Stuart Applebaum, the first openly gay head of a major labor union. "Mr. President, I know your plate is full, but there are many plates in the White House."
Christine Quinn, the out lesbian speaker of the New York City Council, challenged political leaders everywhere: "Look me in the eye and tell me I am less of a person than you are. Look me in the eye and tell me my family is less than yours. Look me in the eye and tell me I am not an American. Not one of them can do that."
Lieutenant Daniel Choi, an outspoken advocate of repealing DADT, and who was discharged from the Army under the policy, mesmerized the crowd.
"We love our country, even when our country refuses to acknowledge our love," he said. "But we continue to defend it and we continue to protect it. Because love is worth it.
"Asking is over, we will tell. In the face of injustice, patience is not a plan. In the face of discrimination, silence is not a strategy. We will tell," Choi said, saluting the crowd.
Civil rights tradition
African American leader Julian Bond addressed the sometimes-touchy issue of equating gay rights with the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Obama had also made a reference to that during his speech to the Human Rights Campaign the night before the march.
"Are gay rights civil rights?" Bond, chairman of the board of the National Association of Colored People, asked rhetorically. "My answer is, of course they are. ... It isn't special to be free from discrimination; that is an ordinary, universal entitlement of citizenship."
"We people of color ought to be flattered that our movement has provided so much inspiration for others, that it has been so widely imitated, and that our tactics, our methods, our heroes, our heroines, and even our songs have been copied or serve as models for others," Bond said.
Bond concluded, "We know that good things come, and they don't come to those who wait, they come to those who agitate."
Jones encouraged people to take action. His goal for the march, he said before the event, was to engage activists in all 435 congressional districts.
"If you believe that you are equal, then it is time to act like it," Jones said. "A free and equal people do not tolerate prioritization of their rights. They do not accept compromises; they do not accept delays. When we see leaders and those who represent us saying you must wait again, we say, No."
Jones also made reference to Obama's speech at the HRC dinner.
"You heard our president give a beautiful speech, he delivered it well. But he did not answer the question, when," Jones said.
Jones said the issues Obama is facing are not reason to delay on the matter of equality for gays.
"We remember eight years of peace and prosperity under another Democrat, a man named Bill Clinton, who went to our parties, who took our checks, who wrote flowery proclamations and gave some of us some great jobs. And what did we get out of that?" Jones said. "We got 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and the Defense of Marriage Act. We say, no more."
Jones reiterated the goal of organizing in congressional districts. Jones said that Equality Across America and the Courage Campaign, two principle organizations behind the march, "are going to build action teams in all 435 congressional districts. And we are going to say to our president, our Congress, and the leaders of our own organizations – no more compromise, no more delays, we are one country, one Constitution. ... You must go home and make that real."