Thirty years after gay rights activists
staged their first national march in Washington – and coinciding
with National Coming Out Day – activists return this weekend to
demand federal action.
The October 11 event is a call for
congress to act on gay and lesbian legislation, much of which were
debated during the first 1979 march.
“We need congressional action,”
Cleve Jones, long-time gay activist and creator of the AIDS Memorial
in a recent interview.
“If we want the president to expend
political capital on our behalf, we need to demonstrate quite clearly
that we're willing to do that hard work in all 435 congressional
districts,” he said.
Organizers of Sunday's National
Equality March say they are ready to shift the conversation from
winning on the local level to winning on the national level.
“[The National Equality March] is
really about changing the strategy. We have been fighting for 40
years now in a state-by-state, city-by-city, county-by-county
approach. And, you know, its a phase strategy. We say that, you
know, with no disrespect to those of us who have been pursuing that
strategy. … That was a time in our history when limited rights
could only be gained in very limited areas, college towns for example
like Ann Arbor, Michigan and Madison, Wisconsin and liberal cities
like San Francisco and West Hollywood.”
“But we think the public opinion has
really shifted dramatically in our favor. We think for the younger
generation the issue of LGBT rights is really non-controversial. And
we think just the reality of the way our government is structured
requires us to do this.”
Gay activist David Mixner, a former
adviser to President Bill Clinton, first proposed a high-visibility
protest in May amid growing dissatisfaction with President Obama's
handling of several key gay issues. Mixner enlisted Jones, a
devoted gay rights activists who was recruited into the fight by the
late Harvey Milk, in June.
While Obama has yet to accept an
invitation to speak at the march, he will address a group of gay
advocates on Saturday at the Human Rights Campaign's annual
fundraiser in Washington.
Veteran gay activists, bloggers and
even openly gay politicians have criticized the march as a waste of
valuable resources. Resources, they say, desperately needed to stave
off political attacks in Maine, Washington State and Kalamazoo,
Massachusetts Representative Barney
Frank, the nation's most powerful openly gay elected official, called
the march “useless.”
“I literally don't understand how
this will do anything,” Frank said Tuesday on the Michelangelo
Signorile radio show. “People are kidding themselves. I don't
want people patting themselves on the back for doing something that
is useless. Barack Obama does not need the pressure.”
San Francisco-based gay blogger and
activist Michael Petrelis is one the march's most vocal opponents.
After it was announced in August that
the march had dropped plans to include an AIDS vigil, Petrelis, a
person with AIDS, said on his blog: “Cleve's mess on Washington.
It can't even pull off an AIDS event.”
Organizers, however, dismiss these
swipes, insisting this year's march will yield political results.
“This is not a circuit party, this is
an opportunity to focus on equality,” Jones said. “We want to
focus on federal action. We want to leave there energized and
educated about how to do this work and we want to send people home to
all 435 congressional districts to lobby the heck out of their
On the Net: Listen to the entire audio
interview with Cleve Jones at OUTTAKE