The day after President Barack Obama delivered a rousing speech to more 3,000 LGBT supporters at the Human Rights Campaign dinner, gay-rights activists took to the streets of Washington, D.C. with another message: "Equality Across America." The message emblazoned on blue and white banners that stretched as wide as the city streets, were followed by youthful marchers chanting, "L. G. B. T. We demand equality," "Hey hey. Ho, ho. Homophobia has got to go," and "Hey Obama, let mama marry mama." Crowd estimates were between 100,000-200,000 people.
Under nearly clear blue, sunny skies, with temperatures in the high 60s, those who gathered at the Capitol to rally heard a diversity of speakersmore than 30 LGBT elected officials and activists, Black civil rights and religious leaders, comedians, performers, immigrants, artists, among othersarticulate a new vision for the movement.
Speakers included Sex in the City star Cynthia Nixon, who played Miranda in the television series and movie, and Judy Shepard, who became an activist against anti-gay violence after her 21-year-old son, Matthew, was brutally murdered in Laramie, Wyo., in October 1998 because he was gay.
The keynote speaker was Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP. His address connected the fight for gay equality with the Black civil rights movement.
"Black people, of all people, should not oppose equality, and that is what marriage is all about," he told the crowd. "We have a lot of real and serious problems in this country, and same-sex marriage is not one of them. Good things don't come to those who wait, but they come to those who agitate."
All afternoon, the message to the president and members of Congress was unambiguous: No more waiting. No more excuses. Equality. Gay equality. Now.
Many who trekked down Pennsylvania Avenue, past the White House and onto the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol building seemed to belongd to a new generation of college-aged, twenty- and thirtysomething young people. Many seemed to have been inspired to march by the passage of the anti-gay California Proposition 8 last Novemberthe measure that took away marriage equality only five months after it was established.
But while a new generation of LGBT activists and allies turned out to be the prime movers behind 2009 National Equality Marchrelying heavily on Facebook and Twitter to organizeactivists from the Baby Boom generation also played key roles in honing the message.
"We are equal in every way," said Harvey Milk protégé Cleve Jones, a longtime activist from San Francisco and a lead march organizer. "And if you believe we're equal, then it's time to act like it. Free people do not accept a prioritization of their rights and compromises. They do not accept delays. And when we hear leaders and those who represent us say, 'You must wait again,' we say, 'No, no, no longer will we wait."
Bisexual pop singer Lady Gaga, who had been a big hit Saturday night at the Human Rights Campaign dinner, addressed marchers on Sunday, too.
"Obama, I know you are listening," she said, then pausing briefly. "ARE YOU LISTENING?" she screamed. "We will continue to push you and your administration to bring your words of promise to reality."
Marchers stepped off from downtown Washington, D.C., at about noon, with many, but not everyone, arriving at the Capitol rally in time for a speakers program, which began at 2 p.m. C-SPAN broadcast the march and rally live for several hours.
"It would be a mistake to interpret the overall turnout of the march, arguably smaller by comparison across the five total marches the movement has thus far staged, as an indicator that the demonstration was not successful," said Amin Ghaziani, a postdoctoral fellow and lecturer at Princeton University and author of a 2008 book, The Dividends of Dissent: How Conflict and Culture Work in the Lesbian and Gay Marches on Washington. The book is a sociological study and historical assessment of the four previous gay marchesin 1979, 1987, 1993 and 2000.
"We need to look closely at who attended. This march makes clear that a younger generation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth has risen to continue the long struggle for equality," he explained. "The march also illustrates the more active role played by straight allies." And he suggested that, unlike in 2000, when HRC's yellow equal sign was prominent, the dominant symbol at this year's march was the rainbow flaga symbol, he said, of a more community-based drive.
"This is just the first step," said Tanner Efinger, a march organizer who, along with others, said that gaining full equality under civil law in all 50 states requires a coordinated, sustained grassroots movement, including action teams in all 435 congressional districts to persuade elected officials to enact pro-gay legislation. The current state-by-state strategy, said march organizers, is not working, or not working fast enough.
Focusing on federal law, the right to marry and the right to serve in the military were the key goals that speakers hammered throughout the rally.
Lt. Dan Choi, an Iraqi war veteran and Arabic linguist who is fighting his discharge from the Army National Guard, told the gathering, "The right to love is worth fighting for."
The march comes during the 40th-anniversary year of the historic Stonewall Rebellion, a flare-up between police and the patrons of a gay bar in New York City in June 1969. Patrons of the bar fought back against police harassment of gays, inspiring a tremendous growth in the LGBT community and the vigor with which it sought equal treatment under the law.
©2009 Keen News Service