Gay Activists Head To DC To Demand Federal Action
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 Quilt, said 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, Michigan.
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 representatives."