LGBT Activists Call for March On Washington

This commentary is the opinion of the author and may not necessarily reflect those of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.

Jim Burroway

June 8th, 2009

There has been talk about this for some time now, but it has now hit the Associated Press:

An activist who worked alongside slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk announced plans Sunday for a march on Washington this fall to demand that Congress establish equality and marriage rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Cleve Jones said the march planned for Oct. 11 will coincide with National Coming Out Day and launch a new chapter in the gay rights movement. He made the announcement during a rally at the annual Utah Pride Festival.”We seek nothing more and nothing less than equal protection in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states,” Jones said.

I’m as excited about the prospect of a march as anyone can be. I would really love to go to this. That said however, I must question the wisdom of having a march on Washington this year.

First, there’s the timing. October 11 is Columbus Day. Congress won’t be in session and the President will be out of town. This raises the question: exactly who do we expect to hear us when we march? Who will receive our petitions or issue statements of support? Who will be held accountable before the press? With everyone gone for the holiday weekend, it will be all to easy for our representatives and President to duck responding to this since they will be on break and “unavailable.”

And guess what else will be unavailable? The National Mall. It was already booked for Columbus Day by three groups already expecting 135,000 people altogether. March organizers seemed to have forgotten to check this whopping detail.

Which brings up another question: who is organizing this thing? And how do they intend to pay for it? Calling for a march means that someone has to rent the stage, put up lights and sound, buy insurance, lease thousands of porta-potties, handle first aid services, deal with security, coordinate transportation, pay for publicity… you get the picture. It’s a huge undertaking. So far, there doesn’t seem to be an organized effort to make all of this happen.

As far as I can tell, this is a case of someone saying, hey, let’s meet up in Washington and it’ll all come together magically. Since the Mall’s not available, I recommend the Starbucks at 7th and E Streets Northwest. It’s close by and should be easy to find.

Well it doesn’t come together magically and it will cost a lot of money to pull off. Barely three weeks after the proposed March, Maine will likely be voting on whether they should keep their newly signed same-sex marriage law. Anti-gay activists have already promised to pour all they have into Maine to convince voters to scrap it. At a time when we should be putting all of our resources into Maine to keep that from happening, we will instead be spending a portion of our money for a march on Washington on a day when there won’t be anyone in town and the Mall will be occupied by other people who already have their permits in hand.

It will be a very empowering experience if we do march on Washington, but that experience will be fleeting. No one will be there that needs to hear us, and our money won’t go to Maine where it will be badly needed. And if we lose Maine, it will be nobody’s fault but our own. We need to forget the march for right now and remember Maine.

You don’t know how badly I want to march on Washington. I’m agry about the dithering at the White House and the cowardice in Congress. I want to march in the worst way. But if we go through with this, it will truly be in the worst way.

Update: Oh, and one more thing. You want to know what’s really dumb about this idea? If it goes forward, I can see myself doing everything I can to be there against my better judgment. If they can pull this off — and right now I don’t see how they can — it will be a huge event that I don’t think I’d want to miss. But I do have to ask, with Congress in recess and the President out of town, what would we hope to get out of it besides a huge party?


June 8th, 2009

Change the date then BUT LET US MARCH AND BE HEARD!!!


June 8th, 2009


I concur. I reluctantly went to the Millenium March on Washington because I came out too late for the previous MOW (1993, I believe). I thought it was a bad idea–especially since it was basically a top-down call from HRC and Troy perry (of MCC).

It was an awful bore, poorly-attended (esp. in comparison to the grassroots-led prior march), dis-organized and basically became a marketing tool for HRC.

Here’s a little write-up I wrote for that occasion:


a. mcewen

June 8th, 2009

No more marches. I say we need to build up lgbt communities on a statewide basis, trade resources, and plan. And not in front of cameras.


June 8th, 2009

I have to agree. I would love to be in a march someday, but honestly there are more important things we could be doing.

Timothy Kincaid

June 8th, 2009

With all due respect to Cleve (and he is due much), I have to wonder about his motivation. We will gain little – if anything – from a march that has no direct goal, no measure of accomplishment. I have to suspect that Cleve is simply missing the good ol’ days of street activism and wants to make another show of unity and force.

But with only four months and no indication of how or by whom this will be coordinated, I think it more likely that this will be harmful (“look, them homos could only get a handful to march”).

I’d love to march some time, but we have work to do. This is the wrong effort at the wrong time.


June 8th, 2009

I don’t see what a March on Washington can really accomplish, either.

Also, in this time of economic woes, how many people can actually afford to go? I know I can’t.

I think it’s much more wise to organize within each state.


June 8th, 2009

I believe Grand Marshall Mr. Jones mentioned a march in October at some award ceremony on Saturday night and then again at the rain-soaked Pride festivities on Sunday. I mentioned to my compatriots standing next to me at the parade that October was not going to happen because of conflicts with the NPS and obtaining a permit.

I got drenched when everyone took their umbrellas away.

But, I feel vindicated today. Thanks.

Steve Krotz

June 8th, 2009

I also agree that a march of this magnitude and complexity would be counterproductive and could, in fact, hurt us.

Most importantly though, as Jim pointed out, it would also drain much needed resources from the fight to prevent the hatemongers from overturning Maine’s gay marriage victory. We can’t let that happen!

It’s vitally important that Maine doesn’t become a repeat of California.


June 8th, 2009

I’m facing a furlough-induced pay cut. I don’t have money to go marching in DC. Many of us have had pay cuts or have lost our jobs to layoffs. We don’t need to be spending our precious dollars marching in DC. A coordinated effort in local cities would be more realistic.

Furthermore, I didn’t realize that the call was to hold a march this year. That to me sounds particularly insane in this economic climate. Flights would not be cheap. Hotel accommodations would not be cheap. Corporate deals would likely not materialize because (a) there wasn’t enough time to set them up and (b) corporations are less willing to give sponsorship money in any case because they are hard up.

A march on Washington this year is the wrong idea at the wrong time.

JJ in Chicago

June 8th, 2009

As someone who marched in the March on Washington in April 1993, I can tell you it was a great experience.

However, I don’t think it will accomplish anything now. 1993 was a different story: Colorado’s Amendment 2; pre-DADT; sodomy laws, and so on.

We’re making much better headway than in 1993 and national non-profits (based in San Francisco, New York and DC– I might add) and left-wing bloggers are itching for a showdown with the Obama administration because they don’t think he’s moving fast enough.

Baloney. Let the guy get some points for fixing the economy first.

Then start with ENDA, followed by DADT. Leave DOMA for last, a few years down the road.

Crap, we just had several states legalize marriage equality in the last few months.

This country isn’t San Francisco. Push him too fast and he’ll be a one term president.

Save the money and direct it at your state for local gay rights laws and marriage equality, or civil unions, or domestic partner benefits.

Aim for what’s realistic.

Jason D

June 8th, 2009

we’d do far better to start on the local level with civil disobedience.

Can someone explain to me the point and desired outcome from marches?

Usually a protest is to highlight some injustice that is going unnoticed, or to call attention to one that is not commonly thought of as unjust. This march seems to be tracing the same ground that previous marches have already handled. I fail to see the point, especially under the circumstances.


June 8th, 2009

The point of activism is to be heard. One big march on Washington would take up a lot of time and effort. But what has bee helping lately?

Frequent questioning at the White House press conferences has kept DADT and other gay issues front and center.

Protests at Obama’s speech in Beverly Hills drew attention.

Rachel Maddow’s interviews with those who are being kicked out of the military keeps the issue front and center.

Instead of some big march on Washington, we need a strategy to get gay issues talked about on the evening news, the talk shows, at the White House and Congressional press conferences each and every day. Now that would be activism that would lead somewhere and be far more productive.

Also, politiicans would not be able to be out of town on the one day that we were trying to make ourselves heard.

David C.

June 8th, 2009

Learn from the California Prop 8 experience and:

1) Direct all available resources at prevention of qualification of the anti gay marriage ballot measure in Maine;

2) Should the initiative qualify, capitalize on the in-place messaging and grass roots progress made during the anti-qualification effort to push for defeat of the measure in November.

An unfocused, or poorly organized MOW is an expensive distraction. A march might make sense when Congress is in session in the first half of 2010.

Focus on the issues and places where actual progress can be seen and measured instead of some large “feel good” display that will do little more than spend vast sums of money and effort that should instead be targeted carefully on achievable goals.

We are our own worst enemies when we cant get ourselves solidly behind clear objectives and make solid inroads at the grass-roots level. Waiting to act until the Maine anti-gay-marriage measure is on the ballot, or diluting scarce resources needed to defeat it with an incompletely thought out MOW is not a winning strategy.


June 8th, 2009

I agree with Steve; I think the community’s efforts are best focused on keeping Maine in the marriage equality column. I keep waiting to hear who to give my money to as well as what’s being done already to lay the framework for our (first) victory at the ballot box.


June 8th, 2009

I have to agree with Zach. Maine needs to stay equal and we need to get New Jersey moving ASAP.

Now I would agree that a MOW while congress is in session in 2010 would be worth while. Hopefully the economy would be on the up and unemployment numbers dropping. We would know what little Obama and congress has done for the LGBT and the message would be, Act Now Congress or lose the LGBT vote.


June 9th, 2009

We need to rethink the “traditional” form of a “March On Washington”, the times have changed and technology innovations allow for a much broader national, if not global, outreach that our traditional civil rights leaders could barely dream of!

Imagine if Martin Luther King, Jr. had access to all of the technology we have today? What could he have done with it?

Many of us have the talent and creativity it takes to produce media that can change people’s minds and hearts.

Trying to organize tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands LGBT and their allies is simply not feasible under our current economic conditions.

So, let’s do it on the cheap!

Come out to everyone you know and everyone you interact with on a daily basis. Wear rainbow colored bracelets or pins, everyday, not just during pride or while at pride.

Since you can’t tell a person is gay just by looking at them, per say, then we need to be literally “visible” and “out”.

When someone at works mentions their “husband” or “wife”, I always speak similar about my “husband”. I display pictures of my husband and I on my desk, etc.

Jason D

June 9th, 2009

Eddie, you’ve got the right attitude.

My plan, explained in more depth on my blog (link in my name) is basically that we need to all get ourselves on facebook, twitter, youtube, buy video cameras and start documenting our lives. Thus when the big things come, discrimination, we won’t be novices fumbling for our cameraphones, we’ll be seasoned video professionals documenting how our lives are being affected.
We then share those videos with everyone, and I mean EVERYONE in our lives.
The next step is to, as Rosa Parks did, make a date with discrimination and wait for it to punctually arrive.

Maybe a large group of the DADT discharges could put on their uniforms, and peacefully head over to the pentagon one faithful morning and simply state “sir, we’re reporting for duty, sir”. Imagine that on video!
Or if Kristin Orbin or her partner had caught the nurses discriminating against them on video….that’d be a whole different story.

But most of all, I think we ALL, ALL need to start sharing more with our non-LGBT friends and neighbors. I’ve been posting things to facebook for the last month or so and I get a lot of straight, gay-friendly people with NO IDEA what is going on in the world. They all sprang into action over that facebook “Kill the gays” group last week. Don’t wait for friends and family to ask how you’ve been discriminated against today, just tell them. There was a focus group, Nadine Smith was part of it, that found a lot of straight allies didn’t think we were being discriminated against half as much as we say we are. The reason why? Their gay friends never talk about it! So we need to talk, and not just about our stories, but the stories we read online or see on TV.


June 10th, 2009

Digital Activism“!

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