Todd A. Heywood, a freelance journalist living in Michigan
and a member of the Center for Independent Journalism is on assigment
to RH Reality Check for the National Equality March in Washington. You can
follow Todd reporting from the march on twitter @rhrealityCheck. Heywood also has
interviews with Cleve Jones as well as HIV activist and author Shawn
Decker and will be cornering many others for interviews on Sunday so
check back regularly to see what the movers and shakers are saying
about gay America and the equality movement.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A crowd estimated to be over 150,000 people strong marched through the streets of Washington D.C. Sunday to demand equality under the law for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.
"We are going to say to our President, to our Congress and to the leaders of our organizations no more compromise. No more delays. We are one country, one Constitution," said Cleve Jones, one of the event organizers. "We continue to love democracy even as we witness the ballot box used to strip us of our rights."
While police and National Park Service officials refused to provide a formal estimate of the crowd, several Capitol Police officers said the crowd was at least 150,000 strong. The group marched from near Layfette Park, past the White House and to Capitol Building. There on the west side of the Capitol they rallied to speeches from Julian Bonds, head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Oscar winning screen writer Dustin Lance Black; pop icon Lady Gaga; Lt. Dan Choi, a former member of the U.S. Military discharged under the policy that prohibits gays from serving openly; actress Cynthia Nixon; and youth and leaders of the LGBT community from across the country.
"I know that there are many things that are worth fighting for," thundered Lt. Dan Choi, who was kicked out of the military after disclosing he was gay during an appearance on the Rachel Maddow Show earlier this year. "But of those things that are worth fighting for: Love is worth fighting for. Love is worth it.
"Choi and other marchers were demanding an end to the military’s 1993 policy dubbed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. That policy, which is backed up with a law, prohibits openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans from serving in the armed forces.
Just hours before the march and rally, President Barack Obama addressed the Human Rights Campaign annual dinner. HRC claims to be the largest LGBT civil rights organization in the country. The event is the group’s largest fundraiser. During his speech, Obama echoed campaign promises when it came to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
"We are moving ahead on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. We should not be punishing patriotic Americans who have stepped forward to serve this country," the President said. "We should be celebrating their willingness to show such courage and selflessness on behalf of their fellow citizens, especially when we’re fighting two wars. We cannot afford to cut from our ranks people with the critical skills we need to fight any more than we can afford — for our military’s integrity — to force those willing to do so into careers encumbered and compromised by having to live a lie. So I’m working with the Pentagon, its leadership, and the members of the House and Senate on ending this policy. Legislation has been introduced in the House to make this happen. I will end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. That’s my commitment to you."
"I joined the military because my country beckoned me," Choi said. "But when we are telling the truth about our love, our country slaps us in the face and orders us don’t ask and orders us don’t tell. Well I am telling you that the era and the time for asking is over. I am not asking anymore I am telling… will you tell with me? Asking is over. We will tell because in the face of injustice and in the face of the discrimination, patience is not a plan."
The event also served as a bitter reminder of the brutal slaying of Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard in 1998. Shepard was kidnapped and taken to a field outside of Laramie Wy, where he was beaten, tied to a fence and left bleeding to death. His mother, Judy Shepard, addressed the crowd.
"Had I still had my wonderful Matt with me, I would be telling that no one has the right to tell my son where and how to worship," Shepard said. "No one has the right tell my son whether or not he can work anywhere, or that he cannot live where ever he wants to live and whether or not he can be with the one person he loves. No one has that right. We are all Americans. We are all equal Americans."
Hate crimes legislation which is pending before the U.S. Senate bears Matthew Shepard’s name, and Judy told the crowd that while President Obama will fulfill his promise to sign hate crimes legislation and other LGBT specific laws, he needed those attending the rallies behind him. She encouraged them to return to their homes and "tell your stories," and become involved.
"Rights for gay and lesbian people are not special rights in anyway," said Julian Bonds, chair of the NAACP. "It isn’t special to be free from discrimination; that is an ordinary, universal entitlement of citizenship."
Bond continued, "When I am asked are gay rights civil rights? I always answer of course they are."
In a sea of humanity, hundreds of rainbow flags could be seen framing handmade picket signs. Some of those signs read "Who would Jesus discriminate against?" "Proud father of two sons, one gay, one straight. They are equal to me," and "Equality Across America." While right wing fanatics such as Fred Phelps and his clan of God hates fags followers had threatened to make an appearance at the march and rally, they were nowhere to be found. Only three people showed up to protest, and they mixed a message of condemnation for homosexuality with anti-choice rhetoric and signs. The three men were surrounded by marchers, and one marcher, using a bull horn lead the crowd in a chant of "hey, hey. ho, ho. Your homophobia has got to go." All three men declined requests for interviews.