October 14, 1979– The National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights
Harvey Milk dreamed of a gay march on the nation’s Capital and he spoke of it many times before he was murdered in 1978. He believed that gay visibility would lead to the end of discrimination. Inspired by Milk, the first large march for Gay Rights was held on this day in 1979.
The man who would become my husband and I had just started our romance in October 1979 and we were still cautious of being “too out” to the world. A Democrat in the White House, demands for sweeping civil rights protections, religious opponents working to undo a string of state based victories; this was the backdrop in 1979 when Gay Rights activists staged that first national march in Washington DC.
The National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights was the name given to that first such march on the nation’s capital. It drew 200,000 gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people, queers and straight allies to demand Equal Rights and to urge the passage of protective Civil Rights legislation.
The march served to nationalize the Gay Rights Movement, which before, had been focused on local struggles with a few victories. This spirit is invoked in the closing paragraph of the program for the march:
“Today in the capital of America, we are all here, the almost liberated and the slightly repressed; the butch and femme and everything in-between; the androgynous; the monogamous and the promiscuous; the masturbators and the fellators and the tribadists; men in dresses and women in neckties; those who bite and those who cuddle, celibates, diesel dykes and nelly queens; amazons and size queens, Yellow, Black, Brown, White, and Red; the short-haired and the long, the fat and the thin; the nude and the prude, the beauties and the beasts, the studs and the duds, the communes, the couples, and the singles; pubescent and the octogenarians. Yes, we are all here! We are everywhere! Welcome to The March On Washington For Lesbian And Gay Rights!”
The march began at the National Mall, turned left onto Pennsylvania Avenue and proceeded northwest towards The White House. It ended in a rally between The Washington Monument and The Reflecting Pool. It was led by the Salsa Soul Sisters, who carried the official march banner. Speakers at the main rally included: San Francisco Supervisor Harry Britt, writer Allen Ginsberg and his boyfriend Peter Orlovsky, Civil Rights activist Florynce Kennedy, gay Peace activist Morris Kight, out Air Force Sergeant Leonard Matlovich, Feminist Kate Millett, Reverend Troy Perry, NOW president Eleanor Smeal, and Congressman Ted Weiss. DC Mayor Marion Barry gave a welcome to the marchers on behalf of the city.
In addition to the march itself, the organizers offered three days of workshops, artistic events, strategy sessions, focus groups on specific issues for women and minorities within the LGBTQ community, consciousness raising, local organization, religion and other issues. The Monday after the march was organized as a Constituent Lobbying Day, with over 500 participants attempted to contact every member of Congress to express support for Gay Rights legislation. The participants successfully met with 50 senators and 150 house members.
39 years later, with work still to be done, the country does have full Marriage Equality, plenty of talented out and proud celebrities, fully realized gay characters on television series, Queer Eye and World Of Wonder’s always entertaining, Emmy Award-winning RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Yet while we have been reading his tweets, our current POTUS has been quietly nominating anti-LGBTQ judges. It’s perhaps the most successful aspect of his presidency, easily surpassing Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton at this point in their presidencies in terms of the sheer number of judges nominated.
Trump has nominated 47 Federal Circuit Court judges and 54 District Court judges, all of them with strong anti-LGBTQ sentiments and histories. This is far more than Obama’s 10 Circuit Court nominees and eight District Court nominees in his first years of office. Bush had nominated 14 Circuit judges and 32 District judges by this point.
The fetid, mango-hued president and his stooge, Mike Pence, have got more court seats to fill. POTUS inherited 108 court vacancies when he was inaugurated, double the number of vacancies Obama inherited when he took office. We can blame the GOP’s long strategy of denying votes to Obama’s court picks to keep those seats empty for a future GOP president to fill.
If POTUS’s current judicial nominees are a preview of the kinds of judges he plans to nominate if he wins re-election in just three week, get ready for a significant attempt to roll-back the rights of the LGBTQ community.
Confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court will certainly mean an attack on LGBTQ rights and could lead to allowing business, government contractors and even government employees to treat LGBTQ people as second-class citizens. Taxpayer-funded emergency shelters could refuse to place married same-sex couples in family housing, and adoption and foster care agencies could turn their backs on youths in need rather than certify the homes of same-sex couples. And they could gut access to affordable health care for a community that already faces disproportionate obstacles to care. The current administration, religious fanatics and anti-equality crazies support each of these outcomes.