March on Washington Receives Praise, Criticism

In his speech at the Utah Pride Festival on June 7, Grand Marshal Cleve Jones called on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans to march on Washington, D.C. on Oct. 11 to demand federal protections. In doing so, he became the latest gay and transgender rights leader to support plans for a march on the nation’s capitol. And while many people have met this call with excitement, not all gay and transgender leaders agree that it is a good — or even a workable — idea.

Activist Michael Petrelis has criticized the proposed march on his blog the Petrelis Files. While Petrelis did not name Jones, he did criticize other parties who have called for the march — including the Courage Campaign (which produced several controversial internet ads against Proposition 8), San Francisco gay youth leader Kip Johnson and New York City gay leader Corey Johnson —  for deciding on the march’s date and route without asking for the public’s input.

“To recap: We’ve had no open meetings with march organizers, they’ve announced no plans for such meetings, it’s been decided we’re going to DC, the date for it, the route of the parade, our single demand, and how the organizing committee will supposedly be structured,” Petrelis wrote on June 7. “I guess the only thing left for me, and thousands of other LGBT persons, to do is to get our poor asses to DC in October and be ready to act as spear-carriers in the grand opera being planned by our elite leaders.”

Commenters on Petrelis’ blog also expressed concerns that the march route currently being discussed (from Union Station to the Lincoln Memorial) was too long to accommodate thousands of marchers, and whether the Lincoln Memorial would be free on the date marchers wanted.


Since then, Jones has reported that march organizers have secured a permit.

 “We put in a request for the West Lawn of the Capitol, where the Obama inauguration took place, and we got it. Nobody else had applied for it,” Jones told blog Joe. My. God on June 12.  He also noted that he knew the organizers of a breast cancer awareness rally scheduled to be held at the National Mall on the weekend of the march and expected their support.

Jones also said that the march would keep costs to a minimum and have only a stage, sound system and portable toilets for the crowd.

“This will be a two hour march, then a two hour rally, and then sending everybody home to their congressional districts to organize for 2010,” he said.

National organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign and the LGBT Task Force have responded coolly to calls for a march. Joe. My. God. posted the following statement from Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey:

“National marches can certainly have a community-building impact when energized participants return to their hometowns and get involved, but in an economic downturn — when resources are extremely limited for individuals and organizations, and critical work remains to be done locally — focusing on grassroots organizing at home is all the more critical. To make change, to be part of making history, one need go no farther than our own hometowns, our own dinner tables, our own places of worship, our own statehouses.”

The blog also posted a statement from Joe Solmonese, Executive Director of HRC:

“As we understand it, the purpose behind the call for a march is to organize grassroots representation from every congressional district in the country and encourage people to organize in their home districts. We encourage such efforts, but believe that organizing doesn’t need to wait until October, in fact, it can begin today.”

Jones disagreed.

 “It’s just an endless state by state, city by city, county by county battle could go on for decades at enormous cost,” he told Joe. My. God.  “But if we could shift our focus and seize this historic moment and get federal legislation, get [the U.S. Supreme Court on our side], we could end it all at the federal level. People in leadership seem so invested in an incredibly long, local level, deeply impermanent struggle.”

Other organizations praised the planned march, including Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons, a support organization for former and active gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members of the LDS Church. In a statement issued June 18, Affirmation endorsed the 2009 March for Equality.

 “As the largest and oldest organization representing LGBT Mormons, we regret the actions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to attempt to restrict the freedoms, rights, and dignity of gay Americans and to try to impose the religious tenets of one faith upon all citizens,” wrote Affirmation Executive Director David Melson in a letter to organizers. “We feel that we have an obligation to speak out.”

The statement also pledged to help with organization or to provide speakers if organizers so requested. It also noted that Affirmation took part in the 1979 March on Washington.

The 2009 March for Equality’s Web site, nationalequalitymarch.com, consisted of only one page until late this month. On the weekend of June 20, organizers added testimony from a number of prominent gays and lesbians, encouraging Americans to participate in the march.

Lt. Dan Choi, an Arabic translator and Iraq War veteran fired from the U.S. Army under for publicly admitting he is gay, encouraged veterans of all races, orientations and ages to join the march to demand a repeal of the military’s don’t ask don’t tell policy.

“The “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy is immoral. It forces our soldiers to lie and hide for fear of getting fired,” he wrote. “It infects our families, communities, churches, teams and units with the poison of half-truths, deception, fear and terror. No soldier serving our country in harm’s way deserves this crippling poison. Our country and its values are compromised every day this law stays on our books.”

Other posters encouraged people to join the March to fight against the current illegalization of gay marriage in a majority of states and against the Defense of Marriage Act, which allows states not to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states or countries. Gay and transgender rights activists have recently criticized the Obama Administration when the Department of Justice for writing a brief defending DOMA, in which incestuous and child marriages were used to argue against legalizing same-sex marriages.

Self-described “stay at home mother” Jennifer Rinkenberger protested this brief in her contribution to the site.

“It isn’t so hard to understand how the schoolyard verbal abuse of LGBT youth, with taunts of ‘faggot’ or worse persists, when the Department of Justice can legally equivocate incestuous relationships with my twelve-year monogamous relationship without so much as a whimper from the White House,” she wrote.

Jones noted that the time in which such a march could be effective was drawing quickly to a close.

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“It’s so clear that Obama and the Democratic leadership are turning their backs on us. If we don’t go for it now, we’ll get nothing. It’s beginning to smell a lot like Clinton,”  he wrote, referring to former President Bill Clinton’s  signing of DOMA in 1996.

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