In 1987 there was a March on Washington to protest Bowers v. Hardwick, in which the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution didn’t guarantee a right to privacy for gays and lesbians. Seventeen years later, the court reversed itself on the 1986 landmark decision and declared all sodomy laws unconstitutional.
In October 1987, I felt compelled to go to Washington to be a part of the protest. So I and a friend, Mark Lamar, took a transcontinental train to Washington, D.C. We had booked no lodging and had just a little money, but we had a lot of courage and gumption, and the knowledge that we would be OK once we got there. And we were.
The following is just a snippet from my journal I kept during that event. A much more detail account of my adventures as a gay activist in D.C. that month was printed in the November 1987 issue of Tryangle Magazine.
“The Ellipse [a circle of ground between the White House and the National Mall] was where everyone was gathering for the march in full view of the White House and the Washington Monument. There was a stage platform in the center of the Ellipse where huge speakers allowed music and Gay empowerment rhetoric to permeate the air. Everywhere you looked there were banners, flags, pennants and signs. Truly a mighty sight indeed. We were like an army with banners. It was absolutely marvelous to see the thousands and thousands and thousands of gays and lesbians assembling for this march.
“The Ellipse was filled with hundreds of thousands of people getting in marching order by regions of the United States. California, New York and Texas were their own region. California’s delegation, I found out later, had an estimated 50,000 marchers alone.
“Colorado, of the Rocky Mountain region, had close to 1,000 people in their group. Utah should have been listed as part of the Rocky Mountain region. However, both Nevada and Utah were left off the program all together! Arizona had nearly 100 people as did New Mexico, which had an impressive flag drill team which twirled their beautiful yellow state flag. We Utahns sandwiched ourselves in between Arizona and New Mexico, with their consent, since we knew many of these people from the Desert and Mountain States conferences.
“These are the 20 people who I saw representing Utah in the March on Washington: John Bennett, Chair of the Gay and Lesbian Community Council, Michael Aaron, David Nelson, Nancy, John, Guy Larsen, and Cory Cozza, all from the Royal Court, Chris Brown, Joe Dewey, Ragnar McCall, his friend Steve, and Val Mansfield all from LGSU [the University of Utah’s Lesbian Gay Student Union], Steve Oldroyd, John Bush, Mark Lamar and myself. Two more gay guys, who I didn’t know, one who was on crutches, and two lesbians later joined us on route because they used to live in Utah.
“There may have been more people who joined us but not much more. Other Utahns who marched under different contingencies were Rev. Bruce Barton, Bruce Harmon and Bob McIntier who all marched with [the Metropolitan Community Church]. Jon Butler and Tony Feliz marched with Affirmation [Gay and Lesbian Mormons]. Then of course there was Mel Baker, formerly of KRCL’s Concerning Gays and Lesbians who was now with the National Planning Committee. Every state in the Union was now represented this time; unlike 1979 when Utah was not represented at all.
“Mark Lamar and I wore our University of Utah sweatshirts, as did most of the Utah contingency who wore some type of sweatshirt with ‘Utah’ emblazoned on it. We were all so excited, so hyped and we managed to acquire a gay rainbow flag, and I managed to snag some posters from the National Anti-Violence Task Force which had ‘Utah’ written on them. So from virtually nothing, we were able to pull together a respectable showing.
“We had no pretty state flags, no large signs or banners, but people were stopping to take pictures of the Utah group. It was like no one could believe that anyone would dare show up from Utah because of the perception that Utah gays are so oppressed that it was a blooming miracle that we were even there. Utahns being in the march meant that gay civil rights could bloom even in the harshest of conditions. As some encouraging soul shouted at us, “Utah — small but proud and brave!” That is how we all felt.
“The march began at noon, led by Whoopie [sic] Goldberg pushing a friend of hers who has AIDS in a wheel chair in front of the People With AIDS delegation. An hour later we still hadn’t moved. The marching order was by geographical regions starting with the Pacific Coast area first so we had to wait for California, Oregon, and Washington. Over loudspeakers we heard that by 1:30 the first marchers had reached the Capitol. We didn’t begin to move until 2 pm.
“We may have had only 20 participants but you would not believe the reactions we were getting from the crowds just because we were there. As we began to file out along the march route all you could see, as far as the eye could see, was a flowing movement of humanity carrying banners, state flags, posters etc. Marching band music filled the air and later chanting “Want do we want?” “Freedom!” “When do we want it?” “Now!” Spectators crowded along the route, hanging from trees, on steps of buildings and everywhere cheering.
“As Utah marched by, we had our spirits lifted by kind souls shouting “Utah! Glad you’re here!” The Arizona contingency before us was chanting “Recall Governor Meacham” so not to be out done; Michael Aaron led us in chanting “We’re sorry about Hatch! We’re sorry about Hatch!” People were laughing with us and saying along the way, “We forgive you!” “It’s not your fault!” “We’re sorry too!” Then Michael came up with a new chant. “We’ll fight, we’ll scratch to get rid of Orrin Hatch!” Steve Oldroyd added this ditty “Right now we’re here Mormon Tabernacle Queers.”
“Eventually Bruce Barton and Bruce Harmon and Bob McIntier joined our Utah procession after the Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches had reached the Capitol, joined by two lesbians so that Nancy didn’t have to be the sole woman marcher.
“We reached the end of the march at the Capitol after two hours. The sheer number of people was overwhelming and we were at the front of the parade! Still behind us was Texas, the Central States, Illinois, New England, New York, the Mid-West, and the South East! It was a long march. I started to hear that a half an [sic] million people were marching. The Metro cops estimated conservatively 650,000. It was phenomenal and indescribable. How does one describe a once in a lifetime experience? I don’t think I have the ability to capture in words the magic, the feeling of unity, pride, excitement of this historic occasion. Dykes, queers, faggots, lesbians, bisexuals, leathermen, sissies, all marching in unity, strength, and numbers to proclaim that we are here and we are not going back in to the closet! It’s our time for freedom and dignity.
“As so many speakers commented “The Constitution is our protection too!” We are part of ‘WE the people.’ Five bigots on the Supreme Court shall [not] take away the freedom of 25 million people. ”
These were the memoirs of a gay Utah activist in 1987.