On October 11, over 150,000 people joined the National Equality March in Washington, D.C. to demand full equality under the law for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people nationwide. It was the largest demonstration for LGBT rights in over a decade, and according to veteran gay rights activist David Mixner, it represented the coming of age of the gay and lesbian civil rights movement.
The organization of the march almost entirely bypassed the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and most other mainstream LGBT rights organizations. Instead, it was organized from the grassroots in less than four months on a shoestring budget of $200,000, largely by a new generation of activists. Commentators noted that the average age of the marchers, as well as the organizers, was under 30.
The march reflects the growing frustration in the LGBT community at their continued persecution and the failure of the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress to make any real progress on LGBT rights. Instead, those politicians call for patience.
Congressman Barney Frank, the highest-ranking openly gay elected official, said the march was “a waste of time at best.” He insisted that the best way to get equality is through lobbying Congress and electing more Democrats.
Splits in the Movement
Franks message wasnt much different from that of the HRC, who held a black-tie dinner the night before the march, at which President Obama spoke. Despite formally endorsing the National Equality March, HRC refused to significantly support organizers building for the event.
HRC instead echoed the call for patience. Joe Solmonese, head of the HRC, said in a memo to supporters days before the march, It’s not January 19, 2017. He went on to say that its unfair to judge the Obama administration until the end of its second term, and criticized those who push earlier as not understanding that “to do the work, we have to work with our supporters in Congress and with the Administration.”
What differentiates the people on the streets on October 11 from the Human Rights Campaign is a refusal to compromise. They refuse to accept anything less than full equal rights, and their strategy is one of mass action and exposing the inaction of the political establishment.
They understand that it is their lives on the line – their jobs, their homes, their physical and mental health – and that waiting is no longer an option. Many LGBT rights activists see no reason for patience now that Democrats control the Senate, House and Presidency.
As Cleve Jones, co-chairman of the march and founder of the Names Project, the AIDS memorial quilt, said in his speech at the march, A free and equal people…do not accept compromises. They do not accept delays. And when we see leaders and those who represent us saying “You must wait again,” we say “No! No! No longer will we wait!
Though Rep. Frank insisted no one would be pressured by the demonstration, on the week of the march alone, national attention has been focused on the LGBT rights community. Just days before the march, the House of Representatives passed hate crimes legislation that would make discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation illegal. And Obama, in his speech to the HRC, again promised to end the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy barring openly gay people from serving in the military.
But as Aditi Kaushik, a member of Socialist Alternative, told the crowd at a solidarity demonstration on October 11 in Seattle: Yesterday, Obama pledged to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, but without setting any timetable for actually repealing it. The way to get results is not by waiting around for the corporate Democratic Party to deliver, but by taking to the streets, demanding full equality now.”
Marriage rights, while not the full focus of the march, are important to understand. Beyond just being a ceremony, marriage would provide economic and civil rights related to housing, health care, and credit. Full LGBT rights would include, but not stop at, marriage.
The struggle for equality must be tied to the fight for jobs, education, health care and peace in order to counter the right-wing propaganda about special rights. Activists need to seize this moment to build further mass actions, linking up with the wider movements of workers and the oppressed, demanding nothing less than full legal equality for the LGBT community.