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The March on D.C.
2004-10-20

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Thursday, Oct, 14, 2004 marked the 25th Anniversary of the March on Washington, the nation's first for gay and lesbian rights. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force released a compilation of views about the date, and WCT has included a few below.

'The first March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights and Liberation. That event drew 100,000 people to the streets of the District of Columbia on Oct. 14, 1979, at a moment in our community's history vastly different from the one we occupy today. As I thumb through my scrapbook and archives of organizing materials from that effort, and as I listen to the record and the videotapes produced capturing the '79 march, a range of memories and conflicted feelings rush through me. Clearly, the world has changed in our lifetimes.' — Eric Rofes, veteran community organizer.

'What is most memorable to me was the power of being in the company of thousands of gays and lesbians who were passionate about our cause—to be accepted and acknowledged as citizens of our country with all the equal rights and opportunities that we deserve.' — Carole Mayer, New York, NY.

'It was such a wonderful, if not spiritual experience. Even though there was close to a million people, the atmosphere was so welcoming and you felt like one big family. I have never felt such a welcoming experience since. My favorite part was riding the escalator up from the subway and everyone who had already arrived was welcoming those who were on the way. Upon the conclusion of the march, I was motivated to make a difference, happy, yet depressed that I had to leave that wonderful experience. I would have to say that it was the turning point for me in feeling confident who I was as a person. Now that I have children, I would love to have them life-altering experience as the March in Washington was to me.' — Kassie, Ann Arbor, Mich.

'I remember the tide of cars and buses driving to D.C. guiding me better than my inadequate maps to the March. I remember the happiness of being with friends there at the heart of the national government, out in the open. I remember the emptiness of the larger city, our presence unseen except for those who were there with us. I remember thinking how many more of us there were and that we would not be ignored.' — Larry Wolf.

'I was one of the organizers of the March when I was in college, and it introduced me to the national gay community for the first time, working with people who are still out there today making a difference. It was thrilling to look out from the stage and see the sea of people, and know for at least that moment, we were the majority. It was a rude awakening the next day when all of the different newspapers reported varying crowd estimates that were mere fractions of the actual, including one claiming only 14,000 people!!!!' — Rory Gould.

'I attended the 1979 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights as part of the Florida contingent and as a delegate to the first Third World Lesbian and Gay Conference. It was an exhilarating experience just to be part of a worldwide gathering of lesbians and gay men (as well as bisexual, transgender, and heterosexual people) in a city that was, at least for that glorious weekend, 'truly gay.' I also had the pleasure of meeting some of our community's political and cultural greats, including some of my personal heroes.' — Jesse G. Monteagudo.

'I had only just recently graduated from the idea that I was the only man in the world who felt like I did for other men. I now thought maybe there might be a couple hundred guys like me. Then I went to Washington and I was blown away to realize that I was really part of a worldwide brother and sisterhood. I was liberated and I could not be turned back.' — Mike Dittmer.

'We have come so far as a community! The 1979 March was the first time I took a national-level leadership role, and it has shaped my queer, anti-ageism, and anti-prejudice activism in the quarter-century since. Personally, it was one of my big life milestones.' — Loree Cook-Daniels (San Francisco March on Washington co-chair, one of the national youth caucus spokespersons).

'I was awed by the number of folks who attended the 1979 march and such diversity! In order to take in the enormity of the day, rather than taking my place in the procession, I left my friends and parked myself at the corner of 14th and Pennsylvania. Later we were all disappointed that the number of marchers was so underreported.' — Jeffrey Slavin, former Task Force Board member.

'I remember how, that whole weekend, the streets of D.C. seemed to have been taken over by an invasion of lesbians and gay men, and it was the most exciting thing I had ever experienced. And I remember a grand queen from the Los Angeles Marching Band, in full uniform, twirling his baton like there was no tomorrow, flinging it way up into the sky, and catching the damned thing on the way down.' — John D'Emilio - (first director of the Task Force Policy Institute and renowned historian and author).

'OK I wasn't there but I remember seeing the poster for the March on the lesbian bulletin board at the Women's Resource and Action Center at the University of Iowa in Iowa City—my home town to which I had returned after two years of sexual discovery in San Francisco. I'd left SF just before the quake, just before Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone were assassinated, and being home, in Iowa City where I was trying to get through being a college freshman for god's sake in a dorm with two small-town Iowa girls I kid you not but still trying to adjust to being around all these people who knew nothing about being a sex worker and roommates who couldn't imagine having sex with women or goddess forbid anyone who understood pain/pleasure/leather. ' — Melinda Chateauvert, PhD, Washington D.C.

'As I recall, three of us drove from rural, redneck Preble County, Ohio, to go to the March. We loved D.C. and had been there for several anti-war marches in the early '70s. I will NEVER forget walking away from the crowd to head home. And the amplifiers could be heard for blocks and blocks. As we were departing, Meg Christian was singing!!! I was moved to tears to realize that MEG CHRISTIAN, on OUT LESBIAN was singing!!! In Washington, D.C.!!! At a MARCH! For THOUSANDS OF US!!!! It was one of the most thrilling moments of my life. I KNEW we were not alone, but that was the first time that I felt it to the very core of my being!' — Beverly Brubaker, Camden, Ohio.

'The inclusiveness is what I remember best. Meeting new people on the plane who were 'out' during the flight. Our pins, necklaces, etc. showed our common bonds. Once at the staging area I recall the excitement of looking for and finding folk from my own state. The joyfulness of that march stayed with me for weeks afterwards!' — Jackie Grover, Long Beach, Calif.

'I loved every minute of the 1979 lesbian/gay rights march. I learned and have not forgotten the power of a social movement. Without people in the streets nothing really happens. You cannot depend on elected officials and well-meaning liberals, it takes in-your-face demands, principled alliances with others who are left out, and tough leadership that doesn't push for the election of Democrats (or Republicans) to create change. When is the next national march?' — Chris Smith.

'The 1979 March on Washington changed my life, as a gay man, an activist, and a social justice organizer. The work of organizing the march challenged all of us to learn to work across profound racial, class, gender, generational, and political differences. It was intense! Twenty-five years ago, I'm left with gratitude to all the grassroots organizers who worked with zero money and against all odds to pull off this tremendous event. My favorite moment occurred as we were assembling and the D.C. police began to hassle leather guys who had handcuffs displayed. Without being heavy-handed or sex-negative, Sylvia Robinson, a March organizer from Detroit, over the sound system, brilliantly joked, cajoled, and eventually convinced the men to put the cuffs away. One of the million crises of the day was averted!' — Eric Rofes, 1979 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, Co-chair National Policy Committee.

'I framed the poster when I got back and it has hung on my wall ever since. I remember the huge throng of our people just as happy and gay and proud as can be. We took over the streets and felt like we belonged in America.' — Susan Kuhner.

'Four of us stood with thousands others, in front of the IRS building, participating in a marriage ceremony. At that moment it was clear to me that our partnerships and families will never have equal rights until we are all equal under the tax code.' — Dorothy Sander, Fort Lauderdale.

'For the first time since the struggle to even have the word 'transgender' placed in the 1979 March brochure, and to again being left out of the name of the 1987 March, the name of the 1993 March AND the name of the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riot in 1994—in which gender variant people were THE catalyst—the LGBT community will finally be unified against a common enemy: the enemy of hate, closets, unemployment, violence, religious persecution and family ostracism. I was there. I attended all four of the above events and spoke from one of the two stages in 1993. My feeling about us being unified at this 25th anniversary of the 1979 March is this: IT'S ABOUT DAMN TIME!' — Phyllis Frye.

'The '79 march was the most statewide effort in Indiana to that date. Groups from several cities organized a car caravan for an all-night drive. We had a code for the turn signal lights—so many blinks meant 'cute guy or girl to the right or left.' We thought our delegation and our banner would be the biggest, but our small group and one twin-size sheet effort were lost in the crowd. When we lobbied our conservative Congressman's representative, one man in our delegation couldn't stop crying and we were kind of embarrassed. Skipping through the streets of D.C., making new friends everywhere, was one of the most joyful experiences of my life and I met the Gay Community News gang in person after years of reading and writing for it from a distance, and a few months later I moved to Boston to work for GCN, so the '79 March changed the course of my life.' — Maida Tilchen, Somerville, Mass.

'Just this past weekend I was sharing pictures of the first March on Washington with an lgbta gathering. It always re-inspires me to see my 'audience' fill with pride and realize that they can be part of this effort to bring social justice to all of us. Especially now, it is important to remember the importance of standing up even when you think you are a political minority or even a target of oppression.' — Philip Deitch, St. Louis Mo.

'This was the first national march that we had ever been to. It empowered us to become activists, and we have been so ever since. Both of us are now retired, and we are spending our retirement years not playing golf, but traveling around the southeast putting on workshops and seminars about GLBT civil-rights issues—especially equal marriage rights. We are even on a neighborhood billboard (the billboard reads 'we are your neighbors and we are gay,' and includes a photo of Frank & Gary).' — Frank & Gary.

'I had come out in Arizona only eight months before and had just moved to Washington to attend law school. I had no idea what to expect from a 'March on Washington' and I was a little scared. I will never forget the overwhelming feelings of amazement and pride in being there. It was the largest gathering of gay and lesbian people I had ever seen or could even imagine. It inspired me to become an even more vocal and visible activist.' — Lorri L. Jean, former Task Force executive director, currently, CEO of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center.

'In 1979 when the March took place, I was serving in the Peace Corps in a southern African nation, and only saw the pictures printed in such mainstream coverage as Time and Newsweek. Being gay in another culture half the world away when thousands of people like me were marching down the Mall and demanding our rights made me feel even more of an outsider than before—and determined to get more fully into the community when I returned the following year. Those pictures alone did more good than any number of speeches and sit-ins—because they reached so many more people in a safe and silent fashion.' — Rob Ridinger.

'I remember well the 1979 March on Washington. I attended the march as part of a group of gay men who, in 1973, had left urban life and started an intentional community in rural Massachusetts. We carried a sign that said nothing more than this: 'Royalston, Mass., population 973.' Our goal was to make a simple statement that gay people could live openly and proudly in rural communities, thus combating conventional wisdom suggesting that gay men and lesbians could only find happiness and safety in urban gay ghettos. That message is still important today.' — Allen Young.

'I was the emcee and producer of the huge free concert in D.C., the night before the March, and emceed and line produced the main stage of the March. I remember several things vividly: (1) The train across the country, which stopped in cities where we gave speeches to the gay community; (2) The first huge 'huge' community concert at the Sylvan Theater the night before, with an attendance of 10,000! (3) The many mainstage speakers and performers, including Kate Millet, Meg Christian, Rev. Troy Perry, and several who are no longer with us—Alan Ginsberg, Flo Kennedy; (4) The shock that 100,000 people turned out. We absolutely had no idea. But perhaps, the one thing I remember the most, is that not one of the five simple demands we made (right to work, right to keep our children, etc.) has not been met on a federal level. No matter who has been in power, Republicans or Democrats, with all of our marches, and organizations, and lawsuits, we have been unable to see one federal right come to fruition. The great thing that emerged was our pride, or self-esteem, and our visibility. On this 25th Anniversary, the grassroots of our community, needs to get angry and rise up again. Power is never given, it must be taken.' — Robin Tyler, California.

'I was one of the organizers for Delaware's contingent to the March on Washington. It was my lover Jim Welch's first queer march and 25 years later we are still together and it is still a special shared life experience.' — Ivo Dominguez, Jr., former Task Force board member.

'I recall the extraordinary sense of the power of our numbers, the diversity of our kinds, and the joy of our visibility. I also recall remaining in the closet as a bisexual, fearing the disapproval of my queer community. I applaud our progress in inclusiveness in the 25 years since.' — Sharon Page-Medrich, former delegate from Massachusetts (Boston) to the Houston Organizing Conference for the MOW.

'I attended the March with a bus load of Marchers from Baltimore, Md. It was the most wonderful thing I ever did. I also helped plan the Third World Conference of Lesbians and Gays which also the first ever meeting of gay and lesbians of color. It drew LGBTQ people from all over the world and was held at the Harumbee House Hotel on Howard Univ.'s Campus in Washington and delegates from the conference marched down GA Ave to meet the rest of the march.' — Louis L. Hughes, Jr., Baltimore.

'What an amazing array of people—The woman holding the sign (I LOVE MY LESBIAN DAUGHTERS) is the one that really got to me (since my mother would never have considered doing anything like that or sharing those sympathies—just the opposite!) — Wendy Judith Cutler, Portland, Ore.

'In February of 1979 I drove from Boston to Philadelphia with Amy Hoffman, Eric Rofes and Dee Michel for the organizing convention for the first Lesbian & Gay March on Washington. I was 23 years old and excited and overwhelmed and inspired. Eight months later I was driving a truck with Amy on our way to D.C. with the special March edition of GCN [Gay Community News]. The March was of course exciting, exhilarating, frustrating and moving. I think Meg Christian sang 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' and we stood on a hill and everyone cried. When I think of the March I think of it as one of the first (the first?) times our separate gay communities around the country ever really worked on anything together. I remember it as the beginning of a real national lesbian and gay movement.' — Richard D. Burns, New York LGBT Center Executive Director.


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