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Gay marches bring movement to forefront of new century

By Michael Grantham

Over the next year and a half, the LGBT community will be preparing for two of the broadest displays of civic awareness and determination. Through the 50 States March and the Millennium March, LGBTs from across the country will gather on Main Street America and the nation's capitol to stand for fairness and equality.

With the 50 States March now scheduled for spring 1999 and the Millennium March in the spring of 2000, a unified momentum toward mass visibility on key civil rights issues is beginning to take shape.

A recent call for the 50 States March on the grassroots level by the Federation of States, co-chaired by Dianne Hardy-Garcia of the Lesbian and Gay Rights Lobby of Texas and Paula Ettelbrick of New York's Empire State Pride Agenda, has challenged state groups to become more viable players in local organizing.

A national call by the Human Rights Campaign and the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in February for the Millennium March brought into question the allocation of community resources.

To resolve this, organizers of both events are now working together to involve contributions from national organizations that support both marches. National LGBT leaders are gearing up for a new century approach to a balanced grassroots and national agenda.

The National Mall in Washington, DC is the proposed site for the Millennium March in April 2000 and has played host to some of our country's most powerful movements. Images of MLK and the Promise Keepers are now historic icons for the nation's most powerful century.

LGBT marches in 1979, 1987 and 1993 provided life changes bringing LGBT America out of the closet. Grassroots initiatives against rising opposition transferred the visible strength of a national movement into proactive action in all levels of government.

Main Street America is the proposed site for the 50 States March and has hosted smaller scale Pride events annually. With the amazing work local Pride committees continue to put into making these events all-inclusive, 1999 will be better than ever for local state marches.

Many activists embrace the challenge to become more organized as long over due. The goal of making close to 50 marches reverberate within the American consciousness requires state groups to reach beyond single-city politics. For most, the idea of having a presence in other state population centers will be a challenge of leadership.

Ideally, both marches will focus communities and law makers on America's overall belief in fairness and equality. Both of these events are responses to a troubling national agenda opposing civil rights for LGBTs.

Since the 1993 March on Washington, Americans have witnessed legislative attacks threatening to place civil rights on the defense. For religious political extremists, keeping the power of the LGBT movement isolated and in a reactionary position is a victory couched in "divide and conquer."

As one of the strongest elements of a broader civil rights movement, LGBTs are specifically targeted by mean-spirited legislation on all levels of government. A general assault is also being waged on our coalition partners.

These assaults are often enabled by our own community's avoidable failure in our actions and language to capture the imagination and spirit of progress. In general, a lack of grace has always lent our opposition the opportunity to simply yield to our own undoing.

Both marches will marry halves of our movement already reflected in the structure of democracy that unites the states into one great nation. Over the next few months, grassroots and national groups will bring the maturation of our movement to the forefront of American politics.

As our national leaders converge for our birth into the new century, we must all yield to what may seem like painful contractions. After all is said and done, we will reflect on one of the greatest initiations a movement could ever experience.

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Michael Grantham is a consultant living in Washington, DC. michael.grantham@hrc.org.


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