What Are We Marching For?

By Robin Tyler

Tuesday, June 8, 1999

My lover woke up this morning and said, "The gay thing is over." I replied, "What do you mean by that?"

We had both read the extensive article in the morning's LA Times about veteran activist Morris Kight and the celebration of Christopher Street West's 29th Annual Gay and Lesbian Pride Celebration.

She said, "You know, gays and lesbians are visible now."

"Does this mean that our community will accept visibility in place of equality?" I asked. I was getting angry.

African Americans have always been visible. Does this mean Rosa Parks should not have moved to the front of the bus? And what are we talking about, visibility? So in New York and San Francisco and Los Angeles, we are visible. But what do Mississippi and Wyoming and all of the vast rural areas of our country have in common with big cities? And in all areas, we have to look over our shoulders, especially those of us who are visible, so that we don't get violently attacked, beaten, or murdered.

So today there was a large and well deserved article on Morris Kight, elder gay activist. But yesterday's article in the LA Times was about how the California Legislature would not pass a bill to protect gay youth. Hey, this is 1999, and this weekend in Los Angeles, 500,000 of us will participate in the Pride Celebration! Hey, we're visible! But, we still cannot protect our youth.

One of the questions regarding the March on Washington has been, "What are we marching for?"

What are we marching for? How about ENDA, so that GLBT people can have the right to hold a job? It is incredulous that we think that states alone will grant us equal rights. We cannot even get a bill passed to protect gay and lesbian youth here in the "grand, out, and homosexually-visible" state of California. Do we think that the states of Mississippi and Alabama and Utah are going to protect our community with regard to jobs? We are marching for the right to get and keep our jobs!

Matthew Shepard was murdered in Wyoming, and yet, even after that horrific murder, GLBT protections were not added to the hate crimes bill in that state. We don't even have the right not to get murdered. We are marching against violence!

A few years ago in Florida, Mary Ward had her child taken away from her by the courts and custody was given to her ex-husband, a convicted murder. The judge said publicly he would rather give the child to a murderer than to a lesbian. Mary Ward died of a heart attack brought on by the stress and pain of her ordeal. Today, in Florida, gays still cannot adopt children. We are marching to keep our children!

James Hormel, finally, and we are grateful, has been named a U.S. Ambassador. This is a great achievement. Thank you Bill Clinton. But, the Œdon't ask, don't tell policy,' a Œcompromise' bill which Barney Frank helped to author, has resulted in more GLBT people being thrown out of the military than ever before! No thank you, Bill Clinton.

So, Barney Frank, when you say public Marches are not necessary, are a waste of time, I happen to strongly disagree with you. This is what gay politicians and organizations have been saying to us since the first national gay and lesbian March on Washington in 1979. You continue to fight the good fight in the suites, Barney. However, many of us will follow the advice of Jesse Jackson, who said to the GLBT community in a speech I attended in Washington last year, "Never, never get off these streets. We must continue our struggle in the streets, as well as in the suites." Jackson was right when he said that pressure must come from within and without. We're marching to keep the pressure on our elected officials!

We have visibility, at least in those states and cities with major GLBT populations. We have pride -- and an industry of "rainbow wear" to support it. What we don't have are equal rights.

A small group of activists in our community believe that gay people should not have the right to serve in the military. After all, the military is part of the "U.S. oppressive capitalist regime." The fact that 90% of our community wants the right to serve their country does not matter to them. The fact that the military is the largest employer of minorities and can guarantee a college education does not matter. I am an anti-war activist. However, Margarethe Cammameyer, Alan Shindler, Keith Mienhold, Leonard Matlovich, and tens of thousands of others wanted to -- and still want to -- serve their country through military service. And I support their right to choose. We're marching so that GLBT people can have equal rights in the way they choose to serve their country!

And despite those who are feeling complacent, AIDS is not over. Not in this country, not in Africa, not in Asia, not anywhere. Most people in this world cannot afford the drugs or have no access them. It is a myth that AIDS has been cured. This disease is one of the greatest crises our community and our society will continue to face into the next century. We're marching because the AIDS crisis is not yet over and neither is the discrimination associated with it!

A small group of activists in our community believe that legal marriage is part of a patriarchal institution that must be eradicated. And yet 90% of our community wants the legal protections, rights and privileges that marriage guarantees. It's not about everybody wanting to get married. It's about having the right to get married. We're marching for those in our community who want full equality under the marriage laws of this country!

So this is Pride Month. And, yes, we are in movies, on television, in newspapers, and have become one of the Œchic' issues of the decade. But visibility can pass in the blink of an eye. Next year the press could decide to focus on some other group. No, pride is not enough. Visibility is not enough. Large lavish dinners are not enough. Having politicians inside the beltway is not enough.

Here's what we demanded in that first March on Washington in 1979:

We do not yet have one of the civil rights that we demanded in 1979.

We're marching to end all social, economic, judicial and legal oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people!

Some people say, "We have held three previous Marches on Washington. How will this March be different?" Well, this time, by a conservative estimate, the GLBT vote comprises between 6% and 7% of the national vote. The Millennium March on Washington is going to continue register our community. And we are going to show up on the streets of Washington next April 30th, six months prior to the presidential and congressional elections (unlike the '93 March, which was held after the national elections) to demonstrate that we are an organized political force to be reckoned with. We will no longer be dependent on pre-election promises. We've learned our lesson. We understand that we are a major political force and we know how to use this power. This is what is different about this March.

Our opposition has convinced some that we are asking for Œspecial rights'. Since when was getting a job, not been murdered, keeping children, serving the country, and legally protecting our partners "special rights"? These are nothing more than basic civil rights. This time, we are politically organized. And this time, we have the power to strongly influence the election. We're marching to the voting booth in November of 2000!

And there's another reason why we're going to march on Washington. The truth is that a significant majority of grassroots activists across the country want the March on Washington. They believe in it. They support it. They are preparing to attend. The objective facts bear this out. The Advocate Magazine's Internet Poll shows 84% of respondents support the Millennium March. The DataLounge Poll shows more than 85% support it. The PlanetOut Survey shows that more than 60% of the LGBT community wants to attend the Millennium March. And in the last four weeks alone more than 5000 people have registered their plans to attend at the MMOW Official Website at www.mmow.org.

Let's put this in context: One group over the past year has collected signatures of 500 people to oppose the March. However, in only the last four weeks alone, over 5000 people have registered to attend the March. We're marching because a significant majority of grassroots activists believe the time and cause are right!

We, one of the strongest group influences on the next election, are going to Washington, DC on April 30, 2000 to demand our full and equal rights, so that the next generation of the GLBT community will not loose their jobs, their children, their families, their homes and their lives. We are marching so that the next generation will not be called faggots or dykes or sissies as we were. We are marching because we have the strength, the determination and self-esteem to believe we deserve full equality, nothing more, nothing less.

That is why the Millennium March on Washington, April 30th, 2000 will be historic. Because we're not content to end with mere visibility and Pride.

We have only just begun.

Robin Tyler, Executive Producer
Millennium March on Washington For Equality April 30, 2000

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