WASHINGTON, D.C.—They voted for change when they voted for Obama. Now, the LGBT community is making its growing impatience with the president heard. But calling for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act weren't the only reasons tens of thousands gathered in D.C. to put pressure on Washington. Unlike previous gay rights marches, the National Equality March on Oct. 10 and 11 was largely a grassroots effort, perhaps signaling a change in how the community—specifically the younger generation—will tackle equality issues.
The march met with increasing resistance and doubt from large gay rights organizations, who feared the timing was bad and the energy could be better spent on state-level campaigns for legalizing same-sex unions. Plus, it was a holiday weekend, and Congress wasn’t in session. Still, the young answered Mixner’s call. Grassroots involvement changed the message from marriage equality to full equality as organizing duties fell on individuals and small groups. Kelly Hutton, a UNM graduate student, used Facebook and e-mail to organize a team from Albuquerque to travel to D.C. Facing pessimistic predictions of low turnout by bloggers nationwide, Hutton stressed the impact any number can have. “Grassroots is very important, even when it’s just two people,” she said as she prepared to leave to D.C.
““What do we want? Equality! When do we want it? Yesterday!”
National equality marchers
Diverse subgroups within the LGBT community made a strong showing, such as the Utah Bear Alliance, gay families and drag queens. Straight allies came in support of friends, children and the community as a whole.
The weekend also featured several workshops, events and demonstrations in addition to Sunday’s march and rally. At the last minute, NOH8 Campaign called for a Don't Ask, Don't Tell protest, whose demonstrators wore duct tape over their mouths. Stopping at the White House, they removed their tape, symbolically “breaking their silence.” The protest ended at George Washington University, where organizers credited participants for the turnout. The unscheduled demonstration had gone viral, with supporters forwarding texts and Twitter messages resulting in more than 300 people at the protest.
The weekend’s events culminated in a rally on the east lawn at the Capitol. David Mixner, who called for the march earlier this year, congratulated protesters for the turnout. Cleve Jones, known for his work with Harvey Milk and the AIDS memorial quilt, reinforced the marchers’ demands for full equality. “We are equal in the eyes of God,” he said, “and soon will we be equal in the eyes of the laws in this land.”
Pop singer Lady Gaga took the stage and, like many speakers, chastised the event’s detractors. She singled out openly gay Rep. Barney Frank, who earlier in the week called the march a waste when he said, "The only thing they're going to be putting pressure on is the grass."
Obama’s speech at the HRC dinner was referenced by several speakers. Many of them expressed that they expected more. “I’m sorry,” singer Billie Myers said, addressing the president directly, “but I didn’t like your speech.”