Marching On

As clock ticks down, local and national advocates work on planning, fundraising for Equality March

With the National Equality March less than a month away, the D.C. Host Committee has set a Sept. 22 fundraising goal of $10,000, with major events starting this weekend.

At a committee meeting Wednesday, Sept. 9, a group of about 15 members agreed on the financial goal in addition to two others: 2,200 volunteers and 30 endorsements from local organizations.

The group has not yet started fundraising for the Oct. 10 to 11 march, but the committee’s Sharone Belt says that she’s confident that the group can reach its goal with a fundraising brunch Sept. 20 along with supplemental events in bars.

The group also discussed housing options for the expected influx of out-of-town visitors. Belt says some local residents and a few churches have offered space. In addition, both George Washington University and Howard University have offered space for meetings and workshops.

Still, many in the community have expressed concern about the march. José Gutierrez, a Latino activist in the local GLBT community, says he worries about diverse representation in the planning process and at the march. He attended last Wednesday’s meeting to ensure some diversity.

“I hope the message of equality is strong,” says Gutierrez, “but I’m really, really concerned. … I want us to be equally represented.”

Gutierrez helped to organize the 2000 Millennium March, the board of which, he says, was 30 percent Latino. He also says that the 1993 march had more Spanish-language outreach than the Equality March.

Gutierrez is, however, pleased with some of the planned march’s messaging on issues such as immigration equality and health care reform.

Cleve Jones, a protégé of Harvey Milk’s and the founder of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, who called for the march in June while speaking at a Pride event in Utah, emphasized during a Sept. 14 conference call that there is but one simple message to be associated with the march.

“There is one demand and one demand only,” Jones said, paraphrasing the march’s catchphrase, which reads: “Equal protection for [LGBT] people in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states. Now.”

“We want to be very clear about that,” Jones emphasized. “We really want people to stop settling for these compromises.”

While D.C.’s GLBT residents enjoy a relatively progressive environment when it comes to civil rights, Jones pointed to those locales where state legislatures are unlikely to advance equality as spots where march support is strongest, as well as among young GLBT people who’ve not yet had the opportunity to be part of a national march.

“This is a historic window of opportunity,” Jones said. “It would be foolish and short-sighted not to seize that moment. … Now is the time to push for federal legislation.”

Jones’ tone is very similar to another GLBT-equality campaign launched a month prior to Jones announcing this march. That effort, The Dallas Principles, is a manifesto emphasizing “Now is the time for full civil rights for the LGBT community. No delay. No excuses.”

Lane Hudson, one of the local authors of the principles, a longtime activist and strategist, has endorsed the march.   

“The messaging is very similar,” says Hudson. “We should be demanding full equality now and not taking excuses. … It’s a simple idea: If you don’t ask for it, you’re not going to get it. And the sooner you ask for it, the sooner you’ll get it. We need more people of that opinion.”

Whether or not they will come to Washington is another question. Jones was adamant about not offering a guess about how many people may come to Washington for the march, though he says he’s hopeful all 435 congressional districts will be represented.

“I’m not going to make any estimates, … [but] I think it’s going to be big.”

-Will O’Bryan contributed to this story.

The National Equality March fundraising brunch will be Sunday, Sept. 20, at a private residence in Adams Morgan. Suggested donation is $100. For details, e-mail sharoneforequality@gmail.com or call 301-300-8723. For more D.C. events, visit the D.C. Host Committee on Facebook. For more information about the National Equality March, visit equalityacrossamerica.org.