Metro Weekly

Incremental Activism: GLAA celebrates 45 years

GLAA reflects on 45 years of working for LGBT rights

Rick Rosendall (left) at 2015 GLAA Awards Reception
Richard J. Rosendall (left) at 2015 GLAA Awards Reception

“In D.C., we’ve been blessed. Maybe there’s more maturity, maybe it’s the kind of people who migrate, here, [but] people want to get something done,” says Richard J. Rosendall.

“In many other cities, they would spend so much time stabbing each other in the back and engaging in internecine warfare, that opportunities were missed,” Rosendall, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA), adds. “But whatever the reason is, we’ve been blessed with people who didn’t just want to go down in flames and feel righteous in the process, but steadily work at something over a period of time. Not because they wanted it to take forever, but because they knew they had to be steadfast and not just demand everything at once.”

It’s that incremental approach that Rosendall credits with helping form working relationships with important allies, including a majority of the D.C. Council, to achieve many of GLAA’s major policy priorities over its 45 years. Those include the successful repeal of D.C.’s sodomy law in 1993, the addition of gender identity and expression to the D.C. Human Rights Act, and the successful passage of marriage equality in 2009 — at a time when only six states had extended full marriage rights to same-sex couples.

“You have to work on it, you have to build relationships, you have to educate people, you have to move the ball forward,” Rosendall says. “It’s hard work, creating and sustaining change.”

The group’s success in forming broad-based coalitions to accomplish its aims also serves as a model for others — particularly those who argue that the gay community, out of expedience, should attempt to separate itself from the lesbian or transgender communities.

“Our opponents, those who want to deny us equality, are not confused about this,” Rosendall says. “They lump us all together. Anyone in any way who does not conform to their notion of gender roles is seen as threatening them.”

As it does every year, GLAA will mark its anniversary celebration by bestowing Distinguished Service Awards on individuals and groups who have helped advance LGBT rights and served the wider LGBT community in the D.C. area. This year’s honorees include Mónica Palacio, director of the D.C. Office of Human Rights (OHR); June Crenshaw, the chair of the Board of the Rainbow Response Coalition, which combats LGBT intimate partner violence, and the recently named interim director of the Wanda Alston Foundation, which provides housing and support for LGBT homeless youth; and Sterling Washington, the former director of the Office of GLBT Affairs under the administration of Mayor Vincent Gray.

“Each of them has stepped up in a variety of ways, and shown their commitment [to the community],” Rosendall says. “And it goes back to the coalition idea. My personal motto is, ‘It’s not all about you.’ … We like to have our anniversary celebrating members of the community and allies for their contributions to advancing our collective interests.”

The Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance will celebrate its 45th Anniversary Reception on Thursday, April 21, at Policy Restaurant and Lounge, 1904 14th St. NW, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $55 per person. To purchase tickets or for more information, visit or contact Richard J. Rosendall at 202-328-6278.

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