Gay Activists Question March On Washington

The March on Washington in D.C. in 1987 i i

In October 1987, some 200,000 lesbian and gay rights activists participated in the March on Washington rally. A fifth gay and lesbian march is slated for this weekend, though there is controversy among activists whether it's the right strategy at the right time. AP hide caption

itoggle caption AP
The March on Washington in D.C. in 1987

In October 1987, some 200,000 lesbian and gay rights activists participated in the March on Washington rally. A fifth gay and lesbian march is slated for this weekend, though there is controversy among activists whether it's the right strategy at the right time.

AP

Organizers are expecting tens of thousands of people in the nation's capital this weekend for what will be the fifth gay and lesbian March on Washington.

The demonstration comes not only at a critical time for many gay issues, but also amid some controversy among LGBT activists about whether a mass march is the right strategy at this time.

When hundreds of thousands of activists for gay and lesbian rights first rallied 30 years ago in Washington, D.C., few imagined that they would see gay marriage legalized anywhere in their lifetime.

But for all the progress gay-rights activists have made, march organizer Kip Williams says there's much more to be done.

"In some places, we have the right to get married. And in some places, you can be fired for being gay. And in some places, you can't," Williams says. "You know, there is sort of a patchwork, but we want full equality, and we're not going to accept compromises or fractions of equality."

Resources Better Spent Elsewhere?

On the flip side, this weekend's march has been bitterly criticized within the gay community.

In a confrontational interview posted online, Alex Blaze, who writes for The Bilerico Project, tells Williams: "I want to be on board, but I can't seem to make that step, because I don't really know what you all are doing this for. Like, what's the point?"

Many worry that the march will amount to little more than a big party and drain resources from critical fights raging elsewhere — such as the ballot questions that would repeal gay marriage in Maine and overturn domestic partner benefits in Washington state.

Toni Broaddus, head of the Equality Federation, an umbrella organization for state gay-rights groups, is among those who think money spent on the march would be better invested elsewhere.

"Honestly, the hundreds of thousands of dollars that people will spend for airfare and hotel, etc. — I would love to see the equivalent of that money going to Washington state or going to Maine," she says. "Because [states] don't have enough resources to do all the work we need to do as it is."

What About 'Old-Fashioned Lobbying'?

But many who spoke out against the march this summer have since toned down their rhetoric and publicly proclaimed their support, albeit somewhat halfheartedly.

As one activist put it, "Now that it's happening, we need to make sure it looks good."

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) is one who thinks critics should not hold back.

"I think too many people, frankly, who share my view that this will be a waste of time are afraid to say so," he says, "because they will be considered insufficiently devoted to the cause."

Frank says rather than chanting broad slogans about equality during a holiday weekend — when most members of Congress won't even be in D.C. — time and energy would be better spent on old-fashioned lobbying for specific legislation.

"The most successful, militant, political organization in America is the NRA," he says. "And they've never had a march, they've never had a shoot-in — they don't do anything other than lobby members. They write, and they call, and they talk to members."

Old Guard Vs. New Guard

To many, the discord among gay activists is no surprise. The movement has just been through a major growth spurt, and tensions abound. Some activists favor a state strategy versus a federal one. They disagree over how much to focus on gay marriage as opposed to other issues. And there are growing strains over who's calling the shots.

Bil Browning, founder of The Bilerico Project, says part of the carping at the march stems from the fact that it was organized by folks outside of mainstream gay-rights organizations.

"You've got these folks who now have the ability to organize themselves on Facebook and on Twitter through flash mobs," Browning says, "And I think you've got the old guard coming in and meeting the new guard head on. The grass-roots wants to go out and block streets. You know, the [established organizations] say, 'No! We've got to go sit with tea and crumpets with Obama in the White House, while we patiently wait for him to actually do something on any piece of LGBT rights.'"

Ultimately, organizers say, there's enough work to be done that it's not an either/or kind of question. Their hope is that those who take to the streets this weekend will return home energized enough to get involved in other efforts, such as making phone calls and lobbying their representatives.

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