MICHELE NORRIS, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
A gay and lesbian march on Washington is planned for this weekend. Organizers say they are expecting tens of thousands of people. The demonstration comes at a critical time for issues such as same sex marriage, and it comes in the midst of a debate among gay activists about whether it's the right strategy at the right time.
NPR's Tovia Smith has that story.
TOVIA SMITH: When hundreds of thousands of activists for gay and lesbian rights rallied in Washington, D.C., 30 years ago…
Unidentified Man: You are so gorgeous. So I'm going to marry you all this afternoon. We're going to have a (unintelligible) wedding.
SMITH: Few could have imagined they'd see real gay weddings in their lifetime. But for all the progress made toward gay-rights, this year's march organizer, Kip Williams, says too many battles that were being fought back then are not yet won today.
Mr. KIP WILLIAMS: In some places, we have the right to get married, and in some places, you can be fired for being gay. In some places, you can't. You know, there's sort of a patchwork. But we want equality, and we're not going to accept compromises or fractions of equality.
SMITH: But this weekend's march has been bitterly criticized within the gay community. Old, established organizations and young, new bloggers have been taking organizers to task, as Alex Blaze, who writes for The Bilerico Project Web site, did in this interview with Williams.
Mr. ALEX BLAZE (Writer, The Bilerico Project): 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?
SMITH: Many worry that the march will amount to little more than a big party and will drain resources from critical fights now raging elsewhere, such as the ballot questions that would repeal gay marriage in Maine and overturn domestic partner benefits in Washington state.
Toni Broaddus is head of the Equality Federation, an umbrella for state gay rights groups.
Ms. TONI BROADDUS (Head, Equality Federation): Honestly, the hundreds of thousands of dollars that people will spend for airfare and hotel, et cetera, I…
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. BROADDUS: I would love to see the equivalent of that money going to Washington state or going to Maine because we don't have enough resources to do all the work we need to do as it is.
SMITH: 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 put it: Now that we know it's happening, we need to make sure it looks good.
Representative BARNEY FRANK (Democrat, Massachusetts): I think too many people, frankly, who share my view that this is going to be a waste of time, are afraid to say so because they will be considered insufficiently devoted to the cause.
SMITH: Congressman Barney Frank says rather than chanting broad slogans about equality 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.
Rep. FRANK: The most successful, militant, political organization in America is the National Rifle Association. 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.
SMITH: To many, the discord among gay activists is no surprise in a movement that's just been through a major growth spurt. There are all kinds of underlying tensions: a state strategy versus a federal one, how much focus on gay marriage versus other issues, and who's calling the shots. Bil Browning, founder of The Bilerico Project Web site, says part of the carping at the march stems from the fact that the march was organized by folks outside of mainstream gay-rights organizations.
Mr. BIL BROWNING (Founder, Bilerico Project): You've got these folks that now have the ability to organize themselves on Facebook and on Twitter, through flash mobs. And I think you've got the old guard coming in and meeting the new guard head on. You know, the grassroots wants to go out and block streets. You know, the org says, 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.
SMITH: Ultimately, organizers say, there is 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 some other efforts, like making phone calls and lobbying their representatives.
Tovia Smith, NPR News.
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