Marchers In Washington Press For Gay Rights Thirty years after the first gay rights march on Washington, activists took to the streets again Sunday. Their demand: equal protection in all matters governed by civil law, in all 50 states, now. On Saturday night, President Obama spoke to a leading gay-rights group, vowing to, among other things, end the military's "don't ask don't tell" policy. Host Guy Raz reviews the day's events and talks to Cleve Jones, a longtime gay leader and one of the march's key organizers.
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Marchers In Washington Press For Gay Rights

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Marchers In Washington Press For Gay Rights

Marchers In Washington Press For Gay Rights

Marchers In Washington Press For Gay Rights

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Thirty years after the first gay rights march on Washington, activists took to the streets again Sunday. Their demand: equal protection in all matters governed by civil law, in all 50 states, now. On Saturday night, President Obama spoke to a leading gay-rights group, vowing to, among other things, end the military's "don't ask don't tell" policy. Host Guy Raz reviews the day's events and talks to Cleve Jones, a longtime gay leader and one of the march's key organizers.

GUY RAZ, Host:

Unidentified Group: (Chanting) Gay, straight, black, white, same struggle, same fight. Gay, straight, black and white...

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

BRIAN THORNTON: It's crazy. I mean, it's crazy that we're fighting for our rights. And, you know, it's 2009. It's crazy we can't get married if we want to. There was a sign I just saw that said, like, second-class citizens, and I'm like - that's insulting, but it's true in a way, you know? We can't do everything that everybody else can, you know? It's crazy.

ANGELA MENZ: I mean, I spent over 24 years in the military, retired. I put my life on the line for this country. So to tell me I'm just not equal because they don't like who I sleep with, I don't think that's what the Constitution is supposed to be about.

RAZ: The voices of Angela Menz from Bowie, Maryland, and earlier, Brian Thornton from New York - two demonstrators who came from Washington today. Last night, at a gala event for the Human Rights Campaign, one of the biggest gay rights lobbying groups, President Obama acknowledged the criticism he's received from some gay activists who say he hasn't moved fast enough on issues like workplace discrimination and the ban on openly gay men and women serving in the military.

BARACK OBAMA: Progress may be taking longer than you'd like as a result of all that we face, and that's the truth. Do not doubt the direction we are heading and the destination we will reach.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

RAZ: Here's Cleve Jones, co-chair of the rally.

CLEVE JONES: We are trying to change the strategy. We have fought state by state, county by county, city by city, but we remain second-class citizens because the most important rights are federal, not state. So I'm tired of it.

RAZ: Cleve Jones is behind the AIDS Memorial Quilt. As a young man, he was an aide to the gay San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk, who was assassinated in 1978. In the film, "Milk," Jones is portrayed actor Emile Hirsch. For years, Jones had worked on pushing for piecemeal changes to state and local laws: domestic partnerships, anti-discrimination measures, the right to adopt. But he says it's time to focus on the bigger goal.

JONES: I am a pragmatic person, but it's very clear to me that only when large numbers of us demand everything immediately is there any hope of getting anything eventually.

LARRY STICKNEY: That may not be fast enough for the gay lobby, but it's way too fast for the American people.

RAZ: That's Larry Stickney. He runs a group out of Washington state called Protect Marriage Washington. On November 3, voters in that state will consider whether to overturn a law passed by the legislature that granted sweeping civil rights to gays and lesbians. The latest polls in Washington state show a dead heat. And Stickney says gay rights activists, by pursuing a national strategy, are showing their desperation.

STICKNEY: They've lost every major ballot effort that's put to the people. So they're going where they think they can win. And frankly, with the most liberal president in the history of the United States currently sitting in the White House, of course, they're going to run to him.

RAZ: But some gay rights activists argue that local battles, for the time being, are more important, the places where they need to lay the groundwork for an eventual national fight. And so, many have stayed away from today's march.

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