This past Sunday, hundreds of thousands of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered people, along side with our straight allies marched from the White House to the steps of the Capitol to demand full equality.
There were signs and chants and banners aplenty. But there was a central theme throughout the day along the two mile parade route and during the three plus hours of the rally on the west lawn of the Capitol – a theme emboldened by the 14th Amendment to our Constitution – equal protection under the law.
The weekend kicked off in earnest the night before with the Human Rights Campaign’s annual black tie dinner. What made this dinner different from years past was that President Obama was to speak before the gathered masses – a first for a sitting president. Unfortunately, he missed two great opportunities to show the GLBT community his commitment to our movement.
The most glaring was topic was Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The President says that we are moving ahead on DADT, but offered no timeline. He offered no act of good faith by halting the dismissal of hundreds of military personnel until DADT can be legislatively dealt with.
Oh, the President gave a rabble-rousing speech to the 3000 gathered who were mostly supporters. The Politico’s Josh Gerstein said that “Obama wowed a crowd of gay rights activists… but he offered no new commitments to assuage concerns that he has given a low priority to issues critical to the gay and lesbian community.”
Indeed! He calmed their concerns with platitudes of full equality to come. He said that he’s here with us in our fight, but offered no details or strategies of getting Congress to act.
He said he could not ask us to be patient any more than it was for others to counsel patience to African-Americans petitioning for equal rights half a century ago. Yet in the next breath, after the applause died down, he did just that.
And so the next day we marched!
We met up in numerous groups near McPherson Square, the start of the parade route. We marched, and chanted, and thrusted homemade signs into the perfect autumn afternoon air. We took pictures, and met new friends traveled from Detroit, Long Island, Florida, and other places around the country.
It was an absolute total success in the fact that despite all the detractors, from Congressman Barney Frank all the way down to some of the national groups, people showed up. Of course, National Park Service no longer gives out “official estimates,” but from pictures and video of the event, it looked to be over 200,000 people.
Now comes the next step. If everyone who attended the march over the weekend goes back to their states, their cities their communities and get involved, then, and only then will we start to make a difference. When we start passing ENDA and anti-housing discrimination laws locally, we make a difference. When we say to companies, if you want a tax break to come into our city, you need to have non-discrimination practices within your company, then we make a difference.
The National Equality March was just the beginning of what needs to be done. But I am hopeful. Changing hearts and minds is not going to be an easy task, but it is one that will prevail. One at a time.