March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation

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Demonstrators in front of the White House 09a.LGBT.MOW.25April1993 (23693190084).jpg
Demonstrators in front of the White House

The March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation was a large political rally that took place in Washington, D.C., on April 25, 1993. Organizers estimated that 1,000,000 attended the March. The D.C. Police Department put the number between 800,000 and more than 1 million, [1] making it one of the largest protests in American history. The National Park Service estimated attendance at 300,000, [2] but their figure attracted so much negative attention that it shortly thereafter stopped issuing attendance estimates for similar events. [1]


Background and planning

Between the 1987 March on Washington and the early 1990s, LGBT people achieved much more mainstream visibility than they ever had in the past. [3] The LGBT community still faced widespread discrimination, through such policies as Don't Ask Don't Tell, Colorado's constitutional amendment (1992) invalidating laws that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and rising instances of LGBT-targeted hate crimes. In this climate, Urvashi Vaid of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force spearheaded the movement for a third LG March. [3]

In January 1991, she sent a letter to LG organizations across the U.S. to garner support for a third march and to invite them to send delegates to a planning meeting on March 9, 1991, in Washington, D.C. No consensus was reached regarding the march's potential date at this meeting, so a second meeting was arranged for the weekend of May 11–12, 1991, again in Washington. [3] This meeting provided the mandate for the march: to rebuild and reinvigorate local and national activists. Additional organizational meetings took place in Chicago (August 1991), Los Angeles (January 1992), Dallas (May 1992), Denver (October 1992) and Washington DC (February 1993). [3]

During the planning the MOW National Steering Committee voted for adding "transgender" to the official title of the march, but the efforts failed because of the lacking two-thirds majority needed for passage [4]

Planning the march took about two years and involved a 12-member executive committee and a 200-plus member steering committee. They used a consensus process to figure out the permitting, the logistics, the networking and fundraising during this time to fully plan the march. [5]

Platform and demands

Demonstrators holding a gay pride flag 57.LGBT.MOW.25April1993 (23710803393).jpg
Demonstrators holding a gay pride flag

March organizers agreed upon seven primary demands, each with further secondary demands. The primary demands were: [6]

Speakers and events

Demonstrators with an "African American Unity" banner 54.LGBT.MOW.25April1993 (24254870761).jpg
Demonstrators with an "African American Unity" banner

In the days surrounding the March, a wide range of events serving different groups within the LGBT community were held in and around Washington, DC. These included historical exhibits, religious services, lobbying events, social gatherings, art exhibits, political workshops, public service events, and candlelight vigils. [7]

The day of the event, the mall, from the Washington Monument to the capitol was packed. Even though over 1 million people were present at the event, park police falsely claimed that only 300,000 people were there. One of the performers, Deidre McCalla said "That is because women and people of color are invisible." [8] The march started around noon, from the White House, moved down to Pennsylvania Avenue, and then scattered onto the Mall near Seventh Street NW. The rally had many young, old, black, white, Latino, and Asian individuals who strode past the White House. [9] Marchers were holding things like rainbow flags, banners, signs, red ribbons and pink triangles. The people were chanting things like "Act Up! Fight Back! Fight AIDS!" along with "End the Ban Now!" and "We're here. We're queer. We're not going away." The mood of the march was peaceful with only five arrests for disorderly conduct. [10]

The day before the march, two demonstrations raised the issue of same-sex marriage. About 1,500 same-sex couples assembled at the National Museum of Natural History with, according to The Washington Post, "a dozen ministers, organ music, photographers and rice". [11] A far smaller gathering of several same-sex couples protested in front of the Internal Revenue Service building and performed a symbolic wedding ceremony titled "an Interfaith Ceremony of Commitment". [12] According to the Chicago Tribune, the demonstration's point was a demand "for full legal recognition of domestic partnerships" for tax purposes. [13]

Some women marched topless while men wore dresses to represent equality between genders. Around 2 p.m, hundreds of marchers performed a seven-minute "die-in" to symbolize the tragedy of AIDS in the LGBTQ+ community. Later that afternoon, Larry Kramer, a gay activist and founder of the Act-Up group, spoke at the rally. He inspired the marcher with his statement, “.. But now, harder than ever; we must act up, fight back and fight aids.” By sunset, large crowds of gay men and lesbians were still gathered in the Mall, listening to speeches and dancing to music. The rally did not end until 7:20 p.m [9]

The March did not attract many counter-protesters, as some anti-gay groups felt that such a response would be counter-productive. The only major counter-protest came from approximately 25 members of a group called Advocate of the U.S., including the group's founder and executive director Eugene Delgaudio. [14] The counter demonstrators signs said things like "God hates f*gs" "F*gs burn in hell" some marchers responded in silence, while other marchers chanted "Shame" over and over again as the counter demonstrators passed. [15]

Speakers and performers at the rally following the march included Indigo Girls, Judith Light, [16] Melissa Etheridge, RuPaul, Nancy Pelosi, Madonna, Martina Navratilova, Ian McKellen, Eartha Kitt, [17] Lani Kaʻahumanu, [18] Urvashi Vaid, [19] Jesse Jackson, and Martha Wash. Lani Kaʻahumanu was the only out bisexual to speak at the rally out of 18 total speakers; she had conceived and led a successful national campaign to have bisexual people included in the title of the march. [20] [21] [22]

Dorothy Hajdys, the mother of Allen R. Schindler Jr, also gave a speech. [23]

Politics of the March

Some speakers and attendees of the march, including playwright Larry Kramer, expressed discontent with the Clinton administration's handling of the AIDS crisis. President Clinton did not attend the march but instead sent a statement of support, which was read by California Representative (and future Speaker of the House) Nancy Pelosi. [14]

See also

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