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Gay rights activists rally in Washington

Thousands take part in US National Equality March

FIERCE ACTIVISM. Thousands rallied in Washington on Oct 11 for the US National Equality March. Credit: Rex Wockner

A clear blue sky greeted the more than an estimated 150,000 people who took part in the US National Equality March in Washington on Oct 11.

Participants carried a colorful array of signs that read, among other things, “Zsa Zsa Gabor had nine husbands legally; I just want one,” “Mr President, what happened to the fierce urgency of now,” “Teabaggers for gay rights” and other slogans as they passed the White House and other landmarks along the 2.2 mile route that ended on the US Capitol’s West Lawn.

“I am absolutely excited to my toes,” Gilbert Baker, who in the 1970s designed what has become the iconic rainbow flag, told Xtra.ca as he marched near Lafayette Park. “This is bigger than I ever dreamed.”

Many of the marchers pointed to President Barack Obama’s announcement at the Human Rights Campaign’s national dinner in Washington the night before, in which Obama said he would repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell during his presidency.

“I’m glad to hear he [Obama] wants to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, but we should be given more than a campaign speech,” said openly gay New York City Council candidate Danny Dromm.

Openly gay and lesbian soldiers who have been discharged under DADT echoed Dromm as they marched through Washington. The Navy discharged Joseph Rocha after he came out in his resignation letter. Rocha has accused his commanding officer and fellow sailors of repeated hazing, physical and emotional abuse while stationed in Bahrain because of his sexual orientation. And he stressed he feels the movement for lesbian, gay, bi and trans rights should continue to work with the White House and lawmakers to ensure Obama fulfills the promise he made to the HRC.

“I will keep working hard with him and Congress to get that [DADT] fully repealed,” said Rocha.

The Army discharged Lt Daniel Choi under DADT earlier this year after he came out on The Rachel Maddow Show. He spoke at the rally while wearing his military uniform and black tape over his mouth. He threw the tape to the ground before he spoke.

“We love our country, even when our country refuses to acknowledge our love,” said Choi. “We continue to defend it and we continue to protect it.”

Others highlighted lawmakers they feel continue to champion lesbian, gay, bi and trans rights.

Actress Cynthia Nixon, who introduced Judy Shepard, applauded New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler for introducing a bill last month that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.

“This is a goal that is both lofty and possible,” she said.

Activist David Mixner drew attention to what he described is the “gay Apartheid,” and he specifically referred back to Obama’s own comments about DADT and other issues.

“The president asked us to help him — and help him we will,” Mixner said.

Barbra Casbar Siperstein, the Democratic National Committee’s first transgender member, poet Stacey Ann Chin, Los Angeles City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl and Lady Gaga were among those who spoke at the rally. But openly lesbian New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn received one of the most enthusiastic applauses of the afternoon when she directly challenged those legislators and others who continue to oppose lesbian, gay, bi and trans rights.

“I want them to look me in the eye and tell me that I am not a real person,” she said. “I want them to look me in the eye and tell me that I do not have a real family. I want them to look me in the eye and tell me I am not an American. Nobody in anyone of those places can tell me otherwise.”

The march did not go without controversy. Openly gay Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank described it as “a waste of time at best.” The Chicago-based Gay Liberation and the Dallas-based Queer Liberaction hoisted a large yellow banner in front of the Capitol that drew attention to an earlier protest against Obama. And someone vandalized the HRC’s downtown Washington offices over the weekend.

Atlanta resident Alan, who declined to give his last name, wore a T-shirt that read “Republicans for equal rights” as he listened to those who spoke at the rally. He criticized Obama for what he described as a lack of action to advance lesbian, gay, bi and trans rights, but Alan was equally as scornful at Republican lawmakers who continue to resist the repeal of DADT, DOMA and other legislation.

“They are all on the wrong side of history,” he said.