National Equality March organizer Cleve Jones comes to Dallas for Pride weekend to drum up support
CLEVE DOES DALLAS
• Pride Festival at Lee Park, 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Sept. 20 (Jones is tentatively scheduled to speak at 5:30 p.m.), free
• "An Eve with Cleve," sponsored by Equality March Texas and Equality Across America, Buzzbrews Kitchen, 4334 Lemmon Avenue, 8-10 p.m., Sept. 20, free
• North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce Pride Dinner, 5:30 p.m. (champagne reception) and 7 p.m. (dinner), Monday, Sept. 21, Warwick Melrose Hotel, 3015 Oak Lawn Ave. Cost is $125. Register at www.northtexasglbtchamber.org.
• Victory Dallas, fundraiser for National Equality March, 7 p.m. Sept. 22, home of Jeff Barron, 2430 Victory Park Lane, Unit 2509. Cost is $150. Register by calling 214-855-5521 or e-mailing email@example.com.
Cleve Jones wants to recruit you, and he’s coming to Dallas to do it.
The 54-year-old one-time protÃ©gÃ© of murdered gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk will be in town for Pride Weekend to promote the National Equality March in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 10-11.
Jones, a leading LGBT activist who conceived the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt and co-founded the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, said this week during a media conference call that he initially opposed the idea of a national march in 2009 when it was first suggested following last November’s elections, around the same time the biopic "Milk" was released.
But Jones said he changed his mind and became a leading supporter of the National Equality March — announcing the event during an appearance at Salt Lake City’s Pride celebration this June — as a result of his growing disappointment with the Obama administration.
"Every march we’ve ever done has been controversial. It’s enormously difficult to build a consensus in our community, and any sort of bold action often meets with resistance," Jones said during the conference call Monday, Sept. 14. "We are trying to change the strategy. We’re doing this [the march] because we’re tired of the endless state by state, county by county, city by city victories, which even when achieved are incomplete and impermanent.
"It’s our perspective that true equality can only come from decisive, unequivocal action from the United States Congress, the United States Supreme Court, and the president to the United States."
Asked about his trip to Dallas, where the National Equality March has received a tepid response from some LGBT leaders, Jones noted that the event has also gotten its share of support here. As previously reported in Dallas Voice, local activist Mark Reed is a member of the executive committee for the National Equality March, and Laura McFerrin will serve as official historian for the event.
Jones said he regrets that the National Equality March will coincide with the Oct. 11 LifeWalk, one of the largest HIV/AIDS fundraisers of the year in Dallas. But he said his sales pitch during Pride Weekend will be similar to the one he’s been delivering all over the country in recent weeks — one that he says has been attracting "incredible support," particularly among young people.
"I think people are beginning to understand that now is the time to focus on federal action, and that a historic window of opportunity has been opened to us. I think we would be foolish and shortsighted not to seize that moment and to push as hard as possible with every resource that we can muster," Jones said.
"True equality can only come from the federal government," he added. "Many of those who’ve been less than enthusiastic about the march are people who believe that it’s in our best interests to continue to fight incrementally. I think those people are good people who’ve worked very hard to advance our cause, but I respectfully disagree."
Jones noted that even if California voters were to overturn the state’s marriage ban, for example, same-sex couples there would still be second-class citizens because they’re not entitled to federal marriage benefits. Full equality under federal law, Jones said, would put an end to the "endless ping-pong game" of LGBT equality that carries "an enormous expense" for the community.
"We want to really push for the whole ball of wax. We’re tired of the laundry list of individual demands that allow legislators to compromise and prioritize," he said.
"There is one demand and one demand only for the National Equality March, and that is equal protection under the law for LGBT Americans in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states."
Jones added that the National Equality March will cost much less than previous LGBT marches on Washington, only about $200,000, and details of the budget have been made public on the event’s Web site. The march reportedly reached its fundraising goal this week thanks to a $100,000 gift from gay philanthropist Bruce Bastion of Utah.
But Reed, the executive committee member, said organizers are going forward with a fundraiser for the march in Dallas on Tuesday, Sept. 22. Reed said any leftover funds from the march will be used for unanticipated expenses or will go toward Equality Across America, which was established in conjunction with the event to support grassroots organizing in all 435 Congressional Districts.
Jones, meanwhile, rejected criticism that the march will divert resources from other battles, such as the effort to defeat a November ballot initiative that would ban same-sex marriage in Maine.
"Movements that do not grow are destined to fail," Jones said. "We need to build this movement and bring in more people. I reject the idea that there is a limited and finite amount of money available to us at any given point or a limited or finite number of volunteers. The amount of money we’re going to spend on this march, an equal amount of money is spent almost any weekend in any major city on parties."
As for parties in D.C. during the weekend of the march, Jones said, organizers are discouraging them. The first day of the event, Saturday, Oct. 10, will be devoted largely to teach-ins and educational workshops sponsored by various groups, including the Human Rights Campaign, which has endorsed the march.
"We keep telling people this isn’t a circuit party. This is a political march to demand full equality, and I think that will be the tone of the weekend," Jones said. "This isn’t just a feel-good weekend. This is a weekend about the work ahead of us."
Jones said the march itself will begin at noon on Sunday, Oct. 11, and last about two hours, although the exact route has yet to be determined. A rally after the march will take place on the west lawn of the Capitol, where President Obama’s inauguration was held.
Jones said organizers don’t plan to announce the full list of speakers for the march until it’s complete. But he said they’ll include Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP board; Judy Shepard, the mother of gay hate crime victim Matthew Shepard ; former Army Lt. Dan Choi, a leading opponent of "Don’t ask, don’t tell"; and Dustin Lance Black, author of the "Milk" screenplay.
Jones refused to make a prediction about attendance at the march, saying only, "I think it’s going to be big."
Reed, who was instrumental in bringing Jones to Dallas for Pride, said he’s hoping the visit will make the march even bigger.
"My goal is to get as many people excited and motivated to book a ticket and get to Washington, and the second goal is to send Cleve back from Dallas with $15,000 to $25,000," said Reed, who added that he’s personally given away 12 airline vouchers so other local activists can attend the march. "When people hear him talk about the need to shift strategies, and the way he explains it, it makes so much sense. I think there will be a lot of people who will book tickets after they hear him, because he is that persuasive.
"He’s one of our top activists in the country and a powerful speaker, and to have him speak at the festival I think is going to be a really great gift to the community even if they can’t get to D.C.," Reed said.
For more info on the National Equality March, go to http://equalityacrossamerica.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 18, 2009.