Local executive committee member Reed hopes for turnout of 200,000
It’s 1:30 in the afternoon on Tuesday, Oct. 6 — less than five days before the start of the National Equality March.
In a cubicle on the ground floor of an office building at 2603 Oak Lawn Ave., Gerson Mendoza is using editing software to touch up a promotional video for the march featuring new LGBT icon Lady Gaga, who’ll speak at the event. Within hours, the video will be posted on the march’s Web site and likely picked up by countless national blogs. Mendoza, a 27-year-old straight Waxahachie native admits he never thought he’d be doing this.
“It’s kind of crazy,” he says.
For the last three months, Mendoza’s worked full time updating and maintaining the site, EqualityAcrossAmercia.org. The assignment stems from his job of the last two years as a Web designer for Wiedamark Lighting, which is co-owned by Mark Reed, a member of the executive committee member of the march.
“I’ve learned a lot as far as the situations they’re going through,” Mendoza said of Reed and his partner, Dante Walkup. “I think this movement is pretty cool. After working on it, I’m really supportive, and I want change to happen.”
In some ways, Mendoza’s role tells the story of this weekend’s event, the fifth major LGBT march on Washington in the last 30 years — and hopefully, according to organizers, the last.
Reed, a 50-year-old Texas native and the son of a Southern Baptist preacher, didn’t become an activist until last November following the passage of Proposition 8 in California. Along with Mendoza, Reed said he’s spent the last three months on “sabbatical” from his successful business, working to organize the march.
“Three or four months ago, there were 10 of us with no money but a vision,” Reed says over lunch at Zaguan, the Latin restaurant across from Wiedamark’s offices and studio. “We had a lot of criticism that we didn’t have enough time or money to organize it. The only way to promote the march was through the Internet, because we didn’t have any money to buy advertising.
“We’ve gone from 10 to about 140 steering committee members, and 35 to 40 events planned for this weekend in D.C. besides the march,” he added. “It’s totally grassroots. We’ve had very little support from the major organizations. We did some serious organizing in a very short timeframe, and we’re very proud of our efforts.”
Reed said he’ll be “tremendously relieved” when the march finally arrives. “I’m so tired,” he said this week.
But he added that he believes it will all be worth it. “It’s gelling,” he said. “It’s coming together.
“We did our planning logistically for 100,000, and we have no idea how many are going to show up,” Reed said. “I believe it’s going to be more than that. I’m hoping 200,000, but it would be wonderful if 400,000 showed up. I think anyone who can get there will get there. Who wants to miss a historic event?”
Thanks to Reed and others, Dallas has played a major role in the march from the outset.
Reed helped bring Harvey Milk protege Cleve Jones, the chief spokesman for the event, to Dallas in September for gay Pride. Among other things, the visit raised $12,400 for the march from a private dinner at the W Hotel.
Reed also recruited lesbian activist Laura McFerrin, who owns a video production company in Dallas, to serve as official historian for the event.
Coincidentally, it was McFerrin who organized the LGBT protests outside First Baptist Church of Dallas last fall that inspired Reed to become an activist.
In addition to recording this weekend’s activities for the official archives, McFerrin will be producing a documentary called “March On.”
“I’ve sent out 10 Flip video cameras to 10 different people in the U.S. — from Seattle to San Francisco to Ohio to New York to Florida to Texas — different people who are willing to be in the documentary who have stories to tell,” McFerrin said this week. “Basically they’re going to document their journey to the march and at the march for me, and then I’m going to be interviewing them and going to their cities after the march.”
McFerrin also will be supervising several film crews that document this weekend’s many activities.
“It’s going to be intense — there’s so much going on,” she said. “We’re not even going to know that the march happened, because we’re going to be so busy.”
McFerrin added that she’s glad Dallas is playing such a big role in the march, ”
because when change does happen, we can know that we were a part of it.”
“I have hopes that something important will happen after this march,” she said. “Whether that’s ENDA or DOMA or ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ I think we’re going to get something, and that will keep the momentum going to our main goal, which is full equality.”
Reed said he’s also given away about 15 airline vouchers to local activists who otherwise couldn’t have afforded to attend the march, including two people from Youth First Texas, the LGBT nonprofit serving people ages 14-22.
“Some of them we haven’t even met,” Reed said of recipients of the vouchers. “We feel very strongly that it’s very important for the younger activists to be there. They’re our future leaders and they need to experience this historic moment.”
A total of six people from Youth First — as well as two chaperones — will be attending the march. The six youth received airline tickets from Reed and others during the North Texas Chamber of Commerce’s Pride Dinner, where Jones spoke.
“I think that this event will honestly be a life-changing experience,” said one of the youth, Victor Rodriguez. “I am hoping that the march will bring a lot of changes to our community at the national level, and we want to let people know that we are here and we are queer and no one or anything will make us go away.”
Others from Dallas who’ll be attending the march include Elizabeth Pax, organizer for Join the Impact, the group that staged a successful rally outside Dallas City Hall last November.
Pax has created a Facebook page (National Equality March — The Texas Contingent) and a Twitter feed (twitter.com/nemtx) for people attending the march from the Lone Star State. She’s organizing a meet-up on Sunday before the event so the contingent can march together.
“I’m keeping everyone in the loop,” Pax said this week. “We want a good presence for Texas.”
Another local LGBT group, Equality March Texas, is planning a carpool from Dallas to D.C. that will leave Friday morning and arrive in D.C. on Saturday morning, according to co-founder Daniel Cates. The Dallas carpool will meet up with groups from Austin and Houston in Knoxville, Tenn., late Friday night.
Cates said the Dallas carpool currently consists of about 10 people and two or three vehicles. They will leave D.C. on Sunday night after the march and arrive back in Dallas on Monday.
“If I had to walk or hitchhike up there, I was going to do it,” Cates said. “It’s just too important of an event to miss.”
Finally, Dallas’ own Queer LiberAction will also take center stage in D.C. this weekend.
The controversial direct action group led by Blake Wilkinson is helping to organize a picket on Saturday night outside the Human Rights Campaign’s National Dinner, where President Obama is scheduled to speak.
The picket was originally scheduled for outside the White House, but was moved earlier this week after Obama was announced as HRC’s keynote speaker. Wilkinson, whose group is co-organizing the picket along with Chicago’s Gay Liberation Network, said he’s expecting a good turnout.
“I’m done hoping,” Wilkinson said. “I’m ready for action. How much longer do we have to wait? Are we going to have another march in another year?”
Wilkinson was among those who’d received airline vouchers from Reed to attend the march. But Reed cancelled Wilkinson’s voucher a few weeks ago due to comments critical of march organizers that were posted on Queer LiberAction’s Web site, QueerLiberAction.org.
Wilkinson declined to further discuss the disagreement with Reed this week, but he said he’s “hugely appreciative” to have later received a plane ticket to D.C. from local gay radio host Jack E. Jett.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 9, 2009.