Executive committee member Reed, historian McFerrin say Oct. 11 event is gaining momentum after recent endorsement from HRC
Two Dallas residents have taken on major roles with the National Equality March, the gay-rights demonstration planned for Oct. 11 in Washington, D.C..
Mark Reed, 50, is a member of the 10-person executive committee that’s organizing the march, and 33-year-old Laura McFerrin will serve as a historian for the event.
Reed and McFerrin both said this week they feel the National Equality March is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the LGBT community. The march has been criticized by some activists who say there hasn’t been enough time to plan it and that it will divert resources from other battles, such as marriage equality in California, Maine and New Jersey.
But Reed and McFerrin said the march — first announced by Harvey Milk protÃ©gÃ© Cleve Jones in June — is rapidly gaining momentum, particularly following an endorsement from the Human Rights Campaign earlier this month.
"It’s just amazing how the tide is turning, and I think this thing is going to be really big," Reed said by phone this week from Washington, where he was meeting with leaders form other national groups to seek their backing. "If we can come back next week with some really strong additional [endorsements], I think it’s going to catch on fire."
Reed, who co-owns Wiedamark, a lighting company based on Oak Lawn Avenue, said he didn’t become an activist until last year. The son of a Southern Baptist minister, he said he was inspired to attend a gay-rights demonstration outside First Baptist Church of Dallas in response to a sermon by Senior Pastor Robert Jeffress titled, "Gay is Not OK."
"It was a very meaningful day for me, because if I could have impacted just one teenager who crossed that street [into the church] who might be gay, it was worth it," Reed said. "That’s what got me off my couch."
Reed and his longtime partner, Dante Walkup, continued attending protests in Dallas following November’s passage of Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in California. And when they found out about the National Equality March, they immediately booked their flights.
Then, one weekend when Walkup was out of town, Reed spent his time building a personal Web site to promote the National Equality March. Unbeknownst to him, the site became the unofficial online home for the entire event, and he was contacted by one of the lead organizers for the march, who asked him to oversee their Web efforts.
Reflecting on his nine-month journey from non-activist to leader, Reed said as he saw his 50th birthday approaching earlier this year, he began to take stock of things.
"I took time to look at what I’ve done and what I haven’t done, and one of the things I haven’t done is do anything to advance our rights and be active about it, and I decided I was going to make a change," Reed said this week. "Ever since that change in my heart, I’ve just been extremely passionate about it. I can’t believe I’m here in Washington, but I’m having the best time of my life."
Ironically, it was Reed who recruited McFerrin to serve as historian for the National Equality March, after McFerrin had been one of the lead organizers of the rallies outside First Baptist.
"He was joking around saying it was all my fault [that he became an activist]," McFerrin said. "He asked if I would get involved in some way."
McFerrin, who owns Benchmark Legal Media, a video production company in Dallas, said she’ll oversee four volunteer film crews during the march.
In addition to collecting footage for the archives, McFerrin said she plans to produce a documentary called "March On."
The documentary, which is already in the early stages of production, will follow people from across the country who’ve been the victims of anti-LGBT discrimination and will be attending the event.
"I just want to capture this moment in time, because it’s so important," McFerrin said. "I hope it will be a documentary that future generations look at and say, ‘I can’t believe that gays and lesbians were denied all those rights.’
"I’m just trying to do my small part in this big fight, and I’m hoping the stuff I record will educate not only straight people, but also gays and lesbians."
For more information on the National Equality March, go to http://equalityacrossamerica.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 21, 2009.