Co-chairs say that next year, they plan to take event, message to a more mainstream area
Now that they’ve proven they can rally the troops in Oak Lawn, the two co-chairs of the Million Gay March said this week they plan to move the event outside Dallas’ gayborhood in 2010.
Daniel Cates and Latisha McDaniel also both said they intend to remain co-chairs of the event, which they hope will become a yearly commemoration of the anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion.
This year’s inaugural March, on Sunday, June 28, marked the 40th anniversary of the rebellion and drew more than 1,000 people despite 100-degree heat.
Cates and McDaniel have said organizers initially considered holding the March outside Oak Lawn. However, with only three months to plan the event, they opted early on for the same route as September’s Pride parade to facilitate approval from the city.
"It’s a logistical thing, but we would really like to find a more mainstream area," Cates said this week. "We got a lot of flack for quote-unquote ‘preaching to the choir,’ and I said, ‘I wish you would have been in our planning meetings, because we actually wanted to go outside of the gay neighborhood.’"
Cates and McDaniel added that they also viewed this year’s March as something of an experiment to determine whether it would be possible to stage such an event in Dallas. The answer, they said, was a resounding yes.
"We definitely want to move it out of the gayborhood," McDaniel said. "I don’t think we need to constantly keep our marches in Oak Lawn, [but] it makes no sense to be marching down the street with 100 people on Greenville Avenue. This was a test run to see if we could mobilize people in our own neighborhood. Twelve hundred people was a good start."
March organizers, who planned a debriefing this week before taking a break for a few months, likely will also consider moving the event to a later time of day to avoid the mid-afternoon heat, Cates said.
Despite the success of the march, which began at 2 p.m., they acknowledged that the heat prevented it from being even larger and prompted some participants to leave Lee Park early.
"We knew it was hot in June," Cates said. "I don’t think any of us were really thinking how hot."
But the fact that so many people turned out in the heat also underscored the community’s enthusiasm, the co-chairs added.
After all, the march was never intended as a celebration, and the somberness of the occasion was only intensified by news of what had happened only a few hours before in Fort Worth.
At 1:30 p.m., organizer Elizabeth Pax stood in the parking lot of Kroger and announced through a megaphone that participants were asked to attend a protest after the March outside the Rainbow Lounge.
Details were still sketchy about the incident involving a police raid of the gay bar in the wee hours. But as the afternoon wore on, the bitter irony came into focus. On a day when the LGBT community gathered in Dallas to commemorate the anniversary of Stonewall, a frighteningly similar scene had unfolded just a few short miles away.
"It was a horrible thing that happened, but it was almost a blessing, because it was more fuel to our fire," said McDaniel, one of dozens of people from Dallas who attended the protest after the march. "It’s helping with that bridge between Dallas and Fort Worth. I’m glad that by being able to announce what happened we were able to increase the numbers over there. We were already hot and sweaty. We might as well drive to Fort Worth and scream a little more."
Moments before the March began, McDaniel stood in the back of a pickup truck in the Kroger parking lot and implored participants not to smile during the trek to Lee Park. "I want you pissed off," she said.
"Hopefully everybody got the point that this was not a Pride, this was a March commemorating Stonewall," McDaniel said later. "And I think the fact that we went on to Fort Worth shows that we were serious about people getting involved and participating. We are serious about when something occurs in our Metroplex, we need to be on top of it. If it happens in Carrollton, if it happens in Frisco, if any incident happens, we need to be there."
After arriving at Lee Park for the post-March rally, participants were repeatedly reminded by speakers about the Fort Worth protest.
The rally was scheduled to extend until 5 p.m., but by 4:30 people like March organizer Erin Moore, president of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, were in their cars headed to Fort Worth.
"I think it fed our march and reminded people of why we do things like that," Moore said later of the Rainbow Lounge raid.
"It was a long day, but we’ll do it day and night if we have to."
Moore added that she believes the March was "extremely successful," but she suggested that in future years the LGBT community should consider a different type of event on the Stonewall anniversary.
"I don’t think there should be a march every year per se, but I think there should be something commemorating that day every year. Hopefully, it will be in air-conditioning next year," Moore said.
"We sort of ignore Pride in June, and I think the Stonewall anniversary shows us that we shouldn’t," Moore said, noting that the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Lawrence v. Texas decision is also in June. "I’m pretty sure it shouldn’t be a march every year. I’m not sure we’ll get that kind of turnout or enthusiasm in 100-degree weather every year."
Moore also said she doesn’t think Dallas’ Stonewall anniversary event should necessarily be held outside the gayborhood. She said she was angered by people who chose to watch the March from bars along the Cedar Springs strip.
"Judging from the number of people who stayed in J.R.’s and didn’t join us, I think the choir needs preaching to," Moore said. "I don’t think it’s segregation, I think our community needs reminders of the struggle that’s to be fought and won."
While Moore called the turnout for the Million Gay March "tremendous," she said its true effectiveness will be judged by the number of LGBT people who remain involved in the coming weeks.
"You can riot and protest and march and get angry all you want, but then what? What do you do to change it?" she said.
"Marching doesn’t change anything. Marches call attention to something."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 3, 2009.