Cleve Jones raised eyebrows in June when he announced plans to stage a national march in Washington, D.C., in October. But about 200,000 people attended.
Marching for equality: When longtime activist Cleve Jones announced a 2009 gay-rights march on Washington during an appearance at Salt Lake City’s Pride celebration in June, it didn’t seem like a terribly popular idea. Many argued that the community’s time and money would be better spent working toward equality on the local level. They feared the march would be nothing more than a big, expensive party and divert resources from efforts like a November ballot fight over same-sex marriage in Maine.
Others said there wasn’t enough time to plan an effective march, and besides, who in this economy could really afford to go to Washington?
But as the summer wore on, despite resistance from national LGBT groups and some established activists, the march gained steam. After all, a whole new generation of LGBT people — inspired by President Barack Obama’s victory and the passage of Proposition 8 in California — had never participated in a national march.
Jones, a protÃ©gÃ© of gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk, vowed that the march would be an inexpensive, grassroots endeavor, and he noted that in the age of online social networking, it’s possible to mobilize the community very quickly.
Jones argued that it’s time to demand full equality under federal law as an alternative to the piecemeal, city-by-city, state-by-state approach. And he warned that a tremendous window of opportunity in the form of a Democratically dominated Congress might soon close.
At least two Dallas residents took on key roles with the National Equality March. Mark Reed, a successful gay business owner who didn’t become an activist until November 2008, joined the executive committee for the event. And Reed recruited local video production company owner Laura McFerrin to serve as official historian.
McFerrin is now working on a documentary, "March On," about the personal struggles of people from across the country who attended the march.
In September, Reed helped bring Jones to Dallas for Pride, where he spoke at the rally in Lee Park.
Reed and his partner, Dante Walkup, gave airline vouchers to more than a dozen young local activists so they could attend the march, including several from Youth First Texas.
Another Dallas group, Equality March Texas, organized a carpool that traveled more than 2,000 miles round-trip in a single weekend to participate in the event.
Controversy erupted when Reed cancelled the plane ticket he’d given to Queer LiberAction founder Blake Wilkinson, in response to comments critical of the march posted on QL’s Web site.
And the dispute would flare up again when QL’s Wilkinson and Rick Vanderslice confronted and publicly berated Reed, with McFerrin’s camera rolling, at a rally on Cedar Springs a few weeks after the march. Wilkinson eventually received a plane ticket from gay radio host Jack E. Jett, and QL helped organize a protest outside the Human Rights Campaign’s National Dinner on the eve of the march.
The following day, between 100,000 and 200,000 people took to the streets of D.C., marching past the White House and gathering on the front lawn of the Capitol, where they heard from 30 speakers.
"We are equal in every way," Jones told the crowd. "And if you believe we’re equal, then it’s time to act like it. Free people do not accept a prioritization of their rights and compromises. They do not accept delays. And when we hear leaders and those who represent us say, ‘You must wait again,’ we say, ‘No, no, no longer will we wait.’"
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 1, 2010.