Coming down from the National Equality March in October, David Valk is hard-pressed to say how it felt helping to organize the historic event. After leading the charge in California for several rallies and protests following the passing of Proposition 8 in 2008, Valk took his job as national student outreach coordinator for the march very seriously, and for most of the weekend he didn’t have much time to think about anything but the task before him.
“It was very much a practical matter—about getting the job done, getting more students to D.C. I didn’t really stop to think about the impact of what we were doing.”
Then Valk met Judy Shepard.
“I knew the story of Matthew—when I saw that she was there I wanted to say hello,” he says. “I went up to her and said, ‘Hello, Mrs. Shepard, my name is David Valk, and I just wanted to thank you so much for everything you continue to do.’ Before I could finish the sentence, I started to cry. I don’t cry, but I was so caught up in getting the job done and making sure the flash protests happened. It finally hit me that what we were doing was very, very big.”
Huge, in fact. Valk managed to organize more than 1,000 people for a flash protest—the location and time of which were announced by text and Twitter just an hour before the event. Photos of Valk and company with duct tape over their mouths and the Washington Monument in the background have become a symbol of the march, and nearly everyone involved in planning the weekend’s events agrees it was the youth turnout that made the National Equality March a success.
“There are these kids who think, I can’t believe this would happen… that [news crews] would care. And I’m thinking, Of course this would happen. If you and 999 of your friends show up to one place and put duct tape over your faces, people are going to want to know what’s going on.”
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One day before the march, students at Washington, D.C.’s Gallaudet University get all the details.
After Tweeting the location of a flash protest against “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Valk encourages George Washington University students to attend the event at the Washington Monument.
The Washington Monument at 3:15 p.m.; the same spot at 3:50 p.m. as the flash protest takes shape.
Demonstrators make a point outside the White House.
A couple embrace at the Washington Monument during a silent protest.
A march through Washington, D.C., against “don’t ask, don’t tell.
A CNN news crew interviews Valk at the DADT flash protest.
Valk relaxes with boyfriend Nick Piñeiro after a nonstop day of organizing and protesting.