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October 11, 2009, marked the day I became an activist.
In the past I've volunteered my efforts and my professional talents to help organize LGBT benefits and events, I've marched in Brooklyn Pride with out lesbian New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn, and I've made it a point to stay up to snuff with politics, news, and happenings within the gay and lesbian community. As a whole, for a 24-year-old living in New York City, I prided myself on being a contributor to our "movement." But what I learned and experienced this weekend at the National Equality March (my first national march or rally -- and first time in D.C.) changed all that.
One of my best friends Will, a gay news blogger, joined me Saturday morning to head from Brooklyn to D.C. by way of the fabulously appointed BoltBus (outlets and WiFi). I was feeling a little sluggish from my Friday night out and Will was groggy due to a nasty cold, but we put on our sunglasses, got coffee and sandwiches, and began the trek south.
Fellow journalist and around-town personality Jesse Archer, who was reporting for OurScene TV, and his husband were seated directly behind me. We chatted and shared our excitement for what was to occur the following day. Four hours and a couple of Facebook updates later we arrived in D.C. Jesse interviewed Will and me about what we expected, who we were excited to hear speak, and other tidbits, like if I was there to find a husband -- to which I responded, "I think I'll be too busy marching for that civil right."
Justin, a friend from high school who is now living in D.C. and finishing up law school, was generous enough to offer his couch to Will and me for our two-night stay. After picking us up, we headed straight to Target (which was a pleasure just as is -- love Target) and I picked up poster board, Sharpies, construction paper, and some glue. Will and I spent some time on the bus thinking up clever sign ideas and we were eager to get cracking on them.
David's D.C. diary continues on the next page...
Will stayed in Saturday night, but Justin, being the ever-gracious host, took me to a slew of D.C. gay bars. So many boys, so many men, so many hotties. Can someone say "kid in a candy store"?
But the high point of the entire evening began with Town, which by far had the longest line for entrance into a club I have ever seen. Now, I'm not usually found at megaclubs, circuit parties, or anything of the like, so the sight of a queue of gays three or four city blocks deep was terrifying. I kept thinking, I'm going to wait out here for two hours, lose my tipsy, and then get to the front only to be denied for some stupid red tape like "at capacity."
But the energy in line was lively, and I randomly found some friends who'd also come down to D.C. from Brooklyn. We all waited together, and after an hour we'd finally made it in. Now, let me tell you that Town was FUN! And there's a reason I didn't offer any of those smutty images to Advocate.com. I have to save some sense of integrity! And after all, this is supposed to be a story on my experience at the march. Let's keep our heads out of the gutter.
Sunday morning came too quickly after my night at Town, but I rallied with a 7-Eleven coffee and Krispy Kreme doughnut. Justin dropped us off at our first sight of the march on 15th and H Street.
David's D.C. diary continues on the next page...
Will and I filed into the masses. The first detail that was undeniable was the weather. It was perfect. A breeze, a bright blue sky, and beautiful sunlight made a perfect backdrop for signs, rainbow flags, drag queens, couples, families, and boys aplenty. Once my overwhelmed eyes began to focus, and not dart left to right and up and down trying to absorb everything, I started noticing the signs. Will and I unfortunately didn't get around to designing those oh-so-clever protest signs. Epic march fail.
I snapped a bunch of photos of my favorites. Seeing "Finally Just Married," "Don't Ask, Don't Talk, Just Do What You Told the Voters You Would," "Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride," and even the simplest "Proud Parent" began to evoke a wave of emotion that filled my eyes with tears. There were hundreds, thousands of people around me. I realized quickly that this massive line of bodies was much more than that. Until that time, I'd never seen so many gay people in one place.
I'm originally from South Carolina. I used to be happy with four or five gay guys at the bar, or a total of 25 in a local chat room. The sheer size of the group that stretched for miles ahead of me reaffirmed everything I'd convinced myself of years ago when coming out. If there are so many beautiful, passionate, capable gay people out of the closet, then being gay is not bad, and shouldn't be hidden. I felt proud to be marching alongside these strangers turned family.
The next thing I couldn't help but take note of were all the chants. Chants started like bubble gum bubbles, beginning small and quietly with one or two people, but rapidly expanding in power until a crescendo and final pop of energy sent the crowd into cheers and whistles. "Obama, Obama, let Momma marry Momma." "L-G-B-T, we are all family, straight, gay, black, white, marriage is a civil right." "Hey hey, ho ho, homophobia's got to go." "What does Democracy look like? This is what Democracy looks like." "What do we want? Equality! When do we want it? NOW!" And my favorite was when a young girl began to sing the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love," and everyone joined together and sang in the streets.
David's D.C. diary continues on the next page...
Will and I walked slowly, most of the time without words but occasionally commenting on a sign, costume, or a hot guy. The dome of the Capitol building slowly grew in size as we marched down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the rally location. I arrived to the Capitol lawn and was taken aback by how beautiful, monstrous, and intimidating the structure is.
The D.C. Gay Men's Chorus sang a somber but beautiful version of Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence," and the march emptied onto the lawn. People began positioning themselves for the speeches. The crowd was beautiful. It was so diverse -- race, age, and even sexual orientation blurred.
I snapped a photo of a man, most likely in his 50s or 60s, who still, after so many years of discrimination, is fighting, representing, and participating. Though I didn't personally thank him, I'd like to take this opportunity to do so. He may not see the day, but through his efforts I will hopefully be able to say that I've been granted universal American equality as a gay man. My future rights are because of him. Thank you, sir! Thank you for fighting our fight!
Another incredible person I met while listening to the rally speeches was fellow South Carolinian (who now resides in DC) Lillian Scott Hollander. I asked her if I could take a photo of her and her sign, and she was happy to oblige. When asked what her sign meant she stated, "I am married to someone incredible, who is willing to go somewhere dangerous and do something amazing. That's why she can't be here today. The least I can do is let my voice be heard in my fight for her to be recognized as my wife." It was yet another person who needed us to be here, stand up and fight, and I was also happy to oblige.
What I most took away from the speeches delivered by David Mixner, Cynthia Nixon, Aiyi'nah Ford, Julian Bond, Cleve Jones, Lady Gaga, and many more changed my view of the entire reason I was there. For one, each and every speaker took multiple moments to thank the thousands of gays and straight allies who had gathered and marched. They made it clear that I, as a sole individual, was appreciated; that I contributed to the success of that day.
What also rang true was that we were not necessarily gathered as an LGBT community asking for rights, but rather that we are humans asking for the same civil rights as every other American. Aiyi'nah Ford eloquently and passionately compared our struggle to those over slavery, school integration, and women's voting rights to drive that point home, and boy did it land! In fact, before I came to the rally I'd always been satisfied with the argument to give gays and lesbians a "civil union," as long as it includes the same rights and government allowances as a marriage.
Thank god for my "aha" moment on Sunday afternoon. I learned that "marriage" is in no way the same as a "civil union" -- or any type of union for that matter. Why must we have one term and one set of rules applied to straight people, and another to gays and lesbians? That isn't equality. By law Americans are supposed to separate church and state, which in theory should mean that a government can use the term "marriage" for its entire population. A church can use it for whoever they deem to be worthy of their religious hoopla. To paraphrase a speaker on Sunday, "If you don't want gay marriage, don't have one! But don't get in the way of mine." I'm not anywhere near marriage, nor do I know if it's necessarily in my future. But what I do know now is that every American, no matter their orientation, race, religion, or other status, should have the opportunity to claim their love and commit in a marriage. Nothing less will be tolerated.
As the rally came to an end, Will and I walked back over the lawn to meet my friend Justin. I was fueled by the words and energy delivered, and motivated to continue my path towards activism. One of the last images I saw at the rally was of a beautiful family. Two men hand in hand, holding their gorgeous baby boy. If there was any reason to justify my attending the National Equality March, this was it. Not only am I fighting for everyone's right to love, but I -- we are fighting for the love of that child. We are fighting so that he and everyone around him grows up knowing that two daddies are as worthy of parenting a family as straight couples who have always been allowed to marry. We are fighting so that love remains love, and equal really means equal.
October 11, 2009, marked the day I became an activist. And activists like me, as so many of those speeches on Sunday afternoon proclaimed, continue to work at home just as furiously as I did on the Capitol lawn. I learned that so many major elements of change are simple yet effective. We have got to vote. We have to look at the candidates on all levels, not just the president; look to your city councils, look to your mayors, your governors, and your senators -- everyone! Call their offices and ask them their opinion on gay and lesbian issues. Educate yourself on who's running our country -- who is making the decisions for us. With that knowledge we can successfully put politicians in office who are on our side.
I also think that youths are key. Youths voted in the first African-American president. Youths have already demonstrated tremendous change, and have the power to continue doing so. Our outreach to them is of the utmost importance, and I'm not just talking about gay youths. I want to spread the lessons of universal love, tolerance, and acceptance to straight youths as well -- to everyone!
There is a lot of road left to travel for the LGBT community in America. But just as we've always done, we will fight. And though I hope and pray our day comes sooner rather than later, I'll have no problem standing on the Capitol lawn 30 years from now, waving my flag, and fighting for the generations to come.
What do we want? Equality. When do we want it? NOW.