Prior to the march last fall, McGehee and Williams asked Yandura and Lewis for $25,000 to initiate a program to help get college students involved with the planned rally on the National Mall. Their plea was simple: The gay rights movement had lost its focus since the height of the AIDS crisis and needed to go back to its roots, “to train people in a deeper narrative beyond lobbying and giving money,” McGehee says. Yandura declined, “but he said that if the march was successful, we’d have another conversation.”
Yandura admits that he was skeptical about the march at the time because he didn’t see how the collective energy of the event could be channeled into a continuing force for change. But after seeing how successful Williams and McGehee were, he told them, “‘Look, now there’s going to be a lot of people who want to push and pull you in different directions,’” Yandura recalls of the conversation. “‘If at any point you feel like you’re not really doing what you want to be doing, call me and I’ll try to help.’”
By December 2009, less than two months after the march, McGehee and Williams were flying to Miami to meet with Lewis and Yandura. It was an intense few hours for Lewis, who was tired of feeding the beast of inertia.
“At a certain point you wake up and say, ‘Again? Another check, another day, another trip to Washington, another trip to God knows where to meet with a group of people who are trying to work with these politicians and officials to effect change? I’m frickin’ exhausted and nothing’s happening,” Lewis says. “I found myself angry and I think to do this kind of work, you need to be angry. It’s not enough to just be disappointed or upset.”
At the same time, Lewis says he saw something different in McGehee and Williams. Perhaps it was their sense of urgency, their willingness to push the status quo into a corner, their penchant for public action over backroom negotiations.
“I really liked them as human beings from the first moment. They also had a track record — they had been pretty effective at doing some political gymnastics,” Lewis says. “I felt like I was talking to friends, allies, and capable people who were saying to me, ‘Let’s figure out what it is and let’s go do it.’”
Yandura felt a similar sympathy — both for McGehee and Williams and for their efforts to educate people to incite change in the gay rights movement. “I remember thinking this could be a game changer, that we could put the fight back into fighting for our rights,” he says.