Monday, October 12, 2009

Worth Every Minute, Every Mile: National Equality March

Yesterday, I traveled to Washington, DC, to participate in the National Equality March. More than just a mere cry for legalizing gay marriage, we came to our government's doorstep to seek an end to our lives of subjugation, persecution and second-class citizenship. I rode to DC aboard a (free!) bus organized by Broadway Impact, a group of Broadway theater people who are passionately committed to LGBT rights. I would be remiss if I didn't publicly thank them and the cast of the Hair musical for the fantastic job they did in bringing us all there and back. I rode a lightning-fast bus, on which I even won a few prizes playing trivia challenge. They even paid all of out DC Metro fares to and from the March and Rally. Do go see the revival of the Broadway musical Hair as soon as you can. The cast and crew are something special.

Arriving in DC, we reported to the Assembly Area, which quickly became mobbed with thousands upon thousands of LGBT people and their supporters from all over the United States. I felt a tremendous sense of awe at the sight of so many gays and lesbians proudly preparing to march through a Southern city, in numbers never before seen for the LGBT community in DC. Among those who turned out to make a statement yesterday was U.S. Army Lieutenant Dan Choi, a gay West Point graduate, Arabic linguist, Iraq veteran, and decorated soldier who was forced out of the Army for daring to reveal his sexual orientation. Lt. Choi represents the absurdity of our military's official policy of homophobia, known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT), first put into practice by President Clinton. That the military, engaged in two foreign wars, and desperately in need of qualified, special-skills sailors, airmen and soldiers like Lt. Choi, could fire them because of their sexulality, is barbaric and not in the best interests of our national defense.

I spoke with Lt. Choi, and he made it plainly clear that he felt the DADT policy was a shameful travesty of everything he learned at "The Point" about duty, honor and country. "So many other servicepeople--just like me--are forced out of the military every day, because they are gay or lesbian," Choi says. "We want to fight for our country, but our country fights against us." It's astonishing that Lt. Choi earned his bars for his excellence, but was stripped of them for his gayness. Nor is this kind of discriminatory practice limited to the military: it's still legal to fire gays and lesbians in 29 states, for no other reason than their sexual orientation. You can still be evicted for being gay in states like Utah, and there are, at present, no federal laws to mandate that all 50 states end such homophobic practices.

As we marched past President Obama's home at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, we shouted "this is what democracy looks like!" In a powerful message about the progress the LGBT community has made in the 40 years since the Stonewall Rebellion, over 100,000 gays, lesbians and their allies visited the White House, a scene that wouldn't have been possible even ten years ago. We've come far, and although we marched from the White House to the Capitol, we needed to make enough noise for Congress to hear us, too.

So, we gathered on Congress' front lawn for the Equality Rally, where we heard stirring words from such luminaries as Lady Gaga, NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Jamaican-born lesbian author and activist Staceyann Chin. Ms. Chin raised the crowd to its feet with her cry for "Equality, equality. equality!", as she described her shock and dismay at having escaped the rampant homophobia of her native island, only to discover it alive and well here in America. The Keynote address was given by NAACP chairman Julian Bond, who proclaimed himself and the NAACP as allies of the LGBT community in our struggle for human rights. He confirmed that LGBT rights "are civil rights", and invoked the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King's 1963 March On Washington, and recalled that a black gay man, Bayard Rustin, "brought us here that day, and made it all possible". His was a rousing, memorable speech, made more so by the fact that he publicly acknowledged that the black community needed to do "much more" to help all gays and lesbians achieve our rights, just as he and Dr. King worked so heard to do for people of color, in the 1960s.

I rode home with a sense of optimism and fulfillment, feeling privileged to have taken part in a moment which will go down in American history. But as you'll see in my post below, that optimism was shattered when I got home, and the realities faced by all of us came flooding back in...

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