Guest Blogger

The National Equality March: Confessions and Snapshots

Filed By Guest Blogger | October 12, 2009 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: leah mcelrath renna, National Equality March, Washington D.C.

Editor's Note: Leah McElrath Renna is a Managing Partner with the communications-consulting firm Renna Communications and a professional psychotherapist with a Master of Social Work degree from the Smith College School for Social Work.

She has authored and contributed to the production of materials published both under her own name and for attribution to others in the New York Times Magazine, USA Today, the New York Daily News, AM New York, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Advocate.com, Gay.com, Time.com and other media outlets.

I was wrong. I doubted. I didn't think it would, but the National Equality March rocked.

I underestimated the ability of social-networking to motivate people to travel all the way to our nation's capital from across the country. I worried about the messaging that would result from such an amorphous organizing system. In particular, I was greatly concerned that the people that did show up would be of the demographic that generally constitutes the majority of the crowds at marches on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community - namely white gay men. Not that there's anything wrong with being a white gay man... But the vision of a potential crowd of white gay men protesting against the first black president who also happens to be the president most supportive of LGBT civil rights in history haunted me.

Wow. My concerns, while theoretically valid, could not have been more misplaced.

The reality of today's National Equality March was a remarkably diverse gathering of LGBT people and our allies many tens of thousands strong. I have been to many marches over the past two decades, and, in my estimation, this march's participants were the most reflective of the people who actually make up our community.

Yes, there were white gay men. But there was also an equivalent contingent of white lesbian women. There were many self-identified bisexuals. There were black LGBT people and Latino LGBT people. Numerous communities of faith with large and vocal groups of marchers. Former and current military service members. Self-proclaimed socialists. A sprinkling of the leather community. A few fabulous drag queens. Young people. Old people. Singles and couples. Countless LGBT parents with babes in arms or young ones in strollers. A major showing of straight allies, young adults and college students. The list could go on.

Below are some snapshots from the March. The number of homemade signs was remarkable - and just a few are captured here (unless otherwise noted, all of these appeared homemade):

Two young women wearing their shirts from the Obama presidential campaign - but revised with pinned on signs to complete the sentence "Obama - Do the Right Thing"

Sign: "Justice is what love looks like in public. (Dr. Cornell West)"

Chant: "Hey, Obama! Let Mommy Marry Mama!"

Sign: "Separate but Equal? Been There Done That."

Sign: "Defend Equality - Love Unites"

Chant: "Hey, Hey! Ho, Ho! My God Loves Me, This I Know!"

Signs - thousands of these - held by people of all genders, ages, and races: "End the Harm from Religion-Based Bigotry and Prejudice. Faith in America."

Sign: "God Loves Gays"

Sign: "Homophobia is a Sin"

Signs (several of these, but all appeared homemade): "Jesus Had Two Dads and He Turned Out Fine"

A young adult woman carrying sign: "Proud to Have Two Moms"

A young, beefy blond guy with a large purple sign: "Lesbian Rights NOW"

Sign held by a young man: "Straight Guy for Equal Rights"

Signs (hundreds of these): "Standing on the Side of Love"

Sign: "Committed to Marriage - Mine and Yours"

Chant: "Tell me What Democracy Looks Like?! This is What Democracy Looks Like!"

Sign: "Let the Gays be as Miserable as the Straights - Marriage Equality NOW"

Sign held by a young woman in a tie-dyed shirt: "Silly me. I thought this was a Free Country."

Sign: "Hate is Not a Family Value"

Sign: "I Pay Equal Taxes - I Want Equal Rights"

Sign: "Marriage Rights are Civil Rights"

A young man of color holding a sign: "Love One Another for Love is of God. 1 John 4:7"

Sign: "Let's Have a Summit, Mr. President. I'll Bring the Beer."

Sign: "Fear Us Not"

Two gay elders holding the following signs: (on the fronts of the signs) "I'm 82, Gay and Still Waiting for My = Rights in My Lifetime? (Better Hurry!!)" and "Good Citizens. Paid Taxes. Raised Two Daughters. Where are Our Equal Rights?" and (on the backs of the signs) "38 Years Together. Too Long a Courtship! Ready for the Right to Marry!" and "Beaten by Cops in 1965 [for being gay]. Still Waiting for Equal Rights."

It was a beautiful day - and a day that made one proud to be an LGBT American.

Sometimes I love being wrong.

(Crossposted from Huffington Post.)


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Like you, I had some major reservations about the march, figuring that it would just be the same old crowd of privileged white gay men showing up to claim to speak for everyone else in the queer community. Fortunately, I was wrong. I still wish that it had been planned for a time when Congress was in town, but all in all, I was impressed with the March (and we all got to see Bil on television, too!).

"Let the Gays be as Miserable as the Straights - Marriage Equality NOW"

I love it...whoever made that sign is a genius!

If gay white men are the only ones that show up, they wll be the ones speaking.

I'm glad that all aspects of our community decided to raise their voices and be seen.

Sounds like it was a wonderful weekend.

I underestimated the ability of social-networking to motivate people to travel all the way to our nation's capital from across the country.

Thankfully, the NEM was a reasonable success --- at least, it wasn't an obvious failure, as many of us (such as me) feared it might.

Now we get to see what effect it had --- on other and on us. Will it have a political footprint? Or was it just a fun weekend in AC/DC?

I was watching NBC Nightly News when Lester Holt interviewed NBC news analyst John Harwood, who said this now-well-scrutinized remark:

If you look at the polling, Barack Obama is doing well with 90% or more of Democrats so the White House views this opposition as really part of the "internet left fringe" Lester. And for a sign of how seriously the White House does or doesn't take this opposition one adviser told me today those bloggers need to take off their pajamas get dressed and realize that governing a closely divided country is complicated and difficult.

Needless to say, I had to pick my jaw up off the floor --- thousands arranged a National Equality March, just for us to be dismissed as net-geeks who can't get out of our pajamas?

The remark has been amply discussed at PHB (Pam is steamin' for sure!), while The Hill has posted the NBC News videoclip.

Time will sort all this out --- was Obama's speech at least sincere ... or did he blow smoke at us once again, this time a different color out of each nostril?

Meant to include: Monday morning, White House Deputy Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer backs off from the Harwood remark, via The Washington Monthly.

Which version do we believe?

Annette Gross | October 12, 2009 4:19 PM

Leah, thank you for this post. I was in D.C. for the March and I came to support my son and the many GLBT people I know. Many of us came from all over the country to march for our children's equal rights! We will always be in the front lines for equality!

I get really tired of hearing the "white, gay men" meme. I get tired of being made to sound as if I'm a villain because I show up and speak up. I get tired of hearing people bitch as if gay white men are nefariously responsible for why lesbians, or gay people of color don't show up or speak up at gay rights events (even though I've never been to a gay rights event where white lesbians weren't there in equal numbers to white gay men) . If lesbians and GLBT people of color aren't happy about how few of them are seen and heard at gay rights events then stop whining and bitching and show up and speak up. And for god's sake stop complaining about and demonizing the people who do show up and speak up when they don't or WON'T.

I agree Zeke. The vast majority of people that show up are gay white men. I have sat on boards that I am the only woman there.

I have begged and pleaded women or people of color to set at the table and make their voices heard.

I want my voice heard and I could care less if it is all men. I will be setting there with them.

I came home from the NEM this morning on a total high, and I gotta tell ya, posts like this don't motivate unity in our community.

If we're going to be effective at home, in our own districts, we're going to need all the political capital we can muster. Only through education and sharing our stories are we going to understand the urgency in breaking the cycle of any of our groups getting thrown under the bus of incrementalism (which usually happens to the B's and the T's)...

I want to keep this short, because I could write pages, but as we organize in our districts, I really think we need to be proactive in taking time to have conversations with each other. I don't mean to get all 'kumbaya,' on anyone, but instead of throwing it out there but waiting for someone else to organize it, would anyone in Indy be interested in getting together at a Starbucks (or any coffee shop, really) one night a week for some recon, safe-spacing where L, G, B, T, A, Q, and anyone else who reads TBP can share these crucial conversations? I'm not going to lie, the whole "privileged gay white male" disses really don't bother me anymore, but keeping the momentum of the NEM, I think it would be foolish to alienate ANY potential team member right now.

Wednesdays are the only night of the week that's bad for me. Let me know if anyone is interested.

Chants that I loved:

"Hey bigots, get out the way! Get out the way, bigots, get out the way!"

"Get up, get down, there's civil rights movin' in this town!"

Also, one of the youth led the others in an elaborate chant called "We Are the Queer Youth".

Neat stuff.