A large contingent of LGBT leaders and activists joined tens of thousands of people who turned out for a rally at the Lincoln Memorial Saturday to mobilize voters backing liberal and progressive policies.
Organizers billed the event as a direct challenge to the Tea Party, whose leaders organized a “conservative” and Christian-oriented rally at the Lincoln Memorial site one month earlier hosted by Fox News commentator Glenn Beck.
The National Black Justice Coalition, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and the Human Rights Campaign were among more than 40 LGBT organizations that joined mainline civil rights, labor and immigrant rights groups in sponsoring the Saturday rally called One Nation Working Together.
“I stand here before you today as a proud openly lesbian African-American woman,” said Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, who spoke to the crowd from the Lincoln Memorial steps.
“I am not either black or lesbian. I am both and much more,” she said. “And like you, I seek justice for all of us. In America, justice means equal rights for everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, class, sex, gender expression, sexual orientation or ability.”
In her five-minute speech, Nipper joined most of the more than two dozen speakers in sounding a theme of unity among all progressive groups and constituencies.
“We can no longer work in silos, whether by campaign, issue or community,” said Gregory Cendana, a gay official with the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, who also addressed the rally from the memorial steps.
“There needs to be an understanding that the fight and struggle for economic justice and workers rights is the same fight and struggle for LGBT equality,” he said. “And for civil and human rights it’s the same as the fight for immigrant justice. And access to equality and education is the same fight for the environment and green jobs.”
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, appeared on the speakers’ platform with a group of labor, environmental and education advocates, who recited broad themes of unity for a progressive agenda.
“The whole point is we’re all in this together,” she told the Blade after the rally.
Many of the LGBT participants in the rally, like their straight counterparts, arrived by bus from cities and states along the East Coast, including New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. More than 200 LGBT activists held their own smaller rally at Freedom Plaza at 14th and Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., where they were joined by participants completing the D.C. AIDS Walk.
From Freedom Plaza, the LGBT contingent marched to the Lincoln Memorial carrying signs and banners promoting such causes as repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which calls for prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The National Black Justice Coalition, NGLTF, National Stonewall Democrats and Pride at Work, an LGBT labor group affiliated with the AFL-CIO, sponsored a forum the day before the rally on a national “LGBTQ inclusive social justice agenda” at Howard University School of Law.
Among those attending the Lincoln Memorial rally was former Army Lt. Dan Choi, a national advocate for repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Choi carried a sign calling for addressing LGBT teen suicide, saying ongoing discrimination was responsible for the recent rash of suicides among gay male teenagers.
Christine Quinn, the lesbian speaker of New York City Council, who also attended the rally, said she was among several thousand New Yorkers attending the event.
“I just wanted to make sure my voice was added to the others today calling for a national discussion that isn’t so divisive, isn’t so full of hate and nasty rhetoric but one that is instead about what we needed right now — jobs, improved public education, fuller civil rights and equal rights for everyone,” she said.
In her remarks at the rally, Nipper cited hate crimes as yet another problem that affects different groups and can be addressed by various groups working together.
“We are so proud that last year Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act,” she said. “I hope we never forget those two men and the hundreds of others who died at the hands of hatred — Matthew Shepard, who was killed for his gayness, and James Byrd, who was killed for his blackness.
“Yes, our communities are tied and united together,” she said. “Our communities – people of color and those in the lesbian, gay and bisexual and transgender community stand united against hate crimes of any type against anyone.”
Two other prominent out lesbians spoke at the rally — Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.