Veteran lesbian activist Robin Tyler of Los Angeles says she’s talking to LGBT leaders and organizations across the country about the possibility of a national march on Washington for equality in May 2012.
In a statement released to the Blade on Thursday, Tyler said she first proposed the idea of a 2012 LGBT march in the weeks following the election of Barack Obama as president in 2008. Tyler has helped to organize LGBT Washington marches in 1979, 1987, 1993 and 2000.
She said an LGBT march on Washington held in October 2009 and a series of street protests during the past year by the direct action group Get Equal played a key role in what she called the few LGBT advances under the Obama administration, including the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” She was not involved in organizing the 2009 march.
“The fact is, without continuous protests that Get Equal, Dan Choi, Robin McGhee and others did, I believe, as so many others do, that DADT would not have been struck down,” Tyler said.
She said the main objection by some activists to holding another national march is it would take away resources and divert attention from needed LGBT activism in the states. At the time the 2009 LGBT march was being planned, skeptics said it would have little impact on members of Congress who don’t support LGBT rights.
A more effective way to prompt action by Congress would be visible activity and lobbying by constituents from lawmakers’ homes states rather than a march or rally in Washington, the critics said.
Tyler said the process of organizing a national march would trigger more activity in the states than what is currently taking place under the leadership of both state and national LGBT groups.
“[L]arge national marches on Washington, which take over a year to do on that scale, produce activists and activity from every state,” she said.
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and Fred Sainz, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said their respective groups had yet to take a position on whether another LGBT march on Washington should take place in 2012.
Carey said Tyler would have an opportunity this spring to discuss her idea for a march at a meeting of the National Policy Roundtable, an informal group of executive directors of many of the national LGBT organizations. Carey said the date of the meeting has yet to be scheduled.
“We have met with Robin Tyler and have listened to her ideas about a march,” Sainz said. “Beyond that, we haven’t formulated an opinion one way or the other.”
Veteran LGBT and AIDS activist Cleve Jones, the lead organizer and spokesperson for the 2009 march, could not be reached for comment on Tyler’s proposed 2012 march. Veteran gay Democratic activist David Mixner did not return calls seeking comment on a 2012 march. McGehee, the GetEqual leader who worked with Jones to organize the 2009 march, said she would release a statement later this week.
LGBT activists had mixed views on the impact of the 2009 march, which took place Oct. 11, 2009. It included a march from the White House to the Capitol and a rally on the Capitol’s west lawn. Many of the nation’s most prominent LGBT leaders and activists spoke. Recording star Lady Gaga also spoke at the event.
Some supporters and organizers said the march drew more than 100,000 people. But others put the total at about 30,000. U.S. Park Police, who in the past gave an official estimate of crowds attending marches and rallies at the Capitol or on the National Mall, stopped giving such estimates years ago.
In association with the 2009 march, Jones, McGehee and other activists formed an organization called Equality Across America, which served as an umbrella group to help organize and raise money for the march.
At the time of the march, Jones said Equality Across America would continue after the march to organize an LGBT activist presence in all 435 U.S. congressional districts, as a spin-off of the activism generated by the march.
But according to Tod Hill, an official with the Tides Center, a San Francisco-based consulting group for progressive, non-profit organizations, Equality Across America ceased operating and dissolved sometime in 2010. He said the Tides Center managed the finances of Equality Across America.
No information could be found to show whether Equality Across America carried out activity in congressional districts before the group disbanded last year.
“I’m not aware of anything that came out of that,” said D.C. gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein. “The fact that we took such a beating in the House and Senate elections last year indicates they weren’t very effective if they did, in fact, do something.”
Rick Rosendall, vice president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of D.C., said another national march would be a “complete waste of time, money and effort.” He said national marches in the nation’s capital organized by a wide range of groups and causes are so common that they have become “a dime a dozen” and Congress and the public pays little attention to them.
“What we really should to be doing is the hard work our movement so badly needs throughout the country and not engaging in another self-indulgent march in Washington,” he said.
Gay activist Dan Choi, the former U.S. Army lieutenant who made national headlines by chaining himself to the White House fence to protest the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, said he supports the idea of another march.
“I do think a march would be very strategically important, especially before the conventions of both parties,” he said. “And I think we’re ready to do it. The young people and the grassroots activists who were so empowered in 2009 – they’re ready to do it.”
Tyler said “massive street actions” historically have made a difference in the U.S. and elsewhere in prodding political leaders and governments to take action they would otherwise be unwilling to take.
“If you think mass actions do not work, look at what is happening in Egypt right now,” she said.