February 18, 2011 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Another march in 2012?

The National Equality March in October 2009 (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

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.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

17 Comments
  • In 2012 we need desperately to concentrate on the state and local level to take back the house as there is a high chance we lose the Senate. Any marches should be to state capitals and city halls. We can not take it for granted President Obama will win reelection. We can not afford to have all branches of government in the hands of a political party that see the GLBT community merely as a group to attack in an effort to gains votes.

  • Note to Rea Carey at National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Fred Sainz at the Human Rights Campaign: We don’t need your permission. If the will is there to do it, it will be done with or without your organizations’ approval or participation. You do not own the Movement.

  • David da Silva Cornell

    Note to David John Fleck: Neither Rea Carey nor Fred Sainz said that anybody needs their permission, or that they “own the Movement.” Where in the world are you getting *that* from???!!! They said simply that they had not yet taken a position, and that Robin Tyler will be presenting the idea to the National Policy Roundtable. Period.

  • Another March? Why? The first one didn’t accomplish anything.

    We don’t need to protest or irritate or embarrass our way to equality, we need to educate, enlighten and enroll people to support us.

    Another March doesn’t encourage anyone to support us. It’s a waste of time and money. GetEqual has shown us how to waste money, not achieve results.

  • Somebody tell Robin Tyler that DADT repeal happened because they gave some cover to a few republican votes by having the military support the “compromise repeal.” It had NOTHING to do with childish protests. Nothing.

    It was about getting 60 votes in the US Senate and the compromise got us 7 Republican votes.

    It’s 2011 – Tyler and the GetEqual crowd need to wake up and grow up. Protesting doesn’t change any minds or votes. We need to be smarter, not louder.

  • A march and rally are in order. The message needs to be that only politicians who perform will get our support. Better yet, why not break completely with the damned Democrats– the party of DADT and DOMA– and build a movement that can force reform from ALL politicians, from both electoral machines. This is what the King-led movement for Black civil rights accomplished by being independent of both parties.

  • I would hardly call protesting childish – especially since it is a constitution right. It works at the FDA with ACTUP back in the early 90s.

    But I agree with James – focus on the local level. President Obama most likely will not be re-elected at this rate (unless the idiot palin runs… fingers crossed)

  • Since most of the HIV/AIDS programs are being ripped apart state by state, I think we have a PRIORITY PROBLEM here!! Gays in the military is a valid issue but not as pressing as life saving medications for those with HIV/AIDS!! March for something relevant. If we don’t do something millions will be dying again. I, for one, don’t want a repeat of the 80′s-mid 90′s. My spirit and heart could not bear another round.

  • “If you think mass actions do not work, look at what is happening in Egypt right now,” she said.

    If the analysis were that simple, the world’s problems would have been solved a long time ago.

  • Robin Tyler’s comparison to what has happened in Egypt shows her lack of seriousness. In Egypt, the pro-democracy protesters were risking their lives by holding those protests. Mubarak had brutally suppressed dissent and opposition organizing for decades. If this were Selma, Alabama in 1965, Tyler might have a point. But no one is stopping people from holding a march or rally in Washington. Her romantic notions of another big gay rally making the crucial difference are belied by the failure of the organizers of the one in October 2009 to make good on their pledge to organize lobbying groups in all 435 congressional districts.

    Speaking of lessons from Egypt, organizing these days can be done using new media without everyone having to gather in the same city. There were large demonstations in Egypt’s other big cities, such as Alexandria and Suez, and not just Cairo.

    But hey, as a native and resident of D.C., I will welcome those who come here if there is another march. We will be happy to have you pump up our city’s economy with your tourist dollars. The problem is that many people will think that participating in a big rally/party in Washington means they have done their part. And they’ve written/visited/called their elected representatives how many times in the past year?

    • I agree with Mr. Rosendall. at best, another march will be a feel good cathartic cash cow that will not doing anything that hasn’t already been tried. stay home and write checks in support of your local/statewide lgbt advocacy groups.

  • If you really want full equality, lobby your national, state, and local elected officials. If your current elected officials are right-wingers, work to elect better ones — and then keep lobbying them.

  • My modest opinion: A march on Washington would be very satisfying to me on a personal level; I loved the previous ones, the tremendous sense of fellowship, marching with hundreds of thousands of brothers and sisters. Other than that, however, I don’t think a march would do anything. It will not change any minds in Congress, or in the American people.

  • I’m a fan of the all hands on deck approach. And with groups like GetEqual promoting direct action, maybe they could host some trainings at a national event? I’d love to see some live It Gets Better speeches in front of a national crowd. I think its a good idea!

  • The march ‘s value will be that it will help get other gays out of the closet re being involved in politics. One of the key goals of the repubs in 2010 was to convince a lot of dems that the battle was lost, and to not bother voting.

    Its just like the blogs, when you see a whole bunch of religious freaks there. they aren’t going to change a lot of minds , but their goal is the same – to make it lookk like the battle is lost to the good people. Its all psychology. thats my take on it. IMHO there have been very few elections in the USA where the people who didn’t vote could not have reversed the outcome.

  • Okay: IF we need to have yet another march–unlike last time, PLEASE can we have it 1) when the damned Congress is actually IN SESSION, and 2) organized to be directed specifically AT CONGRESS to act? You know, not just a Giant Live-on-C-SPAN Bitch-Session/Rage Articulation, but an actual pragmatic political action with a clearly defined target and specific legislative-tied goals?

  • I hope everyone understands that unless DOMA falls – The same sex marriages that are happening are seperate and not equal and hollow vivtories at best. Pressure must be kept on the Federal level as well. A March on Washington is a GREAT IDEA especially if it incorps straight allies.

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