A Facebook group of LGBT rights advocates that claims to have 20,000 members is organizing a series of simultaneous LGBT civil rights marches in the U.S. and abroad that are scheduled to take place April 21.
Oklahoma City gay activist Joe Knudson, who initiated what he hopes will be the world’s largest peaceful protest on behalf of LGBT equality, says organizers have so far lined up marches in 10 U.S. cities, including Washington, D.C; New York City; Chicago; Atlanta; and Hampton, Va.
He said the only location outside the U.S. confirmed for one of the marches so far is an as yet to be selected city in Pakistan. A number of participating cities in Europe are expected to be announced soon, he said.
“The Worldwide LGBT Civil Rights March in 2012 is already gathering sponsors and supporters by the thousands, as well as initial lead organizers from around the world,” organizers said in an October posting on Facebook.
“The march will be held worldwide at various locations at the same time, as well as an online news media event that will keep everyone posted on the events at all locations,” the Facebook posting says.
It adds, “This event has been created by the fastest growing LGBT Equality group, with members from around the world – Let’s Reach 1 Million People Campaign…It’s a start! LGBT Equality.”
Knudson, 56, said he started that group in the late spring or early summer of 2011 with the aim of building a grassroots LGBT advocacy campaign with an international reach. He said he and others involved with the group came up with the idea of the worldwide LGBT marches.
In his Facebook biography, Knudson says he began his career in the banking industry and came out as gay later in life, after being married to a woman and raising children. He has since founded a publishing company in Oklahoma City that he created to publish his recent book, “Living the Difference: An Enlightening Story Revealed for People of All Ages, Straight or Gay.”
Knudson said the book describes his struggles in reconciling himself as a gay man who has embraced his sexual orientation and now yearns to help others do the same and promote the cause of LGBT equality.
A Washington Blade spot survey this week of several of the nation’s largest LGBT national and state advocacy organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, found that all but one were unaware of the global marches.
Heather Cronk, a spokesperson for the national direct action group GetEqual, said GetEqual would play some role in the marches but she did not get back by press time with details about GetEqual’s involvement in the events.
Spokespersons for the other groups said no one had contacted them so far about the planned worldwide marches and they had not heard anything about the events until contacted this week by the Blade.
Among the groups unaware of the marches were HRC, Task Force, the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the Empire State Pride Agenda of New York, the New York City LGBT Community Center, and the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, D.C.’s largest LGBT political group. The National Black Justice Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based LGBT group, did not respond by press time to an inquiry about whether it was aware of the marches.
Knudson said the New York City march was being coordinated by Christianne Bharath, a 16-year-old high school student on Long Island who says she serves as president of her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance group.
“It’s still in the early stages, Bharath told the Blade on Tuesday. “We’re getting the LGBT Center in with us and also the Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth Center,” of which she said she’s also involved.
Cyndi Creager, a spokesperson for the New York City LGBT Center, said no one from the march group had contacted the center as of this week. Creager said the center would consider whether to provide support for the New York march after learning more about it.
Veteran New York lesbian activist Roberta Sklar, who serves as communications director for the New York-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, said her group also had not been contacted by organizers of the marches.
IGLHRC has contacts with LGBT organizations and activists throughout the world, especially in Latin American countries.
Task Force spokesperson Inga Sorenson said no one from the Worldwide March organization has registered to participate in the Task Force’s annual Creating Change conference scheduled for later this month in Baltimore. The Creating Change conference is considered the preeminent annual gathering of the nation’s LGBT activist and movement leaders.
The designated organizer of the D.C. march, Curtis Sledge, said he lives in Richmond and doesn’t often come to D.C. He said he has changed his work hours as a manager of a McDonald’s restaurant in Richmond to enable him to come to D.C. to make arrangements for the march, including the filing of an application for parade permits with D.C. police and the National Park Service.
Sledge said organizers haven’t decided yet on the exact route of the D.C. march, but they are leaning toward having the march travel past the Lincoln Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial located next to the National Mall.
He said organizers are planning for a rally with speakers to take place at the end of the march but haven’t decided yet where that would be held. Lesbian comedian Wanda Sykes is among those invited to speak and perform at the event, Sledge said.
“I’m just getting started,” he said. “I will be talking to people at HRC and I will contact D.C.-area universities to get them involved.”
March organizers said they have so far confirmed marches on April 21 in these cities: D.C.; New York City; Albany, N.Y.; Atlanta; Chicago; Oklahoma City; Hampton, Va.; Dayton, Ohio; Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky region; and Portland, Ore., with Pakistan set as the only country outside the U.S. so far.
Knudson and others involved in organizing the marches acknowledge that they don’t have longstanding ties with existing LGBT organizations but hope to build those ties during the final planning stages for the marches.
D.C. gay activist Phil Attey, who has used Facebook to organize LGBT-related endeavors, said Knudson contacted him last year to seek his help with the worldwide march project. Attey said he supports the project and thinks the decision by organizers to hold marches in many cities rather than just Washington was an “excellent idea.” Attey called on march organizers to focus their attention in the U.S. on electing LGBT supportive members of Congress in the November election.
“I will be putting my energy into re-electing the president and electing members of Congress who support our civil rights,” he said. ”I think that’s what they should be doing.”