July 17, 2013 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
50th anniversary of March on Washington nears
1963 March on Washington, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 March on Washington will be celebrated next month. (Photo in public domain)

Local organizers of the 50th anniversary commemoration of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 civil rights March on Washington are calling on members of the LGBT community to participate in the re-enactment of the historic march set to take place Aug. 24 on the National Mall.

D.C. statehood and gay rights activist Jerry Clark, who was appointed by Mayor Vincent Gray to a committee to help recruit volunteers and participants for the march, said he is calling on local and national LGBT groups to help organize an “identifiable” LGBT contingent in the march.

“I would like to see an eye-catching LGBT contingent,” said Clark, who noted that national organizers of the march are supportive of LGBT equality.

Clark said LGBT activists involved with the march are committed to the goals and objectives of the event set by national organizers, including officials with the groups that worked with Martin Luther King on the 1963 march. Among them are the NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the A. Philip Randolph Institute.

Also playing a key role in organizing the 50th anniversary march and a week of related events is the King Center, the Atlanta-based organization created by the late Coretta Scott King, King’s widow, and other King family members.

King’s daughter, Bernice A. King, CEO of the King Center, said in a June 23 statement announcing plans for the 50th anniversary commemoration that a broad coalition of civil rights organizations would be involved in a series of events leading up to the Aug. 24 march.

“Our coalition hopes to make the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and my father’s famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech a meaningful experience which addresses the urgent causes of jobs, justice and freedom,” Bernice King said.

A July 8 statement released by the New York City-based National Action Network, headed by civil rights leader and commentator Rev. Al Sharpton, named more than 20 civil rights, labor, and faith-based organizations that are recognized as co-endorsers of the march. Among them are five national LGBT groups: the Human Rights Campaign, National Black Justice Coalition, Family Equality Council, National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and Old Lesbians Organizing for Change.

Clark said members of Mayor Gray’s local organizing committee are encouraging supporters from all communities to sponsor local events during the week leading up to the Aug. 24 march. He said he expects at least one event to honor Bayard Rustin, the out gay civil rights organizers credited with playing the lead role in organizing the 1963 March on Washington as one of King’s top lieutenants.

Rustin died in 1987 at the age of 75.

A spokesperson for the King Center in Atlanta said on Tuesday that organizers have yet to announce the names of the speakers at the march and rally set to take place at the Lincoln Memorial, the same location where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Clark said he was hopeful that at least one LGBT representative would be selected to speak at the event.

Black gay activists in D.C. were credited with persuading organizers of the 1983 20th anniversary commemoration of the March on Washington to agree to allow black lesbian poet and writer Audre Lorde speak at that event.

The decision to allow Lorde to speak came after then D.C. congressional Del. Walter Fauntroy, one of the lead organizers of the 1983 march, initially opposed allowing an LGBT speaker. Fauntroy’s opposition prompted local black gay activists Phil Pannell, Mel Boozer, Ray Melrose, and Gary Walker to stage a sit-in at Fauntroy’s Capitol Hill office. The four were arrested in an action that drew national media coverage.

Following behind the scenes negotiations in which Gil Gerald, an official with the National Coalition of Black Gays, spoke directly with Coretta Scott King by phone, Mrs. King and other top leaders of the march agreed to have an out gay speaker.

Gerald, who isn’t involved in this year’s march, said he is hopeful that an LGBT person will be chosen as a speaker.

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

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