Union leaders Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, both out lesbians, will be among at least four LGBT rights advocates to speak on Saturday at the 50th anniversary commemoration of the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington.
Also confirmed as out gay speakers are Rev. MacArthur Flournoy, director of faith partnership and mobilization for the Human Rights Campaign, and Adrian Shanker, president of the statewide LGBT rights organization Equality Pennsylvania.
Other LGBT advocates were expected to speak at the Lincoln Memorial rally, but organizers of the event said they could not confirm additional speakers until an official list was released later this week.
“Fifty years later, our nation is also more diverse than ever,” said Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the nation’s largest civil rights organization, in discussing the 1963 march, in which famed civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
“And Saturday’s march will be a true reflection of that diversity,” said Henderson in a telephone news conference this week. “Women, who held no speaking roles at the original march, will play leading roles in Saturday’s event. Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and Arab Americans will all be represented as well,” he said.
“And whereas Bayard Rustin, executive director of the 1963 march, was silenced because of his sexual orientation, the LGBT community has been embraced as an out and equal partner in Saturday’s event,” Henderson said.
Joining Henderson in speaking at the news conference were Chad Griffin, president of HRC; Sharon Lettman-Hicks, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, an LGBT organization; and Rev. Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Shanker, a marketing director for a company near Bethlehem, Pa., said he was honored to have received a letter from Martin Luther King III and Rev. Al Sharpton inviting him to speak at the event. King III is the eldest son of Martin Luther King Jr. and one of the lead organizers of the 50th anniversary march. Sharpton, president of the New York-based National Action Network (NAN), is another of the lead march organizers.
Shanker has worked on LGBT rights initiatives in Pennsylvania for at least 10 years. This year he said he has followed in the footsteps of his grandfather, Albert Shanker, who, as a teacher’s union leader, helped arrange for thousands of teachers to travel to Washington for the 1963 march.
He said that as part of his organizing for the 50th Anniversary March he recently spoke at an event in Philadelphia promoting the march at which King III also spoke.
“I guess some of the people who were there thought I was a good enough speaker that they wanted me to speak at the march,” Shanker said. “I do a lot of speaking and I do a lot of organizing in Pennsylvania…But I certainly wasn’t expecting an invitation to speak at the march. It’s a major honor.”
He added, “This is a time when we can really make it clear that the LGBT movement is focused on the broader civil rights agenda and is part of that broader civil rights agenda. So I’m very excited to be among many speakers at this event.”
Weingarten and Henry have been vocal supporters of LGBT equality as part of their work in the U.S. labor movement. The unions they head have endorsement LGBT rights, including marriage equality.
Flournoy of HRC is a theologian, author, and preacher who has worked on civil rights issues for more than 30 years. He served as Faith Director for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the group that led the successful ballot campaign last fall for Maryland’s same-sex marriage law.
In an open letter released on Monday, HRC, NBJC, the Task Force and Pride At Work, an LGBT arm of the AFL-CIO, along with 36 other LGBT advocacy organizations declared their strong support for the 50th anniversary commemoration March on Washington.
“History was made that day 50 years ago when thousands came to Washington, D.C. to lift up their voices in support of civil rights, employment protection, and an end to racial segregation in our nation’s schools,” the open letter says. “On Aug. 24, 2013, we will rededicate ourselves to that dream of equality and justice.”
The letter also notes that the LGBT rights movement celebrated historic victories in the past year, including voter approval of marriage equality in several states and the Supreme Court’s rulings striking down a key provision of the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the nation’s largest state.
But the open letter says that LGBT people – like other minorities and immigrants – continue to face discrimination in employment and other areas, and that gays and transgender Americans continue to be victimized by violence based solely on their sexual orientation and gender identity.
“Working together, this rally and mobilization are an opportunity to lift up the voices of LGBT people as part of a broad progressive agenda for social and economic justice,” the letter says. “Please join us on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, at 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. in Washington, D.C. at the D.C. War Memorial at 900 Independence Ave., S.W.
The D.C. War Memorial, located across Independence Ave. from the Martin Luther King Memorial, is being used as the starting point for an LGBT contingent in one of many feeder marches that will culminate at the Lincoln Memorial, where the main rally was scheduled to be held.
At least eight LGBT-related events, including forums and receptions, were scheduled to take place this week and next week in association with the 50th Anniversary March on Washington.
Several of the events will honor Bayard Rustin, whom LGBT activists such as National Black Justice Coalition official Mandy Carter of North Carolina have described as an unrecognized gay hero in the U.S. civil rights movement.
At one of the events Tuesday night, D.C. gay activist Paul Kuntzler was one of four panelists to reflect on their participation in the 1963 March on Washington. Kuntzler told a gathering at D.C.’s Martin Luther King Library that he marched with a contingent of United Auto Workers Union members from Detroit, where he lived before moving to Washington.
March on Washington LGBT-related events
Friday, Aug. 23
- Celebrating the Legacy of A. Philip Randolph & Bayard Rustin 44th Annual A. Philip Randolph Institute National Conference. 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. Hyatt Regency Hotel. 400 New Jersey Ave., N.W.
- What is the Unfinished Business for the LGBT Community? A Conversation and Reception on the Heels of the Anniversary of the March on Washington. 4:30 – 6:30 p.m. Rayburn House Office Building Foyer
- Welcoming Reception for LGBT Participants 50th Anniversary March on Washington . 6–10 p.m. Us Helping Us HIV/AIDS services organization. 3636 Georgia Ave., N.W.
Saturday, Aug. 24
- LGBT March contingent assembles at D.C. Statehood Rally . D.C. War Memorial (North side of Independence Ave. between World War II Memorial and Lincoln Memorial). Mayor Vincent Gray to speak 8:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.
- 50th Anniversary March on Washington rally speakers and entertainers to be announced later in week 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., Lincoln Memorial
Monday, Aug. 26
A Tribute to Bayard Rustin & the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. Sponsored by National Black Justice Coalition, American Federation of Teachers, A. Philip Randolph Institute. 6– 9 p.m., Lincoln Theater, 1215 U St., N.W.
Wednesday, Aug. 28
The Life and Legacy of Bayard Rustin: How an African American gay man became the lead organizer of the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington. Panel discussion and reception, hosted by the Center for Black Equity and sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign, 7 p.m. in the HRC Equality Forum Hall, 1640 Rhode Island Ave., N.W.