So just how did the Equality March for Unity and Pride come about?
David Bruinooge, a producer who handles branded entertainment for music video service Vevo, had been wanting to get more involved in political activism the last few years and says in January watching the Women’s March on TV from his Brooklyn home, he thought something similar was needed for LGBT issues.
“I was just really blown away and inspired by what I was seeing,” Bruinooge says, “and I thought, ‘Why isn’t the LGBT community doing something like this?’”
He threw the idea out on Facebook as a status update and almost immediately friends agreed it was a great idea. It didn’t take long for him to make it official.
“Coming from producing, I knew this would require a tremendous commitment, so I thought about it for a couple hours and then said, ‘Let’s do this.’ This is that opportunity of how I can be more active so I created the Facebook event page and from there, the reaction was almost immediate.”
Bruinooge was soon talking to Washington residents and activists and very quickly, he says the “train was rolling.” Online meetings were held and Bruinooge started making nearly weekly trips to D.C. From the start, he says, organizers had an “open-door, open-table policy.”
The Equality March for Unity and Pride will be held from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Sunday, June 11 on the National Mall. So far, 38,000 have RSVP’d on Facebook that they’re going. Another 122,000 are interested. Other D.C. marches for gay rights have been held in 1979, 1987, 1993, 2000 and 2009. Crowd sizes are notoriously hard to accurately gauge but outlets reported between 150,000-500,000+ at previous marches. Activists point to legislative victories such as the Matthew Shepard Act and the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as having been partially spurred by the National Equality March of October 2009.
So what exactly is this year’s march all about and what do organizers hope to accomplish? Bruinooge and others say it’s much more than a big anti-Trump hootenanny.
“We want to put the focus on members of our community who don’t necessarily get the spotlight and on the issues that affect them,” Bruinooge says. “We want the march to put those people and those issues truly at the center. Personally as a cis-gay white male of privilege, I realize there are members of our community, our allies and even the public at large who sort of thought the fight is over because gay marriage passed, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Bruinooge says issues like transgender rights, transphobia, racial injustice, income inequality, LGBT elder and disability rights, LGBT youth issues, homelessness, bi-phobia, HIV/AIDS issues and much more are part of the dialogue.
“The time felt right to re-energize our community at large to make sure that everyone’s on board, we all have each other’s backs and to make sure that everyone gets full equality, equity, access and inclusion.”
Anika Simpson coordinates the Women’s and Gender Studies program at Morgan State University. She’s a D.C. resident and self-described queer, black feminist. She got involved with the organizing committee in February as one of 13 co-chairs and says after consulting with local African-American D.C. residents, she agreed the march needed people of color involved in a leadership capacity.
Simpson says the mission has evolved slightly over the last few months.
“It’s not just an anti-Trump, anti-administration effort,” she says. “We’re trying to mobilize our various communities to address the tremendous needs that we have. There’s a continued assault on our rights and our dignity as human beings that’s coming from multiple fronts and it’s not just the federal government. This is a vehicle to deal with our internal concerns, our intersectional concerns and the external issues we’re facing.”
Planning meetings have been tense at times, Simpson says, but to her, that’s not a bad thing.
“I actually would be skeptical if anyone said, ‘Yeah, everything’s been great,’ because that means no real work is being done,” she says. “If you’re gonna talk about anti-black racism and transphobia, those are hard conversations to have. I’ve stuck around because we have a leadership team that is majority people of color. Our voices have been heard and our white co-chairs are listening and learning and there’s an openness to come of our concerns which is great because it’s not easy or comfortable.”
The march was purposefully timed to coincide with the Capital Pride festivities. Pride organizers were involved with march planners “within a day or two” of the event being posted on Facebook, says Bernie Delia, president of the board of directors of the Capital Pride Alliance.
“We consider the march to be similar to many other partner events that occur during the Pride celebration,” Delia wrote in an e-mail. “It’s part of the weekend’s narrative that this year is not business as usual.”
In addition to being a chance for march attendees from out of town to mingle with D.C.-based activists and Capital Pride attendees, Delia says he hopes locals can inspire visitors to “reach out to organizations back home and get involved in ways that make a positive difference for the LGBT community.”
Marchers will gather at 17th and I streets., N.W., walk south on 17th, turn left on Pennsylvania Avenue, walk in front of the White House, then turn right and head south on 15th Street, N.W. to Constitution Avenue, and end on the National Mall at 7th Street, N.W.
Bruinooge says logistical matters such as portable toilets, water, sound, permits, stage mechanics, medics and more have been challenges. He says there have been both pros (being able to move quickly) and cons (lack of infrastructure and connections) to mobilizing as a grassroots effort as opposed to working with national LGBT rights groups to plan the march. About 60 “solidarity” events are being held in various cities around the country for those who can’t make it to Washington. He says it’s impossible to guess how many may show up.
“For us, this is step one,” Bruinooge says. “We can’t accomplish everything we want in one day, but hopefully our community and our allies will be affected by this and will build off the march and have action items that they can follow up with, much like the women’s march model. … That would be a successful day to me.”