The last quarter of the 20th Century was a time when many of the civil rights movements were solidifying their gains in the United States. Most noteworthy were the struggles for racial and gender equality against entrenched attitudes of mainstream thought and regulation. In the background were the long suffering and ostracized gay and lesbian individuals seeking to mark their own claims on full national citizenship.
Early work to overcome prejudicial and legal barriers had been largely limited to the efforts of small groups of activists at the local level. People eager for meaningful change felt the need for a consolidated national coalition of individuals and groups to create meaningful, strong advocacy for their cause.
The first noteworthy activity towards the goal of a National March on Washington D.C. was in late November of 1973 in Illinois. Jeff Graubart’s leadership of the National Gay Mobilizing Committee for a March on Washington was resisted by other local groups and budding national groups, so those march plans were abandoned for the time being.
A planning committee was organized next in Minneapolis, Minnesota in November, 1978. Harvey Milk, who had not yet achieved national fame, led the work to secure support from Washington D.C.’s local activists.
Milk’s assassination served as a major catalyst for the activist organizers who next met in Philadelphia early in 1979. Gay and lesbian delegates from known organizations across the country met to discuss logistics and platform issues of the march. They decided to hold the march later in 1979 due to the fact that the tenth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots would be that year. The delegates decided to focus on single issues in order to enhance a united message from the national community. The last consolidation and coordination work happened at the Houston conference in July.
The organizers drafted a list of five demands that needed the most urgent attention.
1. Pass a comprehensive lesbian/gay rights bill in Congress
2. Issue a presidential executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in the federal government, the military, and federally contracted private employment
3. Repeal all anti-lesbian/gay laws
4. End discrimination in lesbian-mother and gay-father custody cases
5. Protect lesbian and gay youth from any laws which are used to discriminate, oppress, and/or harass them in their homes, schools, jobs, and social environments
The October 14th event came off without a hitch. Marchers walked from the National Mall, to Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House and ended in the political rally at the Reflecting Pool near the Washington Monument. Such notable personalities as Allen Ginsberg, Leonard Matlovich and Congressman Ted Weiss addressed the main rally event. Various counts showed that anywhere from 100,000 to 125,000 people had marched.
Many of the marchers’ were motivated by the light prison sentence given to Harvey Milk’s killer Dan White. Others were inspired by the tenth anniversary of the Riots at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, thought to be the first meaningful resistance to the oppression of gay and lesbian people in the United States.
The march did achieve the goals of solidifying and launching the national gay and lesbian rights movement in the U.S.
Tbe Blue Jay of Happiness believes in freedom and liberty for all peoples, everywhere.