Why we’re marching, too

October 6, 2009

October 11 will be a day to march--in Washington, D.C., and cities around the country to demand full LGBT equality, and nothing less.

The stage was set for this outpouring of strength and solidarity by tide of protest after California's Proposition 8 same-sex marriage ban passed last November. Now, activists across the country are taking a stand nationally, and setting their sites high--equal rights in all 50 states, backed up by the authority of the federal government.

SocialistWorker.org asked some of the people building this demonstration--both veterans of the movement and those new to activism--to give us their reasons for marching on October 11. Look here for more statements.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
Join the Impact Chicago and International Socialist Organization | Chicago

A month after my 16th birthday, I wrote a suicide letter and spent several hours alone taking an assortment of pills and trying to drink myself to death.

For months, I had been tormented by a crush I had on my best friend in high school. The crush was not the problem; it was the context. I came of age as a lesbian during the time when AIDS was considered the gay plague. I was too young to know anyone directly affected by AIDS, but by the time I entered high school in 1986, to be gay was to be a leper, to be dangerous, to be ostracized and marginalized.

While some of this atmosphere was changing in some parts of the country as a result of the then-new phenomena of AIDS activism, I grew up in Texas, and for gay teenagers, there was no such thing as a progressive, pro-gay community. The only discussion about gays and lesbians in my high school revolved around guessing who was a "fag."

In the two months before school ended for that year, I went into the girl's bathroom to see scrawled across a bathroom mirror in lipstick "Keeanga has AIDS." Before I knew or understood, someone figured it out--I was gay.

Protesting for LGBT rights
Protesting for LGBT rights

At the time, I did not understand myself to be gay, though I knew I had had several crushes on girls in the past. For weeks, I suffered through a mix of anxiety and depression every day I went to school. I retreated from activities I was involved with in school, and every day I came home and fretted endlessly for hours in my bedroom, never leaving or speaking to anyone. In my isolation and exhaustion, I decided I could not really live like that anymore and planned for my own death. Though I became very sick, thankfully, I failed.

My parents and I decided that I'd probably had enough of Texas, and I moved to upstate New York to live with my father in a college town where he was a professor.

That move changed everything for me. I began hanging out a left-wing bookstore that actually had a gay section. Every week for two months, I would buy a new book about gays and lesbians and radical gay newspapers from New York City. My entire world changed from being alone, isolated and ashamed to feeling a part of a group of people with similar experiences--even though I still did not know any gays or lesbians.

And that changed when I began going to political meetings at the Women's Center and the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual club at the University of Buffalo. I was still in high school, but my involvement with political people and political organizing made high school insults seem insignificant, but also gave me the confidence to denounce the bigots in my school.

By my senior year of high school, I had already become a political activist on the college campus, and on National Coming Out Day in 1989, I spoke at a pro-gay rally on campus announcing my homosexuality to the world--the world of UB at least, and my father, who taught on campus.

Today, gays do not exist in total pariah status. Across the country, there are "Gay-Straight Alliances" in high schools, and LGBT people are frequently found in the media and are part of American popular culture.

But despite the heightened visibility of gays in American society, LGBT teens are 300 times more likely to kill themselves than heterosexual teenagers. In 38 states, LGBT people can be fired or evicted based solely on their sexual orientation. The federal government continues to codify and echo anti-gay discrimination by refusing to take action against homophobic legislation like the Defense of Marriage Act, "don't ask, don't tell," and the Employer Non-Discrimination Act that refuses to recognize the transphobia impacting transgender people.

What you can do

The National Equality March will begin at Noon on October 11 and end on the West lawn of the Capitol building. The march will be followed by a rally starting at around 2 p.m.

For a full schedule of the National Equality March weekend events, including several workshops sponsored by national LGBT organizations, visit the National Equality March Web site.

Students who will be marching on October 11 are invited to join the march's student contingent, which will be gathering at the Ellipse beginning at 10 a.m, and then march as a block to join the National Equality March at.

For more information, call 773-616-0230 or e-mail [email protected].

I am marching because as long as the federal government sanctions homophobia, it will continue to shape and distort the lives of gays and lesbians.

This doesn't mean that once DOMA and DADT are ended, homophobia will end--any more than civil rights legislation in the 1960s ended anti-Black racism. But it means something when the federal government disallows discrimination. It means that while homophobia will still exist, it won't be socially acceptable--like racism today.

There is a reason why we talk today of politicians and media blowhards like Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh having to use "code words" instead of the racist words they would like to use--because its unacceptable to be racist. Most of the explanation for that is because of the Black freedom struggle of the 1960s, but it's also because the federal government made it illegal to discriminate. Federal legislation ending LGBT discrimination will make it easier to be gay in the United States.

Some activists, both gay and straight, ask whether this is a "serious" issue--or whether this is about LGBT people trying to assimilate into the status quo. To me, the issue is quite simple: making it easier to be gay means fewer LGBT folks being beaten, killed, ostracized, fired, humiliated. And that means fewer gays--whether they are teenagers or adults--feeling forced to make awful choices between whether to live or die. It's that serious.

New England high school student

I am a firm believer that the root of homophobia is a lack of conversation. It's all about people--adults, kids, teenagers--being afraid to talk about things. This is fed by our fear of being misinformed.

The Day of Silence is a perfect example. This is the main effort for LGBT awareness at my school, and the main effort that a lot of LGBT organizations say high schools should be making.

Every year, my peers take maybe two minutes out of their day to try and figure out why a group of theater kids--usually the loudest of the bunch--are going silent. At best, they will listen to a couple statistics about LGBT harassment at assembly, and the numbers will leave their heads within moments.

I understand the intention of the day, and it's a noble one--to experience the silence and oppression LGBT kids feel throughout schools in America. This day could, sometimes, prove to be powerful.

In my opinion though, it does little but kill the conversation. It kills the information. Everyone becomes so afraid of being disrespectful or wrong that they don't say or do anything. They hardly think anything. As soon as its over, after the high school Lesbians and Gays and Transsexuals and Queers and Questioners and Allies and whatever else is in that acronym silently ostracize themselves, the school goes back to normal. Nothing ever happened.

"Why were those kids walking around with stickers on and not talking?"

"I don't know. Some gay diversity thing."

The day of silence is definitely a valid effort for awareness and empathy, and sometimes, it succeeds. At my school, though, with my peers, I don't think we can afford any more silence. In fact, I don't think the gay community and its allies can afford any more silence, nor can the movement.

The Day of Silence is just a small-scale, student example of the oppression this chapter of the civil rights movement has faced again and again. We put our trust in big organizations and big politicians, and while they undoubtedly help our cause, we sit back and wait for them to lobby federal government. We send them a check in the mail once a month, and they respond with thank yous and hopes that we're remaining patient. Because, really, that's all they can afford to tell us--to be patient.

So we don't bother our neighbors. When another state votes yes on another Prop 8, we turn on Rachel Maddow, and hope she interviews someone who tells us that it will be okay. Sometime. On April 17, we students go to school and wear a sticker that says, "Today, I am silent." And we are silent.

Clearly, this isn't quite good enough. And yes, I've learned this isn't good enough because I turn on the news and see blatant injustices, and then pundits not being able to talk about it. Just like we, at home, aren't able to find the words.

I've also learned that this passive hoping for change isn't good enough because I'm a student. In my U.S. history overview class, I've learned that things we all think are written in stone...aren't. I've learned that the good politicians are the malleable ones, and when people put pressure on them, they do accommodate.

Our founding fathers and mothers knew they couldn't write a constitution that would remain totally effective as our nation grew more mature, which is why they left room for corrections. I know they did, I read the constitution last year.

So there's no more time for silence. But there's time for marching. And there's time for students, and there's time for shouting. It's time to correct with the same hand we created. And that's why I'm marching.

Jaclynn Chiodini
International Socialist Organization | Amherst, Mass.

For me, the National Equality March symbolizes a confluence of social and material struggles within this newly radicalizing LGBT movement. Emerging as a grassroots movement, oppression is being met by struggle, and people are connecting, fists raised, side by side.

Most people do not know about the disgusting oppression and inequality afflicting those in the LGBT community: gay men can't give blood; trans individuals can be kicked out of their homes. Even where marriage is legal, because of the Defense of Marriage Act, same-sex couples are only afforded a minority of the benefits that different-sex couples are.

This march must demand full equality for LGBT individuals. No more begging for pennies or rustling through Barack Obama's trash. This is a civil rights issue, and we must act accordingly. We all have a stake in this struggle: LGBT rights and social liberation are essential for all individuals suffering from oppression at the hands of the state.

We have to fight ferociously alongside our brothers and sisters in the LGBT community and subvert the countless contrived divisions within our society. Enough waiting around for someone to hand Obama a working pen--we have to fight for our rights in a unified, aware, organized and defiant demonstration.

So why am I marching on DC on October 11? I'm marching for those who have to see their loved ones deported because their marriage is ignored by the federal government. I'm marching because I don't believe the bigots who would forcefully remove immigrants due to their marriages not being "legitimate" should be deciding the national policies of this country.

I'm marching for the transgender teenagers hiding from landlords in order to have shelter at night. I'm marching for the parents who have to watch their kids tormented in schools with no defense, and the brothers and sisters who are murdered simply because their sexuality or gender did not fit into the rigid box of our society's gender norms.

I am marching for the working class that has for too long been divided along the lines of sexuality, race, nationality and religion, all so the rich can stuff a couple more twinkies in their voluptuary mouths.

Civil rights will not be won by compromising with our oppressors. We need civil rights in all 50 states. We will accept nothing less, but we should also expect much more.

Ultimately, I am marching on D.C. because I firmly and unflinchingly believe that the liberation of LGBT individuals is essential and imperative for the liberation of all human beings!

David McElhatton
One Struggle, One Fight | San Francisco

This is the first march that, to my knowledge, has been really and truly an LGBT march--fully inclusive of transgender, transsexual and gender variant people.

Oftentimes, that acronym is used, but it means nothing. In the outreach I've done for the march, almost every trans activist I've encountered has been burned badly at least once by the transphobia of some in the movement.

My hope is that this march is an opportunity to begin mending those wounds--for those who aren't trans to learn how to become allies, and for those who are trans to embrace the broader movement, without compromising our visibility.

It's also an opportunity for trans people to find community and political common ground. While it is important to continue education on trans issues, the community is ready to move beyond that and strive toward tangible political progress.

Kaela Talley
eQuality CU | Urbana-Champaign, Ill.

My name is Kaela, and I am a student at the University of Illinois and member of the community/student organization called eQuality CU.

I am marching in the National Equality March on October 11, 2009, because my life has been changed for the better in so many ways by the LGBT men and women I have known. These people, my friends, show me every day what true strength is. They are heckled and insulted in public, with little or no defense from bystanders, but can still be proud and unapologetic of who they are. Some of these amazing people live in (sadly justified) fear that if they ever come out to their family and friends, they would be ostracized and left without their loved ones, and I want help change that.

I have never understood how who someone loves could ever mean more than who they are. The LGBT friends and mentors I have had have taught me great and valuable lessons; without these people, I would not have realized what I truly wanted to do with my life.

It scares me to death that some of these people could have been legally prevented from helping and educating me for a reason as arbitrary as their sexuality. I am marching to make sure that will never happen, and that nobody will be denied the opportunity to have the wonderful friends and mentors that I have had.

It breaks my heart that for some reason, there are people who believe it is okay to discriminate against LGBT people simply because of who they love, and that our elected representatives have, for years, agreed with and encouraged these beliefs. Somehow, it is okay to deny them the right to marry, visit a loved one in the hospital, fight for their country in the military, and sometimes even the ability to work because of "tradition" or "morality."

Opponents of gay marriage say it offends the "tradition" of marriage between a man and a woman. Guess what else was defended as a tradition? Slavery.

I am marching because I want to be part of what I believe will change the future of our country for the better. I am marching because I will never accept inequality, I will never accept discrimination, and I will always be here to fight for and support LGBT people in this country and around the world.

I want desperately for future generations to look back on these years of state-by-state battling for equal rights (or even equal protection), rampant discrimination and crimes of hate, and wonder how people could have been so ignorant and so cruel...and to be proud to say: "I was a part of that change."

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