Monday, October 12, 2009

March for Equality 2009

I have been pretty remiss of late. In recent weeks I have started two postings only to get shut down by writer's block (the scourge of every writer at one point or another... those two posts remain unfinished, awaiting my creative muse to return). I apologize and would like to comment on my day yesterday after arriving in Washington, D.C.

Yesterday, I had the distinct honor of attending the National Equality March in Washington, D.C. While I got into town too late to meet up at the White House where the march began, I was at the Capitol Building lawn ready to greet the marchers as they came en masse; to record the events for posterity. And for my own purposes, to commit to memory a very special (and long) day.

Some unofficial accounts placed nearly 200,000 people present for the march and subsequent rally, something I doubt, but I will certainly agree there were lots and LOTS of people gathered to voice their passion, their frustrations, their demands for respect and equality and their love for this country of ours.

I can unequivocally state there were a number of moments that tugged at the heartstrings. Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP gave a speech that was a huge home run ("We have a lot of real and serious problems in this country, and same-sex marriage is not one of them. Good things don't come to those who wait, but they come to those who agitate!").

Both activists David Mixner and Cleve Jones voiced their hopes and concerns with equal zeal... and why not? These men are professionals and know their craft well. Perhaps, to me, other moments... somewhat more low-key, captured my attention completely.

The first was when Judy Shepard, mother of slain college student Matthew Shepard (has it really been 11 years now?) took the stage. The instant Judy's name was announced the audience fell completely silent out of respect for her... and her family. Her comments were brief, powerful and softly stated. But make no mistake, sometimes the softest voice delivers the most impact-- and this she did. My respect for this woman rivals that of the mother of slain Sailor Allan Schindler, who was brutally murdered by his own fellow shipmates in 1992.

One moment was offered by one of the co-founders of the march. Sadly, I don't recall her name, but her tearful plea for President Obama to follow through on his promises to the community were heartfelt. She offered her concerns for her family, her children and their future-- and we all understood and felt her pain.

Other moments involved the power of music, actually there were four... were each delivered separately and speak to music's ability to transcend above political and social paths. The first was when the Washington, D.C.'s Gay Men's Choir sang 'Bridge Over Troubled Water.' How amazing that that old Paul Simon song still carries so much strength all these years later (a song I know well from my high school swing choir days)!

The last moment (in order of performance anyway) was when the young Broadway cast of 'Hair,' who took the day off from their New York City stage, came to perform 'Aquarius!' and join in what was often (that day) called 'the right side of history.'

I was struck by how young and beautiful the cast was, but when I looked around at the crowd surrounding me I noticed just how many young people were present. And they were not there to ask but to demand the respect and equality all of us deserve. The moment was clearly reminiscent of the old Vietnam War-era protest marches.

Two events brought tears to my eyes. Why? With all the noise, hate, shouting and screaming so often waged against gays and lesbians, I was touched by this simple fact. Even with all the disrespect heaped upon the gay community, they showed that in spite of that, they/we love our country.

At the point where we stood together, side by side, and sang the 'Star Spangled Banner,' our national anthem, I was moved beyond words! People everywhere stood at attention, hands over their heart, and sang... and sang proudly. And later on, when we sang, again with reverence, 'America the Beautiful,' I would defy anyone not to have been moved. Say what you will about our very diverse community, but it cannot be said that we do not love our country any more, or any less than any other American.

Here's the point... at least the one that was obvious to me, this march was a call for everyone to phone in, to write, to meet with their community leaders, their congressmen and congresswomen, their senators and our President. To be silent no more. The time for indecisiveness is long past and it is time that every.single.American be treated with equality, with respect and with peace.

So what are we asking for (and if you think about it, we shouldn't have to do this)? We expect the same rights as our heterosexual counterparts: the right to marry with the same rights, respect and benefits; the right to serve our nation's military openly and respectfully without having to lie or hide who we are; the right to be employed without fear of reprisals for being who we are; and the right to live free of fear of being victims of hate.

And it is time our government live up to its motto, 'we the people' and practice the 14th Amendment of our Constitution as it would any other law of the land.

Equality is a God given tenant of our existence. Yesterday's march was our voice saying enough is enough... So either help us lead the march or get out of the way. As was mentioned in one speech, "Equal rights are for all, all of the time, not just when it is convenient."

photos by the author