Why I’m going to the big gay march in Washington

Guest Commentary

by Beth Sherouse, Columbia, S.C.

Since movement veteran Cleve Jones announced plans for a national gay rights march on Washington following the passage of California’s Prop. 8 last November, reactions from the LGBT community have been mixed. Supporters of October’s National Equality March are adopting a grassroots lobbying strategy, demanding “Equal protection in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states,” and promoting a more direct appeal to the federal government for LGBT rights. Lukewarm supporters and skeptics of the march, mainly organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and state Equality groups, are concerned that the march will drain resources from the state-by-state approach for marriage equality. Critics of the march movement are also concerned that this march may share the fate of previous gay rights marches in ’79, ’87, ’93, and 2000, which seem to have accomplished little.

I have been a supporter of HRC for most of my adult life, and I have worked with both state, local, and campus organizations in South Carolina and Georgia. While I will continue to support such organizations, I think a national approach offers more hope for me and other South Carolinians than anything HRC or state-by-state marriage equality can offer.

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South Carolina is one of only five states that has no hate crimes laws; other than a limited policy in the city of Columbia, there are no laws banning discrimination in employment or housing based on sexual orientation or gender identity; and the 2006 constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage in South Carolina passed by 78 percent. For people who do not live in California or Massachusetts, for those who are part of otherwise disadvantaged communities, for those who live in constant fear of employment discrimination and physical violence because their states give them no protection, for those whose lives and relationships are invisible to most of America, marriage equality in progressive states is nothing more than a symbolic victory, and symbols cannot help them provide for their families or protect themselves from discrimination.

I do not plan to spend the rest of my life in South Carolina. But for those LGBT folks who call this state home, gay marriage fights in states like Maine and California offer little more than momentary comfort against communities in which they will remain second-class citizens for the foreseeable future unless the federal government intervenes. The state-by-state approach to equality seems meaningless in a state that has historically been several decades behind the rest of the country in terms of civil rights. If the federal government had left the battle for desegregation up to states to fight on their own, de jure segregation would arguably still be in place here and a few of its neighboring deep South states.

We need to build support behind a federal gay rights agenda, because if we leave our rights up to the conservative majorities in states across the nation, we will never achieve equality. LGBT Americans should ALL enjoy the same civil rights as their heterosexual counterparts, whether they live in San Francisco or Atlanta, New York or Charleston. The federal government must step in and defend our civil rights in places where our community cannot adequately defend itself, and we must show Washington lawmakers that we are looking to them to change laws as we go about the work of changing hearts and minds.

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So this is why we march on Washington on Oct. 10-11. We march because at no time in our nation’s history have gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people been more visible and political. We march because marriage is but one of the many rights and privileges that we deserve as citizens of this country, and because it is time for the Obama administration to make good on its promises to the LGBT community. We march because as Americans, our civil rights should not depend on our sexual orientation or gender identity, nor should they depend on what state we live in. We march because visibility matters and is the key to dismantling the foundations of prejudice and discrimination. And we march with the hope that standing in solidarity with each other and asserting our place in this nation has transformative potential.

— Beth Sherouse is a Graduate Assistant in the Department of History at the University of South Carolina.

Q-Notes strives to provide the Carolinas LGBT community with an open forum for discussion and commentary. The views of guest commentators do not necessarily represent the official views or positions of Q-Notes, its editorial staff or publisher.

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7 Replies to “Why I’m going to the big gay march in Washington”

  1. The goals you outline are fine. Have a good march. But be prepared to be asked how your march benefitted gay equality in Maine, where marriage equality is in imminent danger of being voted away. It will be interesting to compare Maine polls before and after the march. We know TV cameras will zoom in on the most flamboyant, semi-naked marchers because those images boost ratings. Will their exuberance gain sympathy of Mainers?

  2. Beth, I think your point is both honest and insightful. I’m fortunate to live in a state where my union is recognized, but at the same time, I come from a conservative state that will take quite a while to progress on the marriage front.

    I think what we’re seeing is something endemic in the gay community, and that is our diversity and division. Because we are a group that touches on all walks of life, I think it is harder for us than any other political minority to develop a clear, comprehensive, and universally agreed upon action plan. The analogy I like to use is that of a hydra. Each subset of the LGBT movement is yet another head, with its own distinct voice and decisions, but because we can’t come to any major common ground, as one head tries to move a foot forward, yet another is holding it back or trying to walk in another direction.

    I’ve talked to my husband a lot about my mixed feelings about going to Washington in October, and I have to admit, I’m still not decided. While I wholeheartedly agree with you, I think that the current economic climate and political climate does not favor any major LGBT legislation (other than ENDA), and POSSIBLY (though I think still unlikely) a repeal of DADT. With healthcare, economic recovery, and a whole slew of issues plaguing the government, I don’t think our voice will truly be heard and taken seriously.

  3. I think the questions about whether the march will be effective, whether it is the right time, etc are no longer relevant. The fact is that the march is on. The only question left is whether we as a community will turn out to make it a success. If half of us sit and ponder all the possible outcomes of the march without taking action then it will probably not be a success. Its time to get off the fence. You’ve got two choices: help to make the march more successful or sit back, complain and undermine its efforts.

  4. Whether the march is successfull or not and whether state by state fighting is successfull or not doesnt change the fact that every little effort as well as every big effort can only help the cause of equality…Not hurt.

    I for one wont be able to attend the march but those who are able to will still have my support just as those who want to initiate petitions for equality will.

    It all matters.

  5. With all due respect, you should get your facts straight. Ask Cleve Jones if HRC’s support is lukewarm or if they are skeptics, and you will be enlightened and I hope you will write a retraction and apology to HRC. Your writing makes it sound like fact and there is no basis. It is simply your opinion and it is misguided and you are misinforming your readers.

  6. As a straight advocate for the LGBT community, I have been disheartened in the lack of participation in protests and events by my LGBT friends. I am beginning to wonder, “Why should I care if they don’t?”

    Any Answers out there?

  7. I too am conflicted about whether to attend the March for Equal Marriage or not. I have decided to attend. I’m coming from California where you would think that marriage equality would be a no-brainer. Instead, we have right-wing funded referenda that have eliminated the chance for me to marry.

    I will be at the march. My best friend from college/high school (who is straight) will be there. My two kids are sending me off with hugs and kisses. All of this is important. Maine’s battle, ours in California, and our national battle for marriage equality, health care/insurance reform, and rescinding “Don’t ask, don’t tell”.

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