Movement for LGBTQ equality reinvigorated
The National Equality March on Oct. 11 brought together reinvigorated and newly-activated activists to push for full legal equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) citizens. The event, drawing an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 marchers, was a bigger success than its organizers, a loose nationwide steering committee calling themselves Equality Across America, could have imagined. It owed part of its success to a darker moment--the passage of Proposition 8 in California in 2008.
In May 2008, California's Supreme Court ruled that denying marriage to same sex couples was unconstitutional. Opponents called for a ballot initiative to amend the constitution to take away the LGBTQ right to marry. When it passed, many young LGBTQ people and their straight friends, who had grown up with Ellen, Will and Grace, and Gay-Straight Alliances in their high schools, were shocked by the visceral lesson of hate and inequality from California's voters.
In just a few days a coordinated nationwide protest called Join The Impact was planned for Nov. 15, 2008. While established groups helped in some cases, many of these rallies were organized by people who had never before picked up a bullhorn. In Chicago, 1,500 people packed Daley Plaza on a frigid Saturday afternoon for a rally, then took to the streets in an impromptu march up Michigan Avenue.
These new activists formed new groups. Obama made clear he wouldn't prioritize his campaign promises to the LGBTQ community. As more states passed pro-equality laws and more reactionary organizations vowed to repeal them, activists realized that the state-by-state strategy had to make way for a national one.
Citing the 14th amendment to the Constitution, which says no state may deny equal protection under the law to any citizen, Equality Across America demands full equality in all matters governed by law and called for the National Equality March. Workshops and networking to build connections between folks from every congressional district preceded the march.
The march, winding past the White House and ending in a rally at the Capitol, included participants of all ages, races, genders and creeds, and from all corners of the country. Homemade signs and rally speakers also called for equality in employment, immigration, and protection from violence, as well as marriage.
Returning home enriched by the experience of organizing for the march, the Chicago group behind the Nov. 15 protest, Join The Impact Chicago, held a community strategy meeting, worked to lobby for the national hate crimes law, and mobilized to help protect marriage equality in Maine.
But on Nov. 5, around 200 Chicago activists again found themselves standing outside in the cold. The Maine effort to defeat Question 1 had failed, and voters again gave in to fear and hate. It was a brutal blow, as the Maine campaign had learned from the mistakes in California and so much momentum in the past year had made many hope history would not repeat itself. Marching through the dark to Federal Plaza, chanting "We demand equality," the people made it clear that they would not accept defeat.
Published by News and Letters Committees