Saturday, October 14, 2017

On This Day In 1979: National March on Washington

AP Photo
The National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights was a large political rally that took place in Washington, D.C. on October 14, 1979. The first such march on Washington, it drew between 75,000 and 125,000 gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people, and straight allies to demand equal civil rights and urge the passage of protective civil rights legislation.

Harvey Milk was one of the key march organizers before he was assassinated. Milk's assassination served as a catalyst and a touchstone for organizers, who planned a conference in Philadelphia February 23–25, 1979. The
1979 march date was settled upon as it fell on the 10-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. 

Joe Smenyak of New York City initially drafted Five Demands, later amended by the conference delegates.

* Pass a comprehensive lesbian/gay rights bill in Congress

* Issue a presidential executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in the federal government, the military, and federally contracted private employment

* Repeal all anti-lesbian/gay laws

* End discrimination in lesbian-mother and gay-father custody cases

*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 march served to nationalize the gay movement, which had previously been focused on local struggles. This spirit is invoked in the closing paragraph of the welcome program of the march, written by Allen Young.

"Today in the capital of America, we are all here, the almost liberated and the slightly repressed; the butch, the femme and everything in-between; the androgynous; the monogamous and the promiscuous; the masturbators and the fellators and the tribadists; men in dresses and women in neckties; those who bite and those who cuddle; celebates [sic] and pederasts; diesel dykes and nelly queens; amazons and size queens, Yellow, Black, Brown, White, and Red; the shorthaired and the long, the fat and the thin; the nude and the prude; the beauties and the beasts; the studs and the duds; the communes, the couples, and the singles; pubescents and the octogenarians. Yes, we are all here! We are everywhere! Welcome to the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights!"
Below is a short documentary about the march made by high school juniors Jesse Berliner-Sachs, Sophie Whisnant, Meredith Criner, and Elizabeth Pasquerello. It won first place in the District National History Day Competition in 2014. It is definitely worth your time.

For a more in-depth look at the March on Washington, check out this documentary, Voices of LGBTQ Liberation! Click here for part 1 and here for part 2.

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