President Clinton’s administration gave an unusually warm welcome to tens of thousands of homosexuals who marched loudly on the Mall yesterday hoisting banners that said such things as, “It’s my right to cuddle with who I want to.”
The Millennium March on Washington for Equality the fourth such march here was a show of electoral muscle for the November elections, organizers said.
Marchers were asked to sign voter pledge cards in a bid to turn out “the largest [homosexual] vote in U.S. history … and prove we are 5 percent of the vote,” said Dianne Hardy-Garcia, executive director of the march.
The march got attention from the Clinton administration the president and Vice President Al Gore both addressed the rally in videotaped messages.
And for the first time ever, a member of the Cabinet Aida Alvarez, administrator of the Small Business Administration formally addressed the rally for homosexual rights.
Ken O’Brien, 42, and his partner of 16 years, Jaime Huertas, traveled here from New York to show “politicians are aware of us and they should pay attention,” Mr. O’Brien said.
The District of Columbia Council’s two openly homosexual members Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, and David Catania, at-large Republican both addressed the rally, as did Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.
Organizers billed the march as a mainstream event with a family focus, featuring a conference for relatives of homosexuals and a teen dance.
Past marches, most notably in 1993, prompted complaints of public sex acts and obscene language, but this year was much calmer as marchers waved the rainbow-colored homosexual-pride flag and parents pushed their children in strollers down Constitution Avenue and along the Mall.
The 1993 march showed the split clearly. On the left side were activists throwing condoms in a Catholic church or dumping ashes on the White House lawn. On the right were leaders in business suits talking calmly with the president.
Prominent were groups like ACT-UP, which was formed in 1987 in direct response to the AIDS crisis and became known for its “actions,” like the disruption of church services in New York, and Queer Nation, which was born in 1990 to fight anti-homosexual discrimination and adopted the motto “We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it.”
But that has changed over the years.
In November 1997, Arlington County Board member Jay Fisette Jr. made history as the first openly homosexual candidate to win an election in Virginia.
Also, Queer Nation saw two of its largest chapters, in Los Angeles and New York, disband after internal squabbles. Organizers have had to become more savvy with their tactics focusing on getting media attention without necessarily getting arrested.
Yesterday, radical homosexuals dressed in attention-getting clothing. One man wore a leather outfit a skirt with straps over his chest and clapped to the cheers of marchers going by.
A few people dressed in drag, including a person wearing an American flag costume and giant wig who gave the name Marsha Mellow.
“I’m here representing the gay youth of America and American pride,” said Mr. Mellow, 22, who stood more than 6 feet tall.
Not all was sweetness and light, however.
About 50 anti-homosexual protesters spread out along Constitution Avenue held signs reading, “Friends don’t let friends be homosexuals,” and yelled obscenities at the marchers.
“Sodomites, repent!” shouted Charles Spingola, 44, the loudest of the protesters. Mr. Spingola, a member of Unashamed Associates in Ohio, was recently arrested for removing the homosexual flag from the Capitol building in Columbus.
“These people are reprobate,” Mr. Spingola said. “We try to rebuke them. We don’t really preach with love of Jesus. Having a subtle conversation about the blood of Jesus and his redemption is not really possible.”
Marchers came from all over the country. Even a dance bar in Dayton, Ohio, called Celebrity sent a contingent to carry a banner that was little more than an advertising plug for the bar.
The Human Rights Campaign one of the main sponsors of the march, hoisted signs that said, “Stop hate crimes”.
Organizers hoped to attract 300,000 people for this year’s march, the first on the Mall for gay rights since 1993. Previous rallies took place in 1987 and 1979.
Lil Venners, a heterosexual woman from Burlington, Vt., was marching in support of her lesbian daughter. “I want to live in a country where it doesn’t matter what your sexual orientation or color or anything else is.”
But friend Brookes Cowan joked Mrs. Venners “might be a lesbian in waiting.”
“If I am, I haven’t discovered it yet,” Mrs. Venners said.