Equality March draws thousands from across country

By : Lou Chibbaro Jr. of the Washington Blade, courtesy of the National Gay Media Association
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Carrying rainbow flags and signs reading “Love, not hate, makes America great” and “Resist Trump,” tens of thousands of LGBT people and their supporters marched from the White House to the National Mall near the U.S. Capitol on Sunday in the Equality March for Unity and Pride.

Through dozens of signs held by marchers saying “Remember Pulse” and in speeches at a rally on the Mall, march participants noted the event took place one day before the first anniversary the shooting rampage at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., that took the lives of 49 mostly LGBT people.

Three survivors of the Pulse incident, which has become known as the nation’s worst mass shooting, spoke at the rally.

Before they spoke veteran gay activist Nicole Murray Ramirez of San Diego and one of 13 national co-chairs of the march, called for a moment of silence to remember the victims of the Pulse shooting.

Equality March founder David Bruinooge, who served as a co-chair, said he was uncertain of the exact number of people who turned out for the march. But he said reports he received from knowledgeable observers led him to believe at least 50,000 and possibly as many as 80,000 people from throughout the nation took part in the march and rally.

The U.S Park Service, which issued a permit to allow the Equality March to hold its rally on the Mall, no longer releases crowd estimates for large events as it once did in past years.

The march began at 10:08 a.m. at 17th and I Streets, N.W., two blocks north of the White House. It took nearly two hours for all of the marchers to stream past the White House, walk south on 15th Street to Constitution Avenue and head east to the Mall at Third Street, where a stage had been built at the site of the rally.

Large numbers of marchers could been seen leaving the site of the rally shortly after arriving there. Many moved to the sides of the Mall and watched the rally in the shade under trees as the temperature rose to close to 95 degrees. As the rally continued for nearly two hours the center of the Mall in front of the stage was nearly empty.

“There was definitely tens of thousands of people at the march,” said Bruinooge. “And the Mall was filling up but clearly on this hot and blistering day people were finding shade under the trees, which is great. It was a peaceful, safe day and we’re very thankful for everyone who came out for this from the beginning,” he said.

“It was a grassroots organization and we did it with zero corporate dollars,” Bruinooge said. “And we’re proud of that and that people stepped up and made their voices heard today.”

Among the more than a dozen speakers at the rally were veteran lesbian activist Mandy Carter of North Carolina, co-founder of the National Black Justice Coalition; Imani Woody, founder and CEO of D.C.’s Mary’s House for Older Adults; Doug Kimmel, founder of the New York-based LGBT seniors advocacy group SAGE; Sarah McBride, transgender rights advocate and national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign; and Chase Strangio, staff attorney for the ACLU’s LGBT and AIDS Project.

Javier Cifuentes, HRC’s Youth Ambassador, and Thomas Tonatiuh Lopez Jr. of the Indigenous Youth Council gave rousing speeches that captured the theme and tone of what leaders of the Equality March said was one of their key messages – that the LGBT rights movement must work in solidarity with the nation’s other progressive movements and social causes such as immigrant rights, racial justice, transgender rights, the rights of indigenous peoples, and women’s and reproductive rights.

Among several celebrities who spoke at the rally were actress, singer, and songwriter Sara Ramirez, who has emerged as an outspoken straight ally; actor and LGBT advocate Asia Kate Dillon, star of the Netflix TV series “Orange is the New Black” and the Showtime series “Billions,” who identifies as non-binary; and gay actor Charlie Carter of the ABC series “Desperate Housewives” and the MTV series “Teen Wolf.”

Also speaking was former National Basketball Association player Jason Collins.

Many of the marchers carried signs calling on President Donald Trump to respect the rights of LGBT people and refrain from rolling back LGBT rights. Several marchers, while walking in front of the White House, began to chant, “Hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go” and “lock him up.”

Others turned signs toward the White House that said “Shame, Shame” and “Our House.” A young gay man who traveled to D.C. from Chicago to join the march and who identified himself as Ming held a sign that appeared to draw laughter and more attention than most of the other signs. It read, “Mike Pence blocked me on Grindr.”

Many of the marchers, both women and men, were accompanied by children who held signs expressing support for LGBT equality.

Jim Martin, who traveled to D.C. from Ohio to attend the march, said he was proud to march beside his lesbian daughter Shavon Martin.

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