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, bisexual and transgender people and straight allies to demand equal civil rights and urge the passage of protective civil rights legislation.
History and Planning
The first major attempt at organizing a national gay and lesbian march on Washington occurred Thanksgiving Weekend 1973 in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois. The National Gay Mobilizing Committee for a March on Washington (NGMC), organized by Jeff Graubart, attempted to coordinate a coalition of extant LGBT organizations to plan a March on Washington. Early efforts were met with resistance from local and national LGBT organizations, and plans for a march were ultimately postponed.
The next organization attempt was to occur in Minneapolis the weekend of November 17–19, 1978. A steering committee was created to prepare for the Minneapolis conference, and it identified a primary goal of the march as transforming the gay movement from local to national. However, the committee was dissolved in October 1978 due to internal dissent. Harvey Milk, who had been on the Minneapolis steering committee, took up the reins to continue march organization, and had secured support from local DC groups who had previously dissented before he was assassinated by Dan White. Milk’s assassination served as a catalyst and a touchstone for organizers, who next planned a conference in Philadelphia February 23–25, 1979. One male and one female delegate was invited from known lesbian and gay organizations, and the attendees set forth to address three primary questions. First, whether or not a march should take place. Second, what the organizational structure of the march should be. And third, the platform of the march. An initial debate between marching in 1979 and 1980 sprung up, but 1979 was settled upon as it fell on the ten-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Once these issues were settled and issues of female and minority representation were handled, the conference set forth five demands that would serve as the platform for the march. The participants chose to focus on single-issue politics so as not to dilute the message of a united lesbian and gay community. The final organizational push occurred at a conference at the University of Houston campus July 6–8, 1979.
The National Steering Committee, with mandated gender parity and 25% representation of People of Color, was selected by community meetings throughout the country. Policy/Overview and Administrative Committees were established to guide the work and decisions between Steering Committee meetings. The National Office was set up in New York City with Joyce Hunter and Steven Ault as National Coordinators.
The Five Demands, as drafted by Joe Smenyak and amended by the conference delegates were as follows:
- 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
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