Gays Protest Rejection Of Speaker at Gathering

Protesters from the gay, bisexual and transgender community enter the grounds of the Millions More Movement with their lavender banner.
Protesters from the gay, bisexual and transgender community enter the grounds of the Millions More Movement with their lavender banner. (By Lois Raimondo -- The Washington Post)

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By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 16, 2005

Gay and lesbian leaders led a protest of the Millions More Movement yesterday after they accused event leaders of reneging on a pledge to allow a national gay leader to address the crowd.

Black gay and lesbian leaders had planned a separate "unity rally" to celebrate the inclusion of Keith Boykin, president of the National Black Justice Coalition, as a speaker at the march. But after Boykin said he was turned away from the podium yesterday morning, the rally at Freedom Plaza turned into an angry protest that decried what demonstrators called a double-cross by the Rev. Willie F. Wilson, the Washington minister who is the march's national executive director.

Leaders said they were sure Wilson was responsible for the snub after their bizarre and angry meeting with Wilson earlier in the week.

"Ignorance, arrogance and back-stabbing will not be tolerated," said Sterling Wilson, a gay activist who addressed the rally. "If he wants a fight, he'll get a fight."

Gay leaders and protesters marched down Pennsylvania Avenue NW to the U.S. Capitol, where they tried to get close to the main march's podium as Jesse L. Jackson was speaking. But first, there was a familiar Washington moment: Protesters queued up to go through metal detectors at the foot of the Capitol grounds. They stopped chanting and patiently waited while their rolled rainbow flag, lavender banner and signs that said, "Black by Birth, Gay by God," were inspected for weapons.

March organizers and gay groups have been feuding for months about the participation of gays and lesbians in the event. Comments by Wilson this summer disparaging lesbians added to the anger and led to demands that Wilson step down as a march leader.

"It's a tragedy that one person stuck in the past can prevent our community from moving forward," Boykin said.

Boykin and two other leaders said they thought they had worked out their role after a meeting Wednesday with Wilson and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. The meeting ended with hugs from Farrakhan and what they said was an offer to Boykin to speak during the Unity Tapestry section of the program.

Wilson denied that Boykin was guaranteed a speaking slot. "He straight-out lied. There were certain conditions that he had to meet in order to speak, and he did not," Wilson said. He would not elaborate on the conditions.

March organizers said a representative of the Black Men's Exchange, an all-male group from New York, spoke during the Unity Tapestry. Boykin and other leaders at the rally said the group does not represent mainstream black gays.

Boykin and the two other leaders who were at the meeting said Farrakhan appeared genuinely interested in working out a solution. But the three said Wilson refused to shake their hands and went on a tirade.

Boykin said Wilson said he was furious about hate mail and angry calls he had gotten since he was criticized for delivering a sermon at his Southeast Washington church that described gay sex in graphic and derogatory terms. He has since written about an "epidemic" of lesbianism among young black girls.

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