Organizers of Sunday's National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights said yesterday that the demonstration dramatized the nationwide strength and new militancy of a growing political constituency that is determined to achieve equal rights under the law.
"It's taken a while for us to get here," said Kay Ostberg, a D.C. attorney who helped coordinate the march. She said the gathering on the Mall, which drew more than 250,000 gays and their supporters, succeeded "far beyond my wildest expectations" and signaled a new stage for the gay rights movement.
"We've come to Washington to show our visibility, but also our strength, our anger, our resilience and our hope," Ostberg said. "This civil rights movement has come of age politically, and we are not going back to the days of silent suffering. We are here to demand an end to discrimination now."
At the top of a list of seven specific demands for government action is passage of a federal bill, already cosponsored by seven U.S. senators and nearly 70 representatives, that would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
This morning, march organizers say, several hundred demonstrators are expected to join a nonviolent, civil disobedience action on the steps of the Supreme Court. Dubbed "Out and Outraged," the gathering is being held to protest the court's Bowers v Hardwick decision upholding the right of states to prosecute consenting adults who engage in homosexual activity in the privacy of their homes.
Like the march, the Supreme Court demonstration is being meticulously organized.
Anyone who wants to get arrested has been asked to undergo a daylong training session on the tactics of civil disobedience. Even the arrest schedule will be regimented: Those who have to catch planes to California or other points west will be arrested first so that they can be processed and released in time.
District police yesterday refused to confirm reports that they plan to wear rubber gloves, used in the past as a precaution against AIDS virus carriers, while arresting any gay demonstrators. Supreme Court police were said to be apprehensive but undecided about wearing gloves.
The court demonstration, according to gay rights activists, illustrates a growing militancy in the campaign for equality -- and a link between the struggles of the civil rights movement and their demands for similar freedom. And, in a nation where 22 states and the District consider sodomy a felony, gay rights leaders say they will no longer tolerate discrimination based on sexual preference and practices.
"Our patience has been exhausted," Virginia Apuzzo, New York State consumer board official and longtime gay activist, told marchers Sunday. "We are discriminated against on our jobs, in housing and public accommodations. The Supreme Court has declared we have no right to privacy. We are hounded out of the military, barred from worshiping in some churches. Our children are kept from us . . . . If that isn't second-class citizenship, I don't know what is."
Just as the civil rights protests of the 1960s led to passage of national legislation banning discrimination in housing, employment and education based on race, religion and national origin, gay rights organizers hope that the march and future actions will result in similar civil rights legislation that applies to what they estimate are 25 million gay Americans.
Ostberg said gay rights activists will be doing more lobbying on Capitol Hill on behalf of specific legislation supported by march organizers. She said that last week's "lobby days," in which march participants visited congressional offices, did a lot to raise the consciousness of lawmakers.
"There were lots of members of Congress who had never met their gay and lesbian constituents -- and didn't believe they existed," said Ostberg. "Well, we've changed that."
Also yesterday, in an effort to establish a continuing network for setting a national gay agenda, more than 350 gay rights activists met and voted to create a lesbian and gay congress to help coordinate grass-roots political activities around the country. The congress plans to hold its first meeting next year.
In addition to passage of the gay rights bill, march organizers want an end to discrimination against people with acquired immune deficiency syndrome or those who test positive for the virus; increased federal funding for AIDS research and education; repeal of laws against sodomy between consenting adults; a presidential order banning discrimination against gays by the federal government, and legal recognition of gay relationships.
Staff writer Sandra G. Boodman contributed to this report.