Black gay rights activists, who said they resent being excluded from planning the 10th-anniversary commemoration of the Million Man March, pledged last night to hold a smaller rally of their own.
"A rally will take place whether we're for or against" the Millions More Movement, said Tamara Dunlap, who said she has reserved space on Freedom Plaza in downtown Washington for the morning of Oct. 15. She addressed about 100 people at a meeting last night to discuss the issue.
Leaders of the Millions More Movement have said gays are welcome. The issue appeared to be whether and how much gays would share in decision making.
"To say we're welcome isn't enough," said Philip Pannell, a longtime gay rights and political organizer. "Anybody can go stand at the Mall that day: arsonists, drug dealers and child molesters. There's a big difference between simply being invited to stand on the Mall and actually being invited to speak and to bring up the issues that concern us, like homophobia, which the [Millions More] Movement is not addressing."
As the Millions More rally nears, several leaders of the gay community have voiced doubts that a gay speaker will be allowed to address the main gathering.
"I'm not going to concede defeat yet, but it is looking like it will go that way," said Sterling Washington, co-chair of the D.C. Coalition, a community of black gay, bisexual and transgender men and women. "We're going to be there," he said in an interview. The question, he said, is whether it will be in protest.
Participants at the meeting, held by the Faith Temple at a downtown church, said it was the largest of seven such sessions. Some at the meeting said controversial comments about lesbians by the Rev. Willie F. Wilson, pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast, actually helped.
"The sermon gave people an impetus," Robert M. Vanzant, outreach pastor at Faith Temple congregation, told an interviewer. "Sometimes you need something like that to bring people around you."
Millions More representatives could not be reached last night.
Rickie Green, founder of Portal, a Baltimore-based outreach group, said gays should attend no matter what.
"We're planting the seeds for the future," he said. If gays stayed away, he said, "I don't think we would be missed."