Carrying signs proclaiming "Gay love is good love," at least 25,000 homosexuals and their supporters marched from the Capitol to the Washington Monument grounds yesterday to rally for gay rights legislation.
It was the first national gay rights march, a festive occasion that brought together diverse segments of the homosexual community. There were "No nuke gays" and gay dentist and "OK gays" from Oklahoma. From Mexico came a "Gung-ho gay guerrilla." Prairie region gays locked arms, hugged and kissed Rocky Mountain gays.
Although chilled by crisp fall weather, the crowd was largely jubilant and appeared to include more women than men. There were no incidents of violence, but some harassment and heckling occurred along the parade route.
As the marchers, moved behind the White House at one point, a man who refused to be identified waved a sign at them: "Repent or perish -- II Peter, 2:12."
"The lord is my shepherd," yelled a member of the L. A. Gay Freedom Band. "And he knows I'm gay."
For thousands of museum-goers, mall-strollers, kite fliers and just plain tourists, it was largely Sunday as usual with a minimal amount of disturbance from the demonstration and only occasional traffic problems in the Mall area.
"It adds spice to the day," said Elinor Moore of Crescent City, Calif., as she and her husband, George, sat huddling on a bench before the Washington Mounment where hundreds of gays and gay sympathizers collected.
"I don't know what they hope to acccomplish, but they've been very polite," Moore said.
Organizers of the demonstration stated in no uncertain terms what they wanted accomplished. In sometimes defensive and angry tones, spokespersons for the gays demanded that Congress amend the Civil Rights Act to protect homosexulas against discrimination in jobs, the military and legal proceedings.
A homosexual rights bill has been introduced in Congress by Rep. Ted Weiss (D-NY). However, Rep Larry McDonald, (D-Ga.) countered the move by introducing an anti-homosexual resolution that opposes any speical consideration for gays.
Robin Tyler, who was introduced to the crowd yesterday as "a famous national feminist" lesbian, described the march and rally as a civil rights effort.
"Someone said that this gathering is about showing society that we are just as good as anybody else," she said. "Well, I say because of the oppression we have endured, we are better."
Richard Ashworth, a spokesman for the group "Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays," drew loud applaud when he told the crowd, "We love our gay children."
"They are not being defiant or self-indulgent, just true to their nature," he said. "This is not a fad, but something established in infancy, perhaps before birth. They didn't catch it. It isn't a disease to be cured."
D.C. Mayor Marion Barry was scheduled to address the rally yesterday, but did not show up. Instead, he sent Maria Dias, introduced as "the mayor's liaison with the gays."
Other speakers included Sky Rose, of the Lesbian Gay Youth of San Francisco, Arthur McCombs of the Gay Atheist League of America and Juanita Ramos, of the Comite Homosexual Latinoamericano.
The rally did not interfere with a noon-time Chinatown parade by the Chinese Consolidate Benevolent Association, but it did somewhat disrupt afternon automobile traffic. Park Police had blocked off 17th Street NW between Constitution and Independence avenues for the afternoon.
"I didn't even go near there -- I knew better," said cabbie Robert L. Bell, who said he and some other cab drivers on the National Airport- downtown run detoured to Memorial Bridge to avoid the mall area.
Two tourists, Jack Quick and Leslie Earle of Sacramento, said they were abandoned by their cab driver about four blocks from the Washington Monument, where they waited 30 minutes for a Tour-mobile bus.
There were varying estimates of the crowd size. The U.S. Park Police, using a helicopter and a scientific grid system, said 25,000 people were on the mall. The District police estimated 75,000. A department spokesman could not say how that figure was arrived at.
Organizers of the march offered higher estimates. "We hear that over a quarter of a million people are here today," Robin Tyler screamed into the microphone. The crowd was ecstatic.
"This is a great day," said Claudia Collin, 33. "We're finally being recognized as people. Frankly, I was surprised to see so many women. But I guess I shouldn't be."
Robert Hampton, a dentist from Houston, said he was also elated. "I still feel kinda peculiar coming out like this. I had some real reservations. sBut I see so many others here who have taken much greater risks than I. This is so healthy," he said.
Aside from the occasional heckling of marchers along the parade route, there was some organized opposition yesterday as well.
After the parade along Pennsylvania Avenue had ended and the demonstrators were gathered on the Mall, about 75 Protestant ministers and churchgoers met in the Science and Technology hearing room of the Rayburn House Office Building to pray that homosexuals would "repent."
"God didn't create Adam and Steve, but Adam and Eve," said the Rev. Jerry Falwell, a Baptist minister who appears on the "Old Time Gospel Hour," a nationally televised gospel service on Sunday mornings.
"Homosexuality, like theft, like drug addiction, begins with choosing to disobey the laws of God," he said. "I would not object to gay people having equal housing or employment opportunities. But I would object to them teaching in the classroom and to them holding any position of leadership."
The Rev. Richard Zone, executive director of the activist religious group Christian Voice, said he had urged about 40,000 ministers across the country to ask their parishioners to sign a petition asking President Carter "to resist efforts to legitimize homosexuality by giving special consideration under law to those who practice such acts." The petitions will be presented to Carter Oct. 24, he said.
Anita Bryant, the famed leader of the anti-gay movement, sent a telegram announcing that she was saying prayers "for those misguided individuals marching in Washington today who seek to flaunt their immoral lifestyle."