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.
Donna Payne, an organizer with the Human Rights Campaign who also attended the meeting, said Wilson told them he had to change his telephone number and was worried about his family. He then pulled out a book, "The New Joy of Gay Sex," and accused gay leaders of sending it to him.
Payne also said Wilson accused gay leaders of not knowing what is happening in the community.
Boykin and Payne said Wilson then grabbed a white plastic bag and pulled out a bottle of sleeping pills and a G-string made from Pez candies strung together. He said black girls use the items to try to turn other girls into lesbians.
"We were stunned into silence," said H. Alexander Robinson, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, who attended the meeting. "What do you say to that?"
Wilson, interviewed after speaking about unity at the march, would not comment on the meeting.
Longtime Washington gay activist Phillip Pannell said he thought the offer of a speaking spot to a national gay representative was a ruse by march organizers to silence critics in the days leading up to the event.
"Farrakhan gives us the sugary rhetoric, and Wilson serves up the vinegar," Pannell said. "I think it was by design."
Staff writer Hamil R. Harris contributed to this report.
National gay leader Keith Boykin says organizers reneged on a pledge.