Gay-rights advocates discuss Washington march

Tammy Tucker

Several University students and staff members marched with hundreds of thousands of gay-rights supporters in Washington, D.C., on Sunday for the Millennium March for Equality.
The march started at the Washington Monument and moved down the mall to the U.S. Capitol where a daylong rally featured entertainment and political figures such as Melissa Etheridge, Ellen DeGeneres and Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn.
Two prominent Wisconsin gay-rights advocates addressed the rally: 13-year-old activist Sol Kelley-Jones, daughter of a Madison lesbian couple, spoke about acceptance of all kinds of families, while Rep. Tammy Baldwin, an openly lesbian U.S. representative, talked about the importance of ending workplace discrimination.
University participants agreed the march was empowering and a lot of fun.
“It was incredible,” said Holly Dolezalek, a University College student. “The mall is probably a mile long, and it was full of people.”
“The march took two hours to complete. It was wall-to-wall people walking, probably eight to 10 abreast for two hours,” she continued, adding that more people were marching in the parade than were watching.
Andy Tracy, a graduating University nursing student, had a similar impression.
“It was a blast,” he said. “I’ve never seen so many gay people of all ages in one spot. The sheer number of people was unbelievable.”
“I remember coming up out of the subway station … and looking out at the entrance to the festival, and it was a couple of blocks long. That was just the number of people wanting to get in.”
Most states and many organizations were represented. Dolezalek marched with about 50 other Minnesotans and Tracy marched with 100 members of his fraternity, Delta Lambda Phi.
“I had on my U of M hat, so every once in a while I would hear someone yell, ‘Yeah, Minnesota’,” Tracy recalled.
“It was very empowering and lots of fun,” he said. “It was OK to hold a boy’s hand and be comfortable.”
He recalled harassment he endured as president of the fraternity. His phone number was listed as the contact for the chapter, and he and his roommate would occasionally receive harassing phone calls.
On the way to the march, he encountered a senior citizen who asked him if he was part of the gay fraternity. When Tracy said yes, the man lamented that he wished such an organization existed when he was in college.
He said he was proud of us, Tracy said.
“It just felt so worthwhile — very seldom do you get to see the benefits of all your hard work.”
Throughout the weekend festival, Tracy worked at his fraternity’s booth where he met all kinds, races and ages of people, he said.
Saturday, Dolezalek and her girlfriend, Barb Smith, a University library assistant, participated in a mass wedding on the mall.
“There were 3,000 couples registered, but there were lots of us who just showed up and did it,” Dolezalek said.
Some participants were dressed in tuxedos and wedding attire, others were in shorts, Dolezalek said.
“I did it more as an act of civil disobedience than a church wedding,” she said.
Several religious leaders spoke at the wedding, including a rabbi who said television shows like “Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire,” not gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, cheapen the institution of marriage, Dolezalek reported.
As the wedding ceremony took place, protesters shouted barely audible condemnation in the background. Throughout the weekend, protesters were visible, but not abundant, Smith said.
They waved signs saying “God hates fags” and “dykes die,” and one man sported a shirt with “Got AIDS yet?” on the front, she said.
“It just bugs me that most people can have conventions and don’t have to be offended by people carrying signs saying they are going to hell. You know, the Shriner convention doesn’t have to put up with that,” Smith said.
The main focus of the weekend was to inspire and galvanize gay-rights supporters for the 2000 political election, according to the event Web site.
A videotaped speech by President Clinton was shown during the rally and Vice President Al Gore’s pre-recorded speech was broadcast to the crowd. Several Clinton administration representatives spoke as well, and canvassers encouraged people to register to vote.
The exact number in attendance is unknown. Law enforcement officials estimated 300,000 people, while march officials declared at least 700,000 people.
“I’m so glad I went,” said Smith, who had originally viewed the weekend in D.C. as a social event.
“There were such touching things. In the parade, little kids marched with their moms with little signs saying, ‘I love my two moms,'” she said.
One of the most memorable events of the weekend for Smith was when she and her friends encountered actor Martin Sheen.
We were at the restaurant and Sheen walked in, Smith recounted. “There was about 20 minutes of him shaking hands with everybody there and then he came over to our table to ask us how the march was.”

Tammy Tucker welcomes comments at [email protected]