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Marching for equality in Washington, D.C.

< fourth weekend the student organization Sexuality and Gender Activism (SAGA) sent four Carleton students to join the thousands of people from all over the country and from all walks of life who marched in Washington, D.C. in support of equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community (LGBTQ).

The march came at a time when the nation has never been closer to achieving equal rights for LGBTQ people, and according to Time magazine, drew at least 100,000 participants. This major event was organized by gay rights activist Cleve Jones to demand full equal rights from the federal government. Carleton students who saw the political significance of the march jumped for a chance to get involved.

Ensuring that interested Carleton students would be able to go to the march was difficult. Planning began soon after the start of fall term at the urging of hall director Danica Lance, leaving only a few weeks for those interested in going to find the funding to get to D.C.

SAGA member Susan Chambers managed to get the funding from CSA for the students and got tickets for a bus trip from Madison to D.C., which also carried people from Macalaster College, Wisconsin and other universities and towns in the region. The trip was brief-the students arrived in D.C. the morning of the march, and left that evening.

Caitlin Wood ‘13, Ruth Aufderheide ‘10, and Jane Sturges ‘10 left Carleton at 7:15 a.m. in order to reach Madison in time to board the bus, which reached Washington on Sunday at 10:00 a.m.

The march itself began at noon on McPherson Square, starting out slowly as the huge crowd created a bottleneck in the road. Some people in the square climbed trees to take photographs. Others scribbled signs hastily before joining the march or milled around trying to meet up with their friends, shouting their location and what they were wearing into cell phones.

Despite the bottleneck, the crowd slowly moved forward, lunging forward a few meters every few minutes before stopping again. As the crowd distanced itself from McPherson Square, the bottleneck mercifully eased and marchers spread out, waving to traffic and passers by while D.C. hawkers eager to profit from the large crowd and high emotions moved in to sell buttons and rainbow flags as well as t-shirts.

The march itself represented a wide variety of groups and interests involved in the LGBTQ community. Many sign holders identified themselves as straight allies of the community, there to support friends and relatives.

Some people marched with fellow residents of their states, while others organized themselves along ideological lines. These groups included a wide variety of views that stretched from the mainstream to far beyond it, from the pro-gay rights contingent of the Democratic Party—the Stonewall Democrats—to pink bandana-sporting anarchists. These denounced the Human Rights Campaign (the mainstream gay rights group whom Obama had spoken with the night before) as part of the ‘ruling class.’

The socialist marchers, of which there were a large number, stuck with the more tried and true marching slogan of “We’re here, we’re queer, we’re fabulous, don’t f**k with us.” If any of the Stonewall Democrats’ counterparts of the Log Cabin Republicans were in the march, they did not make themselves known.

Although the march was convened in order to hold Obama and the Democrat-controlled congress accountable for their lack of action on LGBTQ rights, most marchers seemed to have faith in and support the current administration. Arguably many would not be marching unless they believed that the administration would pay attention to the event and that the march had a chance of influencing the opinion of some in the government.

The rally on Capitol Hill after the march showed this attitude, as some of the speakers made personal appeals to the president to act on his promises to advance LGBTQ rights.

Civil rights activist David Mixner told Obama, “We elected you to lead Congress,” while Judy Shepherd, mother of hate crime victim Matthew Shepard, told the crowd, “We need to help the president” by electing politicians who would support him on the issue of gay rights.

Other speakers included poet Staceyanne Chin and Dr. Julian Bond, who have both given talks at Carleton, Dr. Bond only a few days before the march.

Lady Gaga drew the most enthusiastic response from the crowd, with many tired marchers leaping from their resting places on the grass of the Hill at the mention of her name and cheering her on enthusiastically through her speech. The pop star returned the crowd’s enthusiasm by saying that her rally speech was the most important moment of her career as a celebrity and affirming her support for the LGBTQ community and for equal legal treatment for all Americans, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

As grassroots and legal action for gay rights grows pressure is mounting on all three branches of the federal government to give definitive answers about unequal legal treatment against non-heterosexuals in the U.S. Whether the march put pressure on Washington lawmakers is debatable, but it has shown one thing: there are many motivated activists in the country who want equality, want it now, and are standing up in a politically opportune moment.

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