Marching Onward

Cleve Jones on the Washington March, young gays, and what we can do for equality now.
By Lawrence Ferber


Cleve Jones and Dustin Lance Black at the 2009 GLAAD Media Awards

Cleve Jones wants to recruit you. Instrumental in the making of Gus Van Sant’s multiple Oscar-winning film Milk (and depicted in said film by Emile Hirsch), the Indiana-born Jones also founded The NAMES Project and its AIDS Memorial Quilt during the 1980s.

Jones is currently recruiting participants to join the Equality March on Washington, which is scheduled for the second weekend of October to coincide with National Coming Out events.

“On October 10–11, 2009, we will gather in Washington DC from all across America to let our elected leaders know that now is the time for full equal rights for LGBT people. We will gather. We will march. And we will leave energized and empowered to do the work that needs to be done in every community across the nation,” states nationalequalitymarch.com, the march’s organizing website.

The last major LGBT march on Washington, The Millennium March, took place in 2000. Since then, the struggle for LGBT equality, especially concerning marriage, adoption and reproduction, and military service has dominated elections.

“President Obama may have ‘over-learned’ the lessons from President Clinton’s first term and has decided to go very slow fulfilling his promises to his LGBT supporters,” blogger AJ Kruth wrote on nationalequalitymarch.com. “But if that’s the case, he’s living in the past and times have changed. And so have we.”

Speaking from New York City, where he served as grand marshal of the Gay Pride in New York City marking the 40th anniversary of Stonewall alongside Milk ‘s Dustin Lance Black and Anne Kronenberg, Jones discusses the upcoming Equality March on Washington, what we can do to finally gain full equality on a federal level, and how we need to act fast. — Nancy Ford


Cleve Jones: The Equality March on Washington is definitely happening and the response from around the country has been pretty overwhelming and excited. We’re combining the march with a really aggressive campaign to organize people in all 435 congressional districts across the USA to put as much pressure as possible on Congress and the president to get us full equality.

Lawrence Ferber: What specific demands are you making?
We have only one demand: we want equal protection under the law in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states.

Why organize a march instead of lobby people in power individually?
We’re doing both. They are not mutually exclusive. If we want to win we have to do everything. That includes marching, writing letters, lobbying, engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience. Every creative nonviolent action we can think of to take, we need to take now.

As of mid-June, some gay rights organizations seemed to pooh-pooh a march. Why is that, and do you think they’ll change their tune?
I’m sure they’re all going to support it. They are, by nature, cautious. Part of the problem is when people think of a march on Washington they think of previous marches. Those were enormously complex, expensive affairs that required the expenditure of enormous sums of money. We’re not doing that. We’re not an organization—we’re an ad-hoc grassroots movement.

Everything’s changed. The Internet provides whole new ways of organizing efficiently and without spending money. I think some groups are just having trouble adjusting to this new reality. And I’m sure they’re going to come around, as have many of the bloggers originally opposed to the idea.

It’s not Lollapalooza, it’s not a fundraiser or a circuit party. It’s a march and rally [involving] very little money. And we’re going to use it as a vehicle for building some new structures for grassroots organizing, and I would challenge those who don’t think it’s a good idea to come up with something better and do it.

What is Obama doing? I fail to understand how this intelligent man can call DOMA a “neutral” policy but then admit he can’t institute health benefits to federal employees’ partners specifically because of DOMA.
I’m in no position to understand what’s going through the president’s mind on this issue, but I’m profoundly disappointed and am determined to do everything I can to help our community take advantage of this unique moment in history. People need to wake up. A door has opened to us, and if we push really hard, we can win full, real equality. Not just marriage equality or visitation rights. Actual equality. But that door is already swinging shut. We have to move swiftly.

One other thing I want to put out there to your readers is they should go online and read the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution. They should read the clause that refers to equal protection under the law. Every claim we make for equality is based on the 14th Amendment. It was passed on July 9, 141 years ago, so if people want to move quickly and not wait for the march, I would suggest they download and print a copy of the 14th Amendment and walk into their member of Congress’ district office on July 9 with it and ask their representative or staff to support this. This is in the Constitution and guarantees me and my family full equality. Do you support it or not?

Has Milk and its visibility given you a boost as far as being able to make demands and do things effectively as an activist?
Of course. Very helpful. More than what it’s done for me is what it’s done to inform young people about the history of our movement. They’re inspired, and a lot of us older people are reminded what we did in the past and is now possible.

Any last thoughts for the young queers?
I remember this from when I was 17—a lot of gay kids are really frightened of getting old. It’s one of the big lies they tell us over and over about why you don’t want to be queer, because your life is going to be boring and pathetic. I remember when I was young looking at the older queens with their pot bellies and sagging faces and wrinkles, thinking, Well, that can’t be that much fun. And I want to say I’m going to be 55 soon, I’m getting old and got a pot belly and sagging, wrinkled face, but this has been the best two years of my life. I’ve never had so much fun.

Life is good, and I want everybody to fight really hard right now, because I think we’re going to win.

PHOTO CAPTION: (l. – r.) Cleve Jones and Dustin Lance Black at the 20th Annual GLAAD Media Awards with GLAAD President Neil G. Giuliano (r.) at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live in Los Angeles, April 18, 2009
PHOTO CREDIT: Jeff Vespa/WireImage, Courtesy GLAAD


Lawrence Ferber

Lawrence Ferber is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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