Press

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Says ‘We Walk With You’ at 40th Anniversary of 1963 Civil Rights March

Date: 
August 23, 2003

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Southerners on New Ground Head Up Organizing Efforts

Photos and audio clips from the March on Washington are available by clicking on our 40th Anniversary March on Washington media page.

"...homophobia is hate and hate has no place in the beloved community..." - Martin Luther King, III, President, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, August 23, 2003.

Washington D.C., August 23, 2003 - More than fifteen hundred lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people participated in the 40th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King's historic "I Have A Dream" speech today, which drew an estimated crowd of 15,000. A "We Walk With You" banner and 100-foot long rainbow pride flag led the LGBT contingent from the northeast corner of the Reflecting Pool to the Bayard Rustin Rally near the Lincoln Memorial.

LGBT issues were addressed in the multi-issue teach-ins conducted on the Mall and at the Task Force/Southerners on New Ground (SONG) Bayard Rustin Memorial Rally held just prior to the Civil Rights Rally in tents next to the Reflecting Pool. Unity with gay people and the entire LGBT community was called for by many speakers from the Lincoln Memorial Rally podium itself, starting with Martin Luther King, III (quoted above) and continuing with many speakers throughout the day. Congressman John Lewis, the last surviving speaker from the original 1963 rally, said, "...gays and straights must pull together for the common good." At least three of the Anniversary Rally speakers (including the Task Force's Matt Foreman and SONG's Mandy Carter) were openly gay or lesbian.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force was involved in this event from the outset, participating in every press conference, major conference call, and - at the March organizers' request - taped radio PSA's for the Anniversary March. The Task Force made a $10,000 donation to support the March and hired a temporary staffer dedicated to organizing LGBT community participation in the event and also provided a tent for the Bayard Rustin Rally, which was used by other groups throughout the day.

"This is the first time ever that our community has been invited to participate in the March and be represented at the rally," said National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman. "I was honored to walk with my African American brothers and sisters in this inclusive 40th anniversary of our nation's historic civil rights March on Washington and I am proud of the LGBT community who came together from across the country to support it."

"As a Black woman and a lesbian, I think it's important to not only emphasize equal civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as a whole, but specifically for LGBT people of color as well," said Mandy Carter, Executive Director of Southerners on New Ground (SONG). "It's unfortunate that Bayard Rustin couldn't bring all of his identities to the table in his fight for civil rights. We are not only proud to be a part of this 40th Anniversary March, but we are extremely proud to be honoring Bayard Rustin for his work from decades ago."

Other events held during the week presented by/participated in by the Task Force and SONG included the "Queering the Color Lines: LGBT Communities of Color and Allies Organizing for Justice" panel on August 21, the ceremony and press conference to unveil the "I Have a Dream" commemorative plaque at the Lincoln Memorial and the free screening at the Kennedy Center of "Brother Outsider - The Life of Bayard Rustin," both held on August 22, and, the LGBT contingent 100-foot pride flag procession to the Bayard Rustin Rally. Both Matt Foreman and Mandy Carter were speakers at the 40th Anniversary Rally held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the afternoon of August 23.

Photos from the LGBT community involvement at the 40th Anniversary Civil Rights March on Washington will be posted on the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Web site soon.

Following are National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman's remarks presented on August 23, 2003 at the 40th Anniversary of the Civil Rights March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King's historic "I Have a Dream" speech.

"On behalf of an incredibly diverse gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community, I thank you for inviting us to be here today and - in the words of Dr. King - to walk with you on the road to jobs, peace and freedom. It is an extraordinary privilege and honor to stand here.

I'd like to start by lifting up, along with Dr. King, the life and memory of Bayard Rustin - an unsung hero, a dear friend of Dr. King, the prime architect of the 1963 march, and a gay African American man.

We also thank and honor Coretta Scott King, who, for years, has spoken out loudly for equal rights for gay people.

And, we lift up with gratitude the members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who have - time and again - voted against legislation seeking to harm our people.

Let's put something on the table right now: there are differences between parts of the beloved community. That's because we are people of conviction. But what we agree on far outweighs our differences.

We all agree that all discrimination is wrong, that everyone deserves full equality under the law.

We agree that hate violence still stains America. I note with sadness that just one week ago, right here in our nation's capital, Bella Evangelista, a transgender woman, was murdered simply because of who she was.

We agree that centuries of legal racial oppression can only be overcome through forceful and affirmative action.

I could go on, but the proof of our solidarity is in what our communities do when they vote. Time and again, exit polls show the Democratic party's most loyal supporters are African Americans and gay, lesbian, and bisexual people.

There is another thing we all agree on: the hard-won progress achieved over the last 40 years in civil rights and economic justice is in mortal danger.

But, let's be clear: this administration is in power and the majority in congress is in power and the right wing is in ascendancy NOT because most Americans want what they are inflicting on the nation. No survey anywhere shows that.

No, this minority is in power because they know how to set aside their differences, they turn out to vote, and they repeatedly and successfully drive wedges into the heart of America and into our beloved community.

Over and again, we've witnessed their vicious dehumanizing and demonizing tactics, shamelessly exploiting race, immigrants, choice and poor women - to name only a few. Through this, they convince us and other Americans that we are the enemy. They fracture us. They win.

And mark my words, they are already geared up to make gay people and our relationships the Willie Hortons of the 2004 election cycle. This time, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people will be their chosen prey to distract the nation from the mess they've created at home and abroad.

To all of this evil, let's collectively say, enough!

Dr. King spoke of the "fierce urgency of now" and said that "we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny...an inescapable network of mutuality." Urgently, then, let us put on the garment we in fact do share, keep it on, and walk together proudly to defeat our common enemies.

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The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.