New Englanders prepare to march on Washington

by Peter Cassels
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Oct 6, 2009

If New Englanders attending the National Equality March in Washington over Columbus Day weekend are indicative of other participants, they don't believe they are taking away vital resources from the fight against the anti-marriage referendum on the November ballot in Maine. And in fact, many of them also are engaged in that effort.

Hundreds of the region's LGBT activists and their allies, most of them of young people, will board buses to travel to the Oct. 11 event. Most will leave the night of Oct. 10 or early the following morning and return after the march to avoid the expense of an overnight stay.

National Equality March organizers say they are not lobbying for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or repeal of the ban against gays in the military and the Defense of Marriage Act or other legislation. Rather, they and participants will pressure Congress and the White House to enact all encompassing legislation to protect LGBTs. They envision a set of laws similar to those of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that protect African Americans and other minorities from discrimination.

In a question-and-answer section on its Web site, march organizers address concerns the event will drain resources and funds from California, Washington and Maine.

"Our intent is to grow the movement, to increase the number of dollars available and the number of volunteers," one statement reads.

Organizers added they have contacted Equality Maine, the group leading the battle against the anti-marriage referendum in the Pine Tree State, about how they can help. March participants will be encouraged to join the battle by volunteering in the state or staffing voter phone banks after the event.

That spirit is reflected in comments by the trip organizers EDGE contacted.

Join The Impact MA, a Bay State organization mobilizing LGBTs to work with existing groups to maximize their effectiveness locally and nationwide, is one of several that are getting together people to travel to Washington. Others include Project 10 East, which supports LGBT school students, GLSEN Massachusetts and the Boston branch of the International Socialist Organization.

Ann Coleman, spokesperson for the Massachusetts organizers, said 270 people will travel to Washington in five buses. Those aboard three of the buses will go for just the day and the other two will spend the entire weekend, attending events on Oct. 10 as well. Organizers have reserved a block of hotel rooms.

One bus has been set aside for area high school students. Students from area colleges will fill at least one more.

"The sentiment in Boston is that we need a new strategy to achieve LGBT equality and we can't wait any longer," Coleman said. "We see the local struggles, like standing up to the attack on marriage equality in Maine, as equally important as challenging the federal barriers that make any local campaign that much more difficult to win."

She reported her organization is encouraging everyone traveling to Washington to campaign against the Maine referendum and has helped in canvassing during the summer.

"One objective is getting people on the buses to go up to Maine during the last few weeks after the march," Coleman explained.

"I don’t see the dichotomy of either marching in Washington or canvassing in Maine. I think we should be doing both."

In Rhode Island, the Providence Equality Action Committee, one of several groups coordinating to fight for passage of a marriage law in the Ocean State, has reserved a bus that will leave for Washington late on the night of Oct. 10 and return early in the morning Oct. 12. Thus far more than 30 have purchased tickets and more are still available.

PEAC spokesperson Josh Kilby said while the organization recognizes marriage for gays and lesbians as an important struggle, it is also advocating for full federal LGBT protections.

"I don't see the dichotomy of either marching in Washington or canvassing in Maine. I think we should be doing both," he said.

Marriage Equality Rhode Island is selling bus tickets on its Web site and at its office. It also has invited activists from the other five New England states to a rally at the State House in Providence on Oct. 17 to pressure lawmakers to pass a veto-proof marriage bill.

"We've invited people from Maine to do their own call to action," MERI executive director Kathy Kushnir pointed out. "This is a joint effort. Everybody needs to get on board and help everybody else. There aren't any borders around equality."

Most members of the Green Mountain State contingent traveling to Washington are students at the University of Vermont in Burlington.

Spokesperson Jim Ramey said 55 students are expected to travel on a bus that will make the one-day round trip.

Mark Leach, another UVM student attending, is a Maine resident who spent the summer doing phone banking and canvassing. He also has helped the effort in his home state from Vermont and assumed others traveling to Washington have, too.

"I see no reason that we should not go to this march," Leach said. "The battle in Maine is still being fought. I think it's obvious that the right wing can divide its efforts between tea parties, a national march and battling marriage equality. I also think that this march will contribute to the battle in Maine right now."

He added he also believes the event will help to bring equality to those not directly affected by the Maine battle

"Namely anyone who is not in a same-sex relationship but still is discriminated against due to their sexual orientation or gender identity," Leach said.

Two groups of college-age people in Connecticut are organizing trips to Washington. A group of 25 from the University of Connecticut Rainbow Center will travel Oct. 10 and stay overnight. Fifty others, including students from New Haven area colleges--Yale, Wesleyan and Southern Connecticut University-will board a bus for the one-day trip. Spokesperson Joe Daigneault said organizers have reserved a second bus, hoping an Oct. 6 appearance at Yale by National Equality March co-chair Cleve Jones will generate even more interest.

The event appears to appeal the most to youth, because it is the first chance they will have to make a visible, national statement.

"Realistically, we haven't been a part of this in our lives," Daigneault said. "I think it's very important that Generation Now become involved. It's not just our rights or your rights. They are all of our rights. They will affect you at some point even if they don't affect you now."

Peter Cassels is a recipient of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association’s Excellence in Journalism award. His e-mail address is


  • tristram, 2009-10-06 21:50:39

    This is all a lot of rationalization with a dollop of prevarication. The originators - at least the self-procalaimed ones - like Cleve Jones and David Mixner have been openly disdainful of state/local efforts, including Maine. And the March has shifted the focus of the ’gay community’ - and the funds and energy away from Maine (and Washington state) and towards a distant, vaguely defined and highly implausible ’magic law’ that will solve all our issues at once. The folly of this course must be obvious to anyone not blinded by self-indulgent spite at Obama because of his perceived betrayal of his lgbt supporters.

  • fern , 2009-10-08 12:09:37

    The state by state strategy was good at the beginning but thanks to prop8’s successful campaign everyone is up in arms east to west. Now is the time to go for it not 2012 or any other date. didn’t a black-smith tell you "il faut battre le fer tant qu’il est chaud"?

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