‘Equality’ marchers push for progress on LGBT rights
WASHINGTON — Don’t think because they won marriage equality in 2015 they would rest easy. The LGBT community came out en masse in Washington for the Equality March, pressing the new White House to continue progress made by the previous administration.
The march Sunday was vibrant, in attire and color.
There were rainbow pride flags, trans pride flags, even American and Puerto Rican flags with rainbows as their stripes.
The energy was palpable, even as they lined up; sporadic cheers would overtake the crowd, interrupting percussive protest chants.
And then it suddenly got quiet. Soft singing soon overtook the soft fluttered of flags in the breeze
“Oh, say can you see…” The national anthem.
More and more joined the chorus as the song neared its apex, roaring towards the final lines.
As it concluded, the crowds let up a thunderous cheer. The march had begun.
Wayne Pawlowski and Ted carried one of those bright rainbow pride flags near the front of the parade. Ted declined to give CNN his full name; he knows that his marriage and his sexual orientation could get him fired.
Wayne and Ted have been together for 35 years, married for nine of them.
Ted, like three out of five Americans according to the Human Rights Campaign, could be fired simply for being gay.
“There’s a lot of basic rights that we as gay people don’t have that a lot of Americans do and take for granted,” said Ted. “We need to change that.”
But Ted, 62, and Pawlowski, 71, have a unique historical artifact — their rainbow pride flag.
They flew it at the capital’s first ever LGBT protest on October 14, 1979. And they’ve brought it to every single Pride celebration and protest they’ve ever gone to since.
Jasmine and Nette Archangel made the trip North from Louisiana to be here — they brought their whole family. For them, the march was about being visible.
“We want our family to be normalized, not just tolerated,” said Nette, 32. “Our family’s made out of love.”
Last year, the couple made a big move from rural Louisiana into New Orleans, a place they feel “more accepted.”
Jasmine, 33, is a bit more shy.
“I want my sons to know no matter what they decide to do, we love them regardless,” she says through a smile.
The Archangels weren’t the only family to travel from Louisiana. Erin Crisham and Monica Herbert brought their 3-year-old son Cullen to the march.
“We want to make sure that voices are still being heard,” said Crisham. “Legislation continues to progress and not stall.”
Crisham, like many in the community, saw a number of LGBT rights victories. Now, with a new President at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, they want to maintain that progress.
“We don’t want to see anything stay stagnant,” she said. “We don’t want to see anything take steps back. We really want to see things continue to move forward.”
The community won those hard-fought victories by the grassroots organizing of their organizations. They rapidly and fundamentally shifted American public thought on a variety of LGBT issues by coming out — to their families, friends and coworkers — and pressuring their politicians.
So how will the community pressure continued progress on LGBT issues in President Donald Trump’s America?
They’ll stay involved and start at home, just like they always did.
Crisham and Herbet are going to work with local LGBT family organizations — just like the Archangels. And they agree with the Archangels; their family needs to be treated like anyone else’s.
She says sometimes people just aren’t used to having different types of families around them. It’s a matter of getting them used to it.
“Sometimes, we’re the educators for that,” she said.
For Ted, it’s simple. He’s going to make sure he’s at the ballot box each election voting for pro-gay candidates, “whenever we can.”
His husband Wayne is going to support the organizations that helped make marriage equality the law of the land.
“We are going to go back to Florida tomorrow,” he said. “The first thing we’re going to do is send more donations (supportive organizations including Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union) … the organizations that fight for us in ways that we can’t individually.”
Clayton Whitehead, 29, agrees. He sprained his ankle playing flag football earlier in the week but did not let that, or the crutch he has to walk with, stop him from marching.
The march was, “only the beginning.”
“We have to get involved at the local level,” he says. “Have the courage to speak up. Go to your community meetings. Your council meetings. Vote in your local elections. Those are just as important as our national elections.”
Lou and John Thompson, both 69, came to Washington from Conway, Arkansas, for their first Pride and their first political protest.
They held a sign that reads, “We love our (single) gay son!” Their son Brock’s sign read, “I love my (annoying but well-meaning) straight parents!”
“We need to make a stand at times,” said Thompson, who thinks now is not the time to be silent. “In our churches. City council. Just every little opportunity that you get to make a stand, I think you need to say something.”
Brock Thompson agrees.
“We’re going to march every day if we need to,” he says, beaming.
CNN’s John Bena contributed to this report.
By Paul P. Murphy