The National Equality March (NEM) on Sunday brought out tens of thousands (according to The Washington Post), including lots of dogs and children, with the simple purpose of demanding equality. It remains to be seen whether the rally, the AIDS vigil, and the flash protest against ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell'' will be followed by productive action.
The march mixed the serious and the festive, with banners saying ''Equal Justice Under Law'' and ''Teabaggers for Gay Rights.'' Placards ranged from ''End the Harm from Religion-Based Bigotry and Prejudice'' to ''If Liza Can Marry Two Gay Men, Why Can't I Marry One?''
The messages at the rally at the U.S. Capitol were a hodgepodge. On one hand, there were strong speeches by Lt. Dan Choi and NAACP Chairman Julian Bond. On the other hand, Lady Gaga said, ''This is the single most important moment of my career. And you know I love Judy Garland.'' (The Judy mythology refuses to die.) David Mixner spoke conspiratorially about ''politicians in a back room.'' Urvashi Vaid described the four steps that are necessary to bring down the Patriarchy.
The NEM organizers refused to invite openly gay members of Congress to address the rally. At a news conference on Oct. 9, NEM co-director Robin McGehee said that politicians would only be welcome if they ''would make a commitment over the next year to work towards legislation that would bring full federal equality.'' So Reps. Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Frank (D-Mass.) and Polis (D-Colo.) are not committed to working for LGBT equality? One wonders how the organizers expect to influence Congress while overtly disdaining Barney Frank, one of its most powerful members.
The march's ''no excuses'' rhetoric contrasted with the cheers for President Obama at Saturday's Human Rights Campaign dinner. The president gave a fine speech, but broke no new ground — no increased pressure on Congress, no explicit statement opposing the ballot initiatives in Maine and Washington state, no stop-loss order ending discharges of gay and lesbian servicemembers. It is easy to defend the president by noting that Congress must pass bills before he can sign them; but we need more bully in the bully pulpit. To be fair, though, for millions who watched the speech on CNN and C-SPAN, it was the first time they saw the president make such a strong statement for LGBT equality.
HRC President Joe Solmonese did his cause no good by saying last week in a letter to members, ''[O]n January 19, 2017, I will ... look back on many ... victories that President Barack Obama made possible.'' While HRC probably has a detailed strategy for advancing our lengthy legislative agenda, the tone-deaf 2017 reference reinforces perceptions that HRC prioritizes Democratic Party interests over LGBT advocacy.
NEM leader Cleve Jones did no better when he denounced incrementalism as a failure mere days after the introduction in the D.C. Council of a marriage-equality bill that enjoys overwhelming support and strong prospects resulting from a smart and thorough incremental strategy.
Early Sunday morning, the HRC building in D.C. was defaced with pink and black paint. Credit was claimed by Queers Against Assimilation, who told the LezGetReal blog, ''HRC is run by a few wealthy elites who are in bed with corporate sponsors who proliferate militarism, heteronormativity, and capitalist exploitation.'' Blogger Michael Petrelis wrote approvingly of ''this act of urban redecorating,'' which only bolstered a White House advisor who told NBC that the NEM protesters were leftist-fringe bloggers who ''need to take off the pajamas, get dressed and realize that governing a closely divided country is complicated and difficult.''
Temperatures plummeted the night after the march, a reminder that sunny rallies cannot spare us the long winter of struggle to turn slogans into legislative victories. Support from cultural figures like Lady Gaga and the cast of Hair, while valuable in its own right, does not automatically translate into political success. Bills reach the floor of Congress one at a time. Passing them requires persistent engagement by people who know the process, the players, and the details of the issues. As in entertainment and sports, victory requires both passion and preparation.
The culture clash between the Joneses and the Solmoneses reflects a longstanding tension between liberationists and assimilationists, between ''the streets and the suites.'' Some mutual respect is in order if we want to defeat the anti-gay right instead of one another.