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social sciences

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Marches on Washington  
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The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and rights movement in the United States grew tremendously during the last quarter of the twentieth century, a phenomenon perhaps best demonstrated by the success of the first three national marches held in Washington, D. C.

Each march was much larger and more diverse than the previous one, as greater numbers of people became open about their sexual and gender identities and created a wide array of glbtq subcommunities.

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A less flattering trend was reflected in the fourth march: the increasing corporatization of the movement, with grassroots activists having less of a role in setting its goals and priorities.

[However, the most recent march may have reversed this trend. Organized primarily by younger activists energized by the passage of Proposition 8, which nullified marriage equality in California, the emphasis of the October 2009 National Equality March was on grassroots activism.]

The 1979 March

Marking the tenth anniversary of the Stonewall riots and coming in the wake of the lenient jail sentence given to Dan White for the assassination of openly gay San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk, the First National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights on October 14, 1979 was an historic event that drew more than 100,000 people from across the United States and ten other countries.

National lesbian and gay groups were initially reluctant to support the 1979 march, fearing that such a public display would not attract many people or, if it did, that it would generate a right-wing backlash similar to Anita Bryant's 1977 "Save Our Children" campaign. But these concerns proved to be unwarranted, as the march helped solidify a national lesbian and gay rights movement.

The march also featured the first National Third World Gay and Lesbian Conference, which was attended by hundreds of people of color and was convened by the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays, an organization that had been organized the previous year by Delores Berry and Billy Jones.

The 1987 March

On October 11, 1987, more than a half million people (between 500,000 and 650,000, according to organizers) descended on the capital to participate in the second national March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. Many of the marchers were angry over the government's slow and inadequate response to the AIDS crisis, as well as the Supreme Court's 1986 decision to uphold laws in Bowers v. Hardwick.

With the first display of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, the 1987 march succeeded in bringing national attention to the impact of AIDS on gay communities. In the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, a tapestry of nearly two thousand fabric panels offered a powerful tribute to the lives of some of those who had been lost in the pandemic.

The march also called attention to anti-gay discrimination, as approximately 800 people were arrested in front of the Supreme Court two days later in the largest civil disobedience action ever held in support of the rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender people.

The 1987 March on Washington also sparked the creation of what became known as BiNet U.S.A. and the National Latina/o Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Organization (LLEGÓ), the first national groups for bisexuals and glbtq Latinas and Latinos, respectively.

Prior to the march, bisexual activists circulated a flyer entitled "Are You Ready for a National Bisexual Network?" that encouraged members of the community to be part of the first bisexual contingent in a national demonstration. Approximately 75 bisexuals from across the U. S. participated and began laying the groundwork for an organization that could speak to the needs of bi-identified people and counter the animus against bisexuals that was commonplace in both lesbian and gay communities and the dominant society.

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