THE FIRST GAY RIGHTS MARCH ON WASHINGTON D.C. demands “an end to all social, economic, judicial, and legal oppression of Lesbian and Gay people.” 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 200,000 people from across the United States and ten other countries.
In the wake of the Milk/Moscone assassinations, the Anita Bryant campaign to roll back protections extended to sexual orientation, and years of community building around the nation, the support for a massive demonstration in the nation’s capital grew. There were strong reservations on the part of those who worried that anything less than massive numbers would negate the demonstration and undermine political activism. However, by the late summer of 1979 it was clear that the March would be a large media event. Locally, the National Coalition of Black Gays and the DC Coalition of Black Gays supported the March from the beginning.
Both groups were also involved in planning and holding the first Third World Conference, held at Harambee House on Georgia Avenue. The Third World Conference concluded with a march by persons of color down Georgia Avenue to the Mall where they joined the March on Washington. This walk down Georgia Avenue was the first public demonstration by Lesbians and Gays in the heart of the African-American areas of the city.
The plans for the 1979 March were determinedly more inclusive of persons of color and the transgendered. The souvenir booklet for the March includes an article by Jim Kepner summarizing GLBT activism leading to the March and an article by Brandy Moore detailing the preparations for the March. Speakers included Richard Ashworth and Adele Starr (PFLAG) Marion Berry (then D.C. mayor), S.F. Councilman Harry Britt, Lesbian feminist theorist, Charlotte Bunch, poet Alan Ginsberg, activists Flo Kennedy, Morris Kight, poet and activist Audrey Lorde, musicians, Robin Tyler and Tom Robinson, Leonard Matlovich, Arthur McCombs (Gay Atheist League), feminist theorist, Kate Millett, Rev. Troy Perry (listed as a “cameo” appearance”!), Juanita Ramos (Comite Homosexual Latinamericano), Betty Santoro (NY Spokeswoman for Lesbian Feminist Liberation), Eleanor Smeal (N.O.W.) and labor activist, Howard Wallace. Recordings of speeches, including Audre Lorde’s keynote address to the masses on the Washington Mall, and Alan Ginsberg reading his poetry and warning Congress can be heard here: