Reflecting on the March for Equality
It began with a shoe. In the summer of 1969 a group of gay men were arrested at the Stonewall Inn in a police raid and one plucky Drag Queen hurled her shoe at an officer. That shoe was the first step in our march towards equality. We first marched in the streets of New York City for PRIDE Chanting “We’re here! We’re Queer! Get use to it!”
We then marched thru the Castro led by Harvey Milk in protest of the narrow views of the Anita Bryant’s of the world, and later still we all marched in silent remembrance of loved ones. Our footsteps lit by candle light thru the Castro and the streets of DC and NYC to end AIDS.
Today we March thru the streets of DC chanting “WHAT DO WE WANT?” “EQUALITY!” “WHEN DO WE WANT IT?” “NOW!”
So why is it in the 21st Century that we need to march for the basic rights of all other US citizens and the more personal question for me, why was it time for me to join the March?
This was my first Equality March and I wanted it to be special for me. So with camera in hand I headed on the subway down to the huge crowd of other GLBTQ folks gathering. On the subway I saw other folks with signs with various slogans about equality and lots of “Legalize Gay” tee shirts in every color we have in the rainbow. I made a plan with my three buds I was to march with. I’m sure I’d wander off from out little quartet in search of that one photo that would make today special. They could just call me when they realize I am “lost from the group” so we could rendezvous latter on.
We exited the subway and ascended to the street level. As we walked up the stairs I had to decide for myself if I was going to view this event solely thru my lens as an outsider – like a lot of the photographers I saw already climbing on top of trashcans and lamp posts to get “the shot.” Or was I going to be an active participant and march and greet the other folks marching today and get to know the people I was going to photograph? When we hit the street I heard a voice yell, “Hey, are you Eric from the Richmond Men’s Chorus?”
I turned and there was a member of the Tidewater Men’s Chorus, said “Yah bud I am, you guys are all from Tidewater right?” I had my first photo of the day. Our small little quartet worked its way thru the streets and a Big Message truck drove thru with its “Save Marriage” signs and a giant cross on top. One of my friends commented that he wished a group from the crowd would just storm the truck and turn it over, that would show them. I smiled and said “Violence never solved anything.” My bud said “Yeah, but I’d sure feel better.”
I suppose many of us still carry the scars of being bullied and feeling defenseless and just want to hit back. So it makes sense that many are marching out of anger or feelings of being a victim and never getting back at your tormentor. We worked our way thru flags and strollers to the actual head of the line. How cool I thought, here we are at the beginning of the Equality March. I was going to see the people face-to-face when I took their photo, but I still didn’t know why I was marching, why I did I feel compelled this time to march?
As the march began someone yelled, ”Look, there is a rainbow in the sky! It’s going to be a good march.” So we all began shuffling along the route. With construction in the way, it gave me time to look around and see who was there. I waved across the crowd of people and got the attention of Richmond folks with MCC church and got their photo. Then working my way down the street I snapped a photo of a cute DC couple wearing matching Legalize Gay tees, and as we slowly meandered thru the construction zone a saw a lone man on the side of the street holding a sign that read, “I have friends in the military who have fought for others’ freedom overseas, who can not be here today to fight for their own freedom in America.” So he marches to support his friends.
We continued marching thru the sun-filled streets and I took more photos of folks draped in rainbow flags and bright colored boas and themed tee shirts with various rainbow logos. Then I saw a group of young GLBTQ highs school kids all in pink tee shirts pushing a classmate thru the parade in his wheelchair so he could be part of this day. So they march for change and to include all the GLBTQ kids.
The parade pushed on thru the DC streets muscle boys and bears striding along in tight tees and showing off well sculpted biceps. Folks whistled at them as they went by. Elderly couples strolled hand-in-hand kissing every so often getting loud approval from the spectators on the streets as we marched on. Is that what they are marching for?
As we tuned another corner I thought I saw some one I knew. I looked again and thought “It can’t be. Could it?” so I yelled out “OSCAR!” and to my surprise I heard back “HEY GURL!” Yup it was my bud Oscar from DC. He and his group had come in on a bus from New York City. We hugged and walked a bit and said how good it was to see each other and then we had to split up. His group was waiting for him and I had lost mine three blocks back. I snapped his picture and we marched on.
When we marched past the White House we all took a photo and someone said, “Do you think Obama’s home?” The crowd laughed and we all continued to march toward the Capitol.
I took more photos of sign holders and guys in tees that read “Be love!” I march on with folks from Australia and New Zealand and other GLBTQ folks wanting to get their green card and become citizens and stay in the US with their husband or wife.
I soon saw a group along the side of the street with a small boy in a stroller with a sigh that read, “STOP HURTING MY MOMMIES.” I thought now there is a message. He marches for his moms.
The Capitol rose before us on top of the hill and before I knew it I was beside guys I had met 2 years ago in P-town. I lightly punched the one guy on the shoulder and said “Scott?” He said back “Seth” as he shook my hand (I am horrible with names). I strolled with Seth and his partner and we chatted about how fun P-town was. I asked if he was still playing in the Army band he said “No.” He was tired of all that. So I let that line of questioning go. We all hugged and hoped to see each other in P-Town for Bear Week. I took their picture and we all marched on to the Capitol.
I worked my way thru the crowded lawn of the Capitol pushing my way thru the crowd excusing myself as my shoulders pushed someone gently out of my way. I saw ahead of me the Capitol and a guy in a wild wedding cake hat and I knew I wanted a shot of that hat. When I got to the guy in the hat I heard “Eric!” It was Matt Paul from Richmond. It was great to see someone else from back home that I only get to see when I am bartending. We hugged, I took his picture, and I assured him he looked cute.
On the platform in front of the guy in the wedding cake hat were all the big wig National Equality March folks. They all took turns giving us the “message” that we will all be free and equal one day.
I stood and cradled my camera in my arms, listening to each speaker tell their story, of adversity and courage. Around me folks stood shoulder to shoulder holding a loved one, or using the signs they made to cover their head from the sun. But each was cheering and raising their hands and waving their flags at all the right moments in each speech. I have to say I felt moved and part of me felt connected to the other thousands of GLBTQ people gathered on the Capitol lawn that day.
My cell phone rang. It was my buds that I had lost many blocks back as we marched. They were ready to go and truthfully so was I. My feet hurt, I was hot and most of all I was hungry. We met by the statue by the base of the Capital lawn, one bud ran up with a girl dressed in brides dress and said,” I saw her and new you had to have her photo”. He was right. So I snapped her pic, thanked her and we marched on in search of lunch.
We worked our way passed port-o-johns and tourists on double decker busses, I saw a young war veteran striding toward us in a black tee and carrying a pike with a banner about supporting his buds in Afghanistan. He was marching for his gay service buds that could not be out and he wanted people to remember the Gay war vets and service men and woman. I took his photo and thanked him for his service to his country and for his friends he was marching for. I ran up the street and joined my buds at Penn Station for lunch.
We sat down at our table ordered our drinks and food and began sharing stories of the march and what we liked about today’s march. Behind me I heard a guy say,”Hey!” “That’s the photographer guy with the big arms.” Here were the guys I has taken a picture of earlier in the day in the Be Love! Tee shirts.
I introduced myself we all shook hands and agreed that the best way to end a march was with a good meal and a cold beer. We swapped Facebook info, I gave a quick plug for GayRVA.com, and then we retuned to our respective meals. One of the quartet of buds I was with said, “So that what I need to meet hot guys – a camera.” We all laughed.
As we rode the Subway back to the car I thought back to the day’s events and the people I had met and answered my first question why did they march? The unifying goal of Equality for all of us but each person had a more personal reasons they marched. They marched for loved ones, a son, a daughter, a parent. They marched for those without a voice or unable to march for themselves. They marched to show that they existed and they mattered. And they marched to be with friends and share in the fellowship that a march can bring. Still I wondered why did I march? To leave a record not of those who are on the Platform and making the news and magazine covers but of the every day person who is making small difference in the lives of the GLBTQ community.
They too need to be seen.
You've probably seen Eric "Pop My Flash" Russell around town. The Richmond-based photographer has captured everyone from celebrity drag queens and puppets to international bodybuilders. When not behind the lens, Eric can be found in front of it with his two web series that he hosts and produces Out and About and Under The Wig for GayRVA.com.
Staff Reports WASHINGTON — The District of Columbia is expected to pass legislation that would make it easier for transgender people to obtain new birth certificates reflecting their change in gender identity. The D.C. Council’s Judiciary Committee voted this week to ease restrictions on gender identity changes, approving a proposal that would require only a certified statement from a medical [...]June 7, 2013
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