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6.3: March on Washington

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    68376
  • By 1987, The LBGTW community was angry. The Bowers v. Hardwick Supreme Court decision had upheld statutes criminalizing private sexual relations between same-sex partners, and the Reagan Administration’s newly formed Commission on AIDS was in serious disarray (its chair and vice-chair resigned within months). In response, a steering committee recruited from LGBTQ organizations nationwide proposed a March on Washington to articulate such de- mands as the legal recognition of lesbian and gay relationships, the repeal of all laws criminalizing sodomy, an end to discrimination, and massive increases in funding for AIDS education, research, and patient care. On October 11, 1987, the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights drew roughly a half-million LGBTQ people and their allies, including civil rights leader Cesar Chavez, President of the National Organization for Women Eleanor Smeal, and presidential candidate Jesse Jackson.

    The day before the march, Reverend Troy Pery, founder of the Metropolitan Community Church, performed a mass commitment ceremony for thousands of same-sex couples. At dawn on the day of the march, the NAMES Project Foundation AIDS Memorial Quilt was unveiled for the first time. Two days after the march, several hundred demonstrators were arrested outside the Supreme Court while protesting the Bowers v. Hardwick decision.

    The march had a profound impact on the hundreds of thousands that attended and helped mobilize grassroots organizing across the country. Major national entities that emerged from the march included BiNet USA and the National Latino/a Gay and Lesbian Organization. Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary founded National Coming Out Day in 1988, which is held every year on October 11, the anniversary of the march. However, because media outlets largely did not cover LGBTQ events or activism, most of the country never heard about one of the largest civil rights marches in United States history or the deeply moving memorial quilt.

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    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Lou Sullivan 1951 - 1991

    BORN SHEILA JEAN SULLIVAN, Lou Sullivan joined the Gay People’s Union (GPU) at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and soon began writing for the GPU paper on transgender issues. He sought sex reassignment surgery at Stanford University’s gender dysphoria program, but was rejected due to the restrictive policies of the era in treating gay-identified individuals. Privatization of the industry and a subsequent loosening of restrictions allowed him to successfully transition in 1980 and begin living full-time as a man. While working at the Janis Information Facility, a transgender referral and information center, he wrote Information for the Female-to-Male Cross Dresser and Transsexual, which became standard reading for the female-to-male (FTM) transgender community. In 1986, he started the first FTM-only support group and newsletter. As of 2014, FTM International is the longest-running and largest FTM organization in the world.

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    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): In the mid-1980s, activist Cleve Jones and fellow demonstrators plastered a wall with placards showing names of San Franciscans who had died of AIDS. To Jones, the effect resembled a quilt. Within two years, he and others had formed the NAMES Project Foundation. The object was to express private grief through traditional craft in a publicly displayed and mobile memorial. The panels allowed individuals, families, and organizations to commemorate a partner, friend, or co-worker whose life was cut short by AIDS. Shown for the first time in 1987 at the Second National March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights, it contained over nineteen hundred panels. The names commemorated in the panels were read in a ceremony that lasted hours. After the march, it was taken on a four-month tour, during which more panels were added, tripling its size. As of 2020, the quilt includes over 50,000 panels commemorating over 105,000 people who died from AIDS-related causes. The project was the subject of the Academy Award-winning 1989 documentary Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt
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