All images on this page are copyrighted by Sarah Fox
GLBT Equality March Photos
October 11, 2009
Sarah Fox, photographer
and Graphic Fusion with all rights reserved.
First some history to understand the significance of the event. Then the photos:
In my ongoing efforts to document some of the major issues of our time, I drove to Washington, DC to photograph the 2009 GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender) Equality March. Why? Well, that's an interesting story. My work is very much focused on the plight of the "little guy," who is at odds frequently with big business and big government. Now well into the third century of our existence as a nation, there are still minorities in our supposedly free country that aren't free. We decided back in the 1960's that it was wrong to discriminate against people on the basis of race, as well as numerous other factors such as creed, religion, national origin, and so forth. We've also decided that it is wrong to perpetrate hate crimes against people based on these factors. These crimes carry additional penalties, now, when they are perpetrated to incite terror within a community. As a result, it is more than simply a violation of fire ordinances to burn a cross in an African American person's front yard, and it's more than just vandalism to paint a schwastika on the door of someone who is Jewish. It is also more than just murder for white supremicists to beat and torture an African American man and then drag him down a road until his body parts have been widely scattered. These sorts of crimes go further than dispassioned acts such as burning yard trash, vandalizing a mail box as a prank, or even committing a random murder. They are threats against an entire entire community. They serve to oppress and control identifiable populations.
Federal law protects most people against these sorts of hate crimes on the basis of their race, religion, and other factors. However, at the time of the Equality March, it still did not recognize GLBT people as the targets of hate crimes, despite widespread use of terms like "gay bashing" in our society and the commonplace perpetuation of these sorts of acts. Nor did Federal law protect GLBT people in any of the other ways it protects other minorities, for instance against employment discrimination and denial of equal accommodations. The only Federal laws specifically addressing GLBT issues were used not for protection but for oppression, such as the Federal "Defense of Marriage Act" (or DOMA), which prohibits gays and lesbians from marrying and denies them the legal protections, health care security, employment benefits, and tax benefits that come from this institution.
This was not the first GLBT Equality March on Washington, nor was it even the biggest. However, it might have been the most significant. There was initially very little enthusiasm behind the march, and organizers had decided to scrub it. However, something very significant happened on October 8, just a few days prior to the day the march was originally scheduled: The US House of Representatives passed the Matthew Shepard Act, which promised to protect GLBT people from hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation or gender identity. This was not the first time a house of Congress had passed this or similar legislation, but getting the bill through both houses had proven to be an obstacle for many years. This time, this year, this was the second house of Congress to pass the bill, the Senate having already passed the bill on July 23, 2009. Moreover, this year, the new African American President was sympathetic to GLBT oppression and had stated he would sign the bill into law once it passed its final procedural hurdles. This ultimately happened, quietly, on October 28.
Just a couple of days prior to the original march date, news of the House passage set the GLBT community on fire, and there was a groundswell of grass-roots activity to re-organize the march. GLBT people hastily rearranged their schedules so that they could converge on Washington to celebrate what would be their first civil rights victory (ever) and to demand full equality. For the GLBT community, this was the August 28, 1963. This was the culmination of a decades long struggle. It was their own moment. It was not so impressive as the great march of 1963, where Dr. King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. However, it was the dawn of the first civil rights victory for the GLBT community of this country. As a photographer only a few hours from Washington, there was no way I was going to miss it! Apparently Julian Bond, president of the NAACP, wasn't going to miss it either.
When I arrived, these kids were lining up. I always love their colorful outfits!
As always, the GLBT demonstrators were confronted by the Religious Right. This was Fred Phelps' group -- the same people who picket GLBT funerals with bullhorns and with signs saying the departed person is headed to hell -- the same people who picket the funerals of fallen soldiers for defending a "fag"-loving, hell-bound country. From what I could see, they very much enjoyed confronting the demonstrators, much the same way someone might enjoy picking the wings off of a fly.
The interesting thing is that this was their only sign (on the right) that had anything to do with GLBT people. The primary topics of their protest seemed to be Obama and abortion. This strikes me as peculiar, because the GLBT community is currently growing impatient with Pres. Obama, who has not lived up to many of his key campaign promises to the community, and abortion is largely a heterosexual issue, except in cases of rape. There seems to be an effort on their part and on the part of catholic.org (and perhaps other groups?) to link the GLBT rights and pro-choice movements, perhaps to lump their "enemies" together into one ultra-destestable group (an "axis of evil," as catholic.org puts it). One might think there would be a few sharp words exchanged with regard to Pres. Obama and abortion. In fact there were numerous verbal exchanges, but none of them concerned these topics.
Babies: They not just for breakfast anymore. I wonder if they have any good recipes. Seriously, this is some pretty weird stuff. BTW, this charming woman (the one below this caption) would seem to be Shirley Phelps-Roper, Fred Phelps' daughter.
Jael Phelps, Fred's granddaughter, is wearing a stunning outfit in this photo, apparently portraying Lady Liberty. To complete her ensemble, she is wearing a chic bandana on her head, which reads, "God hates you." Ya' gots to enjoy that "Christian" love. If this seems to be very much of a family thing, it is. According to Wikipedia, 61 of the 70 members of the "God Hates Fags" clan is blood-related to Fred Phelps. Cozy.
I wish I had gotten more shots of these folks, but just like pod people linked together telepathically, they retreated suddenly and en masse to their truck. Very strange.
I don't know whether these anti-abortion activists were part of Fred Phelps' group, and I'm frankly confused as to why they were there. I think everyone else was confused as to this point too.
This man seemed to be there on his own. I think he was sincerely trying to save what he perceived as a sea of sinners, unlike the Phelps folks, who simply enjoy being cruel to people. On the other hand, the marchers were jubilant to be on the cusp of a civil rights victory and didn't really want to hear any of it. These sorts of events seem to draw all sorts of people.
Well, that's the end of the counterprotest coverage. Now on to the march, which is always a lot more fun to see. I love the colors, the costumes, and the bright, young faces!
Sweet couple! :-)
This girl was really enjoying "being cool."
This is half of why I attend these events. I'm fascinated with this rising generation -- the same generation as my children's and stepchildren's. They're energetic and idealistic, and they'll be changing the world.
This couple obviously takes its cues from generations past. I presume they were straight, although I didn't ask. It's said that injustice to anyone is injustice to all. This generation lives by that credo, and there is enormous support from the straight community for GLBT rights. I wish I could say my own generation were as forward-thinking.
The marchers took a long pause in front of the Whitehouse. Apparently nobody had thought of a chant for Mr. Obama's consumption, so the group was momentarily somewhat stumped. Then someone off to my left blurted out, "Hey, Obama! Let momma marry momma!" The chant instantly caught fire and made the international news. Very cute!
The press was there -- mostly Canon photographers, but some Nikon too. In the middle is one of the marchers who stole the opportunity to grab a view with a digicam.
Eventually, when we were reaching our destination, the neat progression fell apart, and everyone charged the Capitol. In truth, I think they were making haste, so that they would have a better view of the speakers, including the pop phenomenon, Lady Gaga.
Fabulous hat! :-)
These were all the people filing in behind us. I took this shot with an MC Zenitar 16mm fisheye on an EOS 40D (crop frame). Most shots of the gathering don't show all the people off to the left of the stage. Attendance estimates range from "thousands" (catholic.org) to "tens of thousands" (newpaper articles) to 150,000 (organizers). I could see at least 60,000 - 70,000 (based on my memory of previous crowds), but there were more that I couldn't see, backed up into the streets.
This was the view to the front, again with the fisheye.
This fellow (with the fist in the air) demanded I not hold my camera in the air in front of him, as it blocked his view. Being a well mannered Southerner, I shifted around behind him. I didn't complain when his fist blocked my camera's view, because I really like the shot. Thanks, rude guy! :-)
This was the crowd going nuts as Lady Gaga stepped to the podium. She's become a real cultural icon. I don't know much about her, but I think she's pretty cool.
As the sun was dropping, I knew I had to get back to my car to make the long drive home. I'm sure the rally went on another few hours after I left. As I was walking out, I saw this small group, apparently taking a break after the long, hard day. Their sign reads, "REVOLUTION. Actually... We CAN change the world. The revolution is real!" Gotta love it. :-)
Wow, it was quite a day. As I returned to the Metro, my hip was really bothering me. I'm not young anymore! It was a relief to finally get off of my feet, as I had spent hours standing shoulder to shoulder, listening to all of the celebrity speakers. I had heard from actors, pop stars, politicians, and perhaps most notably Julian Bond, the president of the NAACP. I found his words particularly encouraging and inspirational. Most of all, I had born witness to what may be a critical juncture in the GLBT rights movement. THIS time, the movement was older, wiser, and more seasoned with the entrance of a new generation. No more were politicians' promises taken at face value. No more were the likely allies (e.g. Barney Frank) given the benefit of the doubt. No more was the established power structure blindly trusted. The mention of HRC elicited some boos. Barney Frank, according to a couple of articles, was "bitch slapped" for his discouragement of the rally (rightfully so, I might add). Lady Gaga screamed at Obama, "Are you listening?!" The movement has run completely out of patience, 40 years after the Stonewall Rebellion. Just as remarkably, the religious right has adopted the desperate tactic of pinning together two dissimilar movements, because public support for GLBt civil rights has been on the rise and (on many issues) has reached majority status. Change is now upon us, and the GLBT community's time is near. It was an exciting day to be a photographer!
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