The FIRST MARCH ON WASHINGTON FOR LESBIAN AND GAY RIGHTS was held on OCTOBER 14, 1979.
This March was a grassroots effort in the era of Anita Bryant's protests and after the Death of Harvey Milk. It was the first time that our Movement spread from the major cities in America and some newly formed national groups, to a way of showing the we are all over America.
Groups came from almost all 50 states and the planning process was with gender parity and based on inclusion.
Scroll down to see the items from the First March and from 2 of the Anniversary Commemorations that were held in its honor. For some reason, this event is often overlooked in LGBT History with many people thinking that the Second March in 1987 was the first.
I think one reason is that so many of the organizers and speakers of the First March are now dead. You can also scroll down to see the list of Speakers and Organizers. In New York, I remember the contributions of Betty Santoro, Eleanor Cooper, Ron Alheim, all of whom have died. I also remember the death of Eric Rofes. Steve Ault, Joyce Hunter, and I are still alive. Maybe we can do something for the 35th Anniversary next year?
If not, this webpage serves as a way of remembering all those who participated and organized the event.
Little Known Facts About the First March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights on October 14, 1979.
PERSONAL STORY OF HOW I GOT INVOLVED IN THE MARCH
With the passing of Ron Alheim, I decided to write a short piece on how I got involved in the First March. It was 1977 and I moved back to NYC. I met Ron Alheim while volunteering for the Mayoral Campaign for Bella Abzug. So many of the LGBT community held already been involved in many of the other Civil Rights and Anti-Viet Nam War Movements. I had started the Gay Liberation Front at the University of Buffalo, and went to the First March on Albany for Gay Rights in March 1971, and was at the March on Washington to protest the Viet Nam War.
Ron Alheim told me that several others were proposing a March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights to try to counteract the homophobic bigotry of Anita Bryant and the rest of the right wing ideological forces. It was also the 10 year Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. That was when I met the others who proposed the First March.
The few national gay organizations were saying that this was not the time and that the Gay & Lesbian community was not competent to do a March. We disagreed and decided to hold community forums and then vote to have the March. I helped to get CBST to permit us to use their Synagogue space on a Sunday to hold the vote and we started to hand out flyers at bars and post them to lampposts, etc.
We held the meeting and voted for the National Committee and the Local Representatives and to march in October. I was one of the 4 NY Representatives elected. We then went to another Planning meeting in Philadelphia and another one in Houston, before we finalized the demands and terms of the March.
If you read below, you will see the names of those elected and will notice how many of the New Yorkers are now gone.
"A History which is hidden is just a lost memory..."This is a sample of the artifacts from the March.
Actual Postcard and Official Button from the March
New York City Commemorated the 20th Anniversary
of the First March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights Back in 1999...
On October 14, 1999, twenty years to the day after the event, the LGBT community of New York City commemorated the first March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. The program was held at Congregation Beth Simchat Torah (CBST the world's largest synagogue serving the LGBT Community their families and friends), which was the site of the NYC grassroots planning session for the March, in the Spring of 1979.
The theme of the event was to have a community commemoration to both honor and learn from the first March. A March that furthered the dream of Harvey Milk for a National March on Washington and as a reaction to Anita Bryant's Crusade. A new goal was set to have a nationally observed 25th anniversary event in five years. Three of the national organizers of the March, Steve Ault, Joyce Hunter and Ron Alheim, along with National Steering Committee delegate from New York, Rick Landman, gave first hand accounts of how the March was organized from the grassroots up. They also presented examples of how the march strengthened our movement on a local, statewide and national level.
"I remember calling up gay bars across the country to bestow upon the person on the other end the title of 'Delegate From the State' to help organize a contingent to come to the March," recalls Ron Alheim.
"It was a different world. New York had no community center, which is why we were so grateful to get to use CBST's sanctuary for our community meeting. We were marking the tenth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and our community was responding to the national assault of Anita Bryant's anti-gay crusade," said Rick Landman.
"This commemoration is very important in that it gives us an opportunity to restate lessons learned from organizing the first March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights," Steve Ault pointed out. The March captured the spirit, energy and commitment of our community because people from all over the country had a say in decided whether or not to march, and then why, when, and how. "Now, twenty years later, it appears that these lessons have either been forgotten or are being ignored."
"The International Museum of Gay and Lesbian History was proud to sponsor this event because it sustains the memory of a very important chapter in our community's history. Without the first march in 1979 and the ones that followed in 1987 and 1993, it is hard to imagine that Lesbians and Gay men could have gained the visibility and clout that has propelled the great progress we have made in recent years", said Greg McCurdy, Chair of the New York Chapter of the Museum who delivered the opening remarks at the Memorial Event. "Bringing such historic event to life for future generations is one of the main purposes of the Museum."
There was an undercurrent from the speakers comparing the first March's process to that of the proposed Millennium March, but the proposed March was not specifically mentioned.
Betty Santoro, Eleanor Cooper and Juanita Ramos, the other honorees, were not able to attend. Each honoree received a plaque from the co-sponsors of the event, the National Museum and Archive of Lesbian and Gay History and the International Museum of Gay and Lesbian History. The first March was an inspiring event. It was obvious that those who participated still cherish its memory. In addition, the first March served as an excellent organizing tool which helped build a stronger more inclusive movement. Each region's delegation was required to have gender parity and include 25% people of color. The democratic, grassroots process included meetings convened around the country to select delegates and plan for local organizing. The meeting in New York City was one of many such events.
After the speakers shared some anecdotes about their experiences, the documentary "Greetings from Washington DC" (directed by Lucy Winer) was shown in a festive atmosphere full of applause and popcorn. The event ended with a large 20th anniversary cake. In a way, it was almost a 20th anniversary reunion since so many in the audience were involved in putting the march together. Photos of the event, more details and a cyber~archive of memorabilia can be found at http://www.infotrue.com. Anyone with other artifacts from the March can contact the Museum and Archive by using the website. Stay tuned through the site for upcoming news about the 25th anniversary of the March.
Some of the Organizers of the Event, including from left to right on the back row, Greg McCurdy of the International Museum of Gay and Lesbian History, Steve Ault, National Co-Coordinator , Joyce Hunter, National Co-Coordinator, Ron Alheim, National Outreach, Dick Radvon of CBST, Rich Wandel of the National Museum and Archive of Lesbian and Gay History, Carol Alpert accepting for Lucy Winer, and Rick Landman, New York Representative
View of the audience watching the documentary "Greetings from Washington DC"
Close up of one of the Plaques given out that night
View of the plaques before distribution
Ron Alheim in 1986.Eleanor Cooper in 2005.
Moderator: Gregory McCurdy,
The following names were taken from the end of the documentary "Greetings from Washington DC" by Rob Epstein, Frances Reid, Greta Schiller, Lucy Winer.
SPECIAL THANKS (ORGANIZERS, REPRESENTATIVES,etc.)
Some of the actual T-shirts from the March
Unofficial buttons sent in by Donald Eckert.
Program sent in by Donald Eckert.
Program Cover sent in by Donald Eckert.
The August 17, 1999 issue of the Advocate has a time line of "Our Best and Brightest Activists". It starts in 1895 to the present. It includes the fact that in 1963 Martin Luther King, Jr. had a gay assistant who helped in organizing the March on Washington for Civil Rights, but leaves out 1979's first March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. Just another example of how a history not learned is soon forgotten. Notice that the entire year of 1979 is skipped.
Copy of the Invitation for the 20th Anniversary Event
October 11, 2009
These are pictures from the 5th march on Washington for our Rights on October 11, 2009.