Descent on D.C. \ Local gay rights supporters to join massive march in nation’s capital

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story originally appeared in the April 25, 1993, edition of the Dayton Daily News 




Each time students ripped off a flier that Mark Garver posted on the University of Dayton campus for a gay rights meeting, Garver tacked up another one.

Garver, a strapping 22-year-old economics student who is not gay, had better luck at home. His six straight, male roommates left the flier hanging above their couch next to a poster of three scantily clad blondes holding beers.

"The guys looked at me kind of strangely, though," Garver said. "It struck them as odd that I'm getting involved."

But it's not, he says. In explaining why, he seems apologetic, nearly wishing he had been a child of the 1960s civil rights movement. Now, gay rights is where he vows to fight discrimination. So he and his girlfriend will board a bus to Washington, D.C., on Saturday.

The destination: A gay rights march next Sunday in which at least 300 Dayton-area residents and about 3,000 Ohioans are expected to march. Organizers say they expect at least 1 million people will attend.

The purpose of the demonstration? To convince politicians that gays and lesbians need federal protections against discrimination; to hold President Clinton to his pledge to eliminate the military's ban on gays; and to motivate marchers to fight locally for gay rights measures.

"When we see a million people who have the same desire for first class citizenship, it will give us the energy to work back at home for that," said John Zimmerman, a gay activist and local march organizer.

"Some of the local gay groups will experience growth and new ones will be formed."

A sense of urgency pervades advertisements for the march. "Avenge Colorado," says one ad in a gay publication, referring to a law passed last year in Colorado that prevents any gay rights laws from being passed there.

"DC in 93;" "Be there or be straight;" and "I'll be there," say stickers and buttons.

Many people infected with the AIDS virus or full-blown AIDS say they feel compelled to go.

"I don't want to miss this one," said Mike Hays of Dayton. He learned in March he is HIV positive. "Chances are I won't see another one."

The march is drawing a melting pot of people - straights, gays, whites, people of color and parents - that organizers say will turn the event into the largest march on the nation's Capitol.

Many of the marchers booked hotel rooms a year in advance. Travel agents report rooms have been sold out for nearly two months in D.C. and few rooms remain even in cities such as Baltimore, Md., which is about 1 1/2 hours away.

Others will drive in the night before, deciding at the last minute that they must go.

Norine Taylor of Trotwood, for instance, feels compelled to go. She doesn't understand; doesn't have any gay friends to her knowledge.

Yet the death of civil rights legend and diva Marian Anderson compelled Taylor to go. Anderson, who was black, sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial after being denied the stage at Constitution Hall, an auditorium owned by Daughters of the American Revolution. The then-first lady arranged the makeshift concert.

"Eleanor Roosevelt, a white woman, stood up for Marian Anderson," said Taylor, an elementary school teacher. "Any group that has gotten any kind of freedom has because a member of the other side helped. I'm straight. I'm the other side. I'm going."

UD student Garver feels the same way. He often wears a button that bears Martin Luther King Jr.'s picture and says, "His dream was for all God's children."

This year's march is the third such gay civil rights demonstration. Many people who didn't attend the last one in 1987 feel it's time to stand up.

Lori Rankin didn't march then. She feared her boss would find out and fire her for being a lesbian. At the time, she was a firefighter in Huber Heights. The 29-year-old is now a law student at the University of Cincinnati.

"Nobody should fear losing a job for participating in politics," she said. "That's why I'm going. I wouldn't miss this for the world."

Neither would Willa Dallas, 73. The civil rights and environmental activist considers marches like this one as shining moments. The latest was a demonstration at the Portland Cement Co. near Fairborn. She was arrested. She'd rather serve a few days in jail than the fine she received.

"Why pay money into the system?" said Dallas, who lives with her husband in Yellow Springs. "If I go to jail for a few days, the fine amount will be reduced."

Dallas' lesbian daughter inspired her to start a support group three years ago for parents and friends of gays. Some gays and lesbians now think of her as a surrogate parent. And parents who've sought the group's help have learned to accept their children.

Dallas' daughter will fly in from California to make the march a family affair. "I feel affirmed and uplifted by something like this," Dallas said.

Many parents, in fact, are going to "come out" as parents of gays for the first time at this march and in a big way.

Take Jim McCarthy's parents. When he told his folks in 1985 that he was gay, they didn't take the news well. Relations remained strained until late last year. Now, they're excited about marching with him.

Veteran 4-H Club advisers, they've booked a room at the National 4-H Foundation Center in a suburb of D.C. They'll wear T-shirts that carry a message in support of gay rights. They won't say what the message is because they want to keep it a surprise until the march.

And that message won't stop with the shirt.

"My mother has an appointment with John Glenn on Friday," said McCarthy, who is the executive director of Serenity Inc., a legal advocacy group for gays and lesbians.

His mom is one of about 50 people from the area who will lobby politicians such as U.S. Rep. Tony Hall, D-Dayton, Sen. Glenn, D-Ohio, and Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., the chairman of the Senate Arms Services Committee. Nunn opposes lifting the military ban on gays.

The lobbying is just one of many political and social events schedule this week leading up to the Sunday march.

For a year, national organizers have published several newspaper-like tabloids listing information on the events and supporters, who include TV talk show host and former Daytonian Phil Donahue.

Meanwhile, McCarthy, Zimmerman and several other local activists started planning last fall by reserving 35 hotel rooms.

Zimmerman keeps a black spiral bound notebook filled with names and numbers of participants from the area. Fearing rain, McCarthy plans to have 500 pink, plastic ponchos available.

They'll carry cellular telephones and beepers. They're even taking a computer to hook up to the march's national office electronic bulletin board.

"I don't think most gay and lesbian people have any idea of what will happen in D.C.," McCarthy said. "Most have seen small non-profit groups work for them at home. They'll be blown away by the organization, by the power. For me, this is going to be the biggest thing in my life as a gay man."

That may be true, says Don Jackson. But when the marchers return home, there'll be opposition, said Jackson, president of the Christian Life Council, a group against abortion.

He recently formed a group that will fight attempts to bring gay rights to Dayton. Gay groups are working to have an ordinance introduced that would make discrimination in housing and employment against gays illegal in the city.

Jackson, who lives in Huber Heights, says such an ordinance would give gays special rights they don't need. He also says that if he owned rental property he wouldn't rent to openly gay people.

He plans to protest the gay rights march by organizing people locally to rally in Courthouse Square in downtown Dayton at 2 p.m. on the day of the march.

"It (the march) may get a few people riled up," Jackson said. "But they won't have the momentum they need to beat us. They can do what they want to do. We're ready."

UD student Garver has lost friends who feel the way Jackson does. Even friends who are sympathetic to gay rights don't want to be involved.

"They think their sexuality would be questioned," Garver said. "That doesn't concern me. To me it's a matter of civil rights. If I didn't get involved, I'd be part of the oppressing group."

Thank you for reading the Dayton Daily News and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.

Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Dayton Daily News. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.