The crowd gathered at Sheridan Square in Greenwich Village on the morning of August 29 seemed remarkable only in that they were all joined by a common goal—to vocally express their disapproval with the Bush administration by protesting the Republican National Convention.
But when the group was kept waiting for an hour at the intersection of 14th Street and Seventh Avenue as other contingents merged into the march route, it soon became clear that history was being made. The scope of the protest was not wholly apparent until the contingent, marching under the banner of Gays Against Bush, joined the larger event organized by United for Peace and Justice.
“I want them to feel the presence of the gay community in the larger progressive community, to get specific [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] issues into the forefront and to make sure that they are addressed in a vocal way,” said Gays Against Bush organizer Ray Dries, as he negotiated the march route with the police.
Vocal it was. United for Peace and Justice later estimated the overall turnout to be close to half a million. According to the New York Times, an officer in touch with police command at Madison Square Garden corroborated this figure.
“Today is our day to say to this administration that they can’t use the gay and lesbian community as a wedge in this election,” said Anthony Brown, a leader of the Wedding Party, a group that advocates for same-sex marriage rights. “They can’t tell us that we don’t deserve equal rights, and then at the same time say that they are ‘tolerant.’”
“Not only are they creating a wedge, they are setting up a dynamic where the more we fight for our rights, the more the heartland voters think we are taking the focus off [other issues],” added Casimir, a protestor with the Wedding Party who sported angel wings. “But we’re just reacting to our civil liberties being attacked. If we stand up for ourselves, they think we are creating the problems They need to know that gays are religious people, too. The Republicans have co-opted religion, but gays have always played a role in religion.”
The Gays Against Bush contingent also attracted many who spoke out against the president’s proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage rights, a hot-button issue in the community.
“I am marching because I have a gay son, and a lesbian daughter,” said P-FLAG’s New York State Council president, Jerry Goodman. “My son is here with me now; he is in a relationship with someone we love who is a citizen of Argentina, and he has serious legal problems around this that heterosexual couples do not have.”
“I march because Bush has to go for loads of reasons,” Goodman added. “I don’t believe there has ever been a president who has put forth a constitutional amendment that aims to discriminate against an entire group of people.”
Local lawmakers joined the gay continent to protest both the Bush administrations’ war and anti-gay policies and the strain the convention has put on a city still coping with the unemployment and rebuilding needs created by the September 11 attacks.
“This election is really the defining moment in our civil rights struggle,” Duane added, mopping the sweat from his brow. “Four more years of this would be detrimental to the civil rights struggle and those with HIV/AIDS. The Bush administration is murdering people because of their lack of sex education leading to the rising rates of HIV, because of a lack of access to HIV education. This is the worst tragedy of this part of the century, and we can’t let it continue.”
When the march passed Madison Square Garden, protestors responded to the marquee that read, “Thank you, New York,” by retorting, “You’re not welcome,” in a message rich with double meaning.
As the crowds moved east on 34th Street, some continued on to Union Square for the protest’s formal end, while others dispersed to the Great Lawn in Central Park for what was a peaceful gathering. Others flocked eight blocks north to Bryant Park for events that included a queer kiss-in and a mock wedding organized by the ad-hoc group, Queer Fist, which voiced criticism of mainstream gay groups for their assimilationist goals. The kiss-in and mock wedding were organized in response to the gay Log Cabin Republicans Big Tent Event also going on in the park.
GAY CITY NEWS photos