by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Staff Writer
When Cleve Jones talks, the community listens. Now, the human rights activist, author and lecturer is asking for the LGBT community to not only listen, but to march and to protest with him October 11 in Washington D.C.
I spoke with Cleve this week in a telephone interview from New York. He told me about the National March on Washington for Equality, which he believes our community has every right to demand.
"We do not want a long list of demands read one by one. We have one demand and one demand only: Equal protection in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states," Cleve told me.
Putting an end to speculation, Cleve said the National Equality March this October is a go. Cleve's application for a permit to hold the march was approved by the National Parks Service, and so far he said he's been getting nothing but complete cooperation from all the authorities - the D.C. police, the mayor, and the Parks Service.
Cleve said almost anyone in the country could attend for well under $700.
"I think that a majority of the people who will come are within driving distance, but there are flights from the West Coast for under $300," he said. "We are keeping the whole thing very inexpensive."
This is going to be different from any of the other National Marches that have taken place, Cleve said, and if anyone would know, it'd be Cleve. The Gay-rights activist got his start in the turbulent 1970s when the Gay movement fought some of its most important battles. He's been involved with the planning of hundreds of marches on both the local and national level. Cleve began organizing alongside Harvey Milk when he was a teenager. When Milk became an elected official, he gave his bullhorn to Cleve, who carried on the grassroots street activism that he and Milk worked side by side on for a number of years.
"I've been doing this since I was 17 years old. I am now 55." He said. "I have endured because I love what I do."
Cleve told me that people often thank him for what he's done. His response is always the same: I've never made a sacrifice for this movement. I do what I do because I love it."
"WE CANNOT WAIT."
"Previous marches have been part political convention, rock concert, or cultural festival. They've flown in celebrities and put them up in nice hotels," he said. "We are not doing any of that. This is not Lollapalooza or a circuit party and we are not going there to celebrate - we are going there to march."
Jones said he chose Columbus Day weekend because it's a three-day-weekend, the weather is usually good, and it coincides with the 30th anniversary of the first National March on Washington, which took place in 1979. An estimated one million people attended the last LGBT National March on Washington held on April 30, 2000.
"I do not have an idea of how many people will show up, but I think it'll be huge," said Cleve. "I have been hearing from older people and younger people. I am hearing from people of faith and people in the military. I have also been hearing from a lot of straight allies. People are showing support already."
During our conversation, Cleve continually stressed the importance of our community reaching out and enlisting anyone who is willing to help us win equality. He referenced Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement on more than once occasion, pointing out that no minority group can go it alone.
"No movement for the rights of a small minority can be successful without the support of allies," he said. "In our case, it makes perfect sense to want to reach out to our coworkers, our neighbors, and all of our allies at every opportunity that we can."
Cleve couldn't be clearer; he says the fight for equality is a federal one.
"The National Equality March is a part of a large strategy. We need a true grassroots movement," said Cleve. "I would remind your newspaper's readers that our Gay and Lesbian brothers and sisters in Iowa and Massachusetts are still second-class citizens because the most important rights granted are done at the federal level."
Cleve said he is tired of waiting for equality and that the Gay movement's current strategy is not working.
"I believe the current strategy, state by state, county by county, and city by city, is designed to almost prevent us from unifying," he said. "As long as we empower the turf warriors who only care about their town, their city, or their state, we will not win."
Cleve does not like to get off-message. It is something that is a powerful tool for our detractors which is why, he says, we should ask for equality across the board.
"'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is absurd. It's cruel, it's unworkable and it's punishing many people," said Cleve. "But again, I am not interested in bargaining for one right over another. We want full and equal protection in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states."
He said now is the right time to proceed with the march. Cleve believes if the LGBT community doesn't get something out of the Obama administration within his first two years, it will end up with nothing at all. For this reason, he cannot understand why none of the national LGBT groups have endorsed the march. He said he's done nothing but encounter enthusiasm.
"A door has been opened by history. A door has been opened by the election of Obama, the movie Milk, and our community's defeat in California," Cleve points out. "But that door is already beginning to shut and if we want to win we have to begin now. We cannot wait."
In addition to the Sunday, October 11 rally, there is talk of organizing a Saturday-night candlelight HIV/AIDS vigil at the Lincoln Memorial. Cleve is the creator of the NAMES project AIDS Memorial Quilt and is HIV positive. For information regarding the National Equality March, visit the event's official website (www.nationalequalitymarch.com).
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