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Marching for equality: a young activist’s perspective on LGBT rights

Marching for equality: a young activist’s perspective on LGBT rights

Sunday morning, I woke up at 5:15 am, got dressed in the dark, and slogged my way through the chilly October air to the bottom of campus.  There were already at least thirty of my classmates, loudly clad in our school colors of orange and black, huddled in small groups and talking surprisingly cheerfully for the early hour.  A few people were snapping pictures.  Donuts were going around.  Over the course of the next twenty minutes, forty more bleary-eyed college students arrived.  A bus pulled up, and people began to pile on.

Normally, I can’t imagine a scenario that would tempt ten Princeton students to wakefulness at 6 am on a Sunday, much less seventy.  But yesterday was different.  It was, as you may know, the day of the National March for Equality in Washington, D.C., an event that was, according to the New York Times, “primarily the undertaking of a new generation of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocates who have grown disillusioned with the movement’s leadership.”

The day, for me, was transformative.  I am a junior at Princeton University, a school that has been a complex source of joy, frustration and anger over the past two years.  My time at Princeton has changed me from a passive liberal to a passionate radical progressive, obsessed with feminism, women’s rights, and gender issues.  I never thought, before I came to college, that I would consider activism to be my primary passion.  But attending a privileged and conservative Ivy League school, still steeped in the apathy and exclusivity of the past, will do miraculous things – and so I don’t mind for the most part that I’m one of the few activists on campus.  But it’s a lonely experience too.  My experiences with activism energized but also jaded me – I couldn’t see what would force Princeton students, or anyone my age, to care.

Yesterday changed the way I see my classmates and my generation.  I stood in a crowd of tens of thousands of people in their 20′s and 30′s, all holding signs and screaming.  We lost our voices.  We got blisters.  I talked to people who had traveled over 20 hours from Wisconsin, and others who had come from California.  The exhilaration in the Princeton group was palpable – sporting signs that said, “Even Princeton” and “Princeton Pride”, we marched behind a Princeton banner, in a sea of bright orange t-shirts and umbrellas.  This is from a campus that never sees protests, where a walk-out would be unthinkable.  And suddenly, it became evident that we all did care – that we were all in this together, with the thousands upon thousands of others who were also tired of waiting for equality.  It was the most incredible high.  We – the generation who didn’t care, the privileged, apathetic students from the ivory tower – were there, in the streets, fighting for what was right.

When I got home, I read the NYT coverage of the march.  Last week, Representative Barney Frank called the event “emotional satisfaction” for the organizers, and said derisively that we were going to put more pressure “on the grass” than on Obama.  Others in gay political circles argued that it was hastily planned and executed, a diversion of energy from state political campaigns.  In a speech the night before the march, President Obama once again promised to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” but gave no sense of a timeline; he made no mention of marriage equality. 

And certainly, disillusionment with Obama is one reason that I was in the streets – although I personally have mixed feelings about marriage as a rallying point, it has become too symbolically important to be ignored, and Obama has continued to distance himself from the LGBT communities who helped to elect him.  There was a loud cheer at the rally yesterday when Billie Myers, a musician, speaking to a crowd a crowd on the West Lawn of the Capitol, said, “I’m sorry, [Obama], but I didn’t like your speech.”

But I also have something to say to Representative Frank, and all the other activists and organizers who said that this march would do nothing.  In my few years of activism, I have experienced ageism and significant intolerance of the voices of youth.  We are called frivolous and apathetic – and I think those indictments are sometimes self-fulfilling prophecies.  But the voices of tens of thousands of youth, marching with people of all ages, genders, sexualities, races, and religions, spoke loudly, saying that the time for change is now. 

The legislative battles will continue, the lobbyists will continue to pressure politicians, and there will always be activists working to gently steer the system in the direction of justice.  But sometimes the activist movements of the United States need to open their arms.  They need to have opportunities like this, where thousands and thousands of people can publicly condemn inequality.  There is more than one way to care about an issue – and more than one way to support a cause.  Yesterday was powerful beyond anything I could have expected.  Civil rights can be a rallying point for a generation that is sometimes cynical and uncertain – I know that we care, but many times we don’t know how to show it.  Yesterday, we did.  And we can – and will – do it again.

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Photo courtesy of Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux.

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16 comments

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1:19PM PDT on Oct 17, 2009

Hooray for Amielia (sic) As the 71 year old mom of 46 year old fabulous gay man, I salute her marching and article!! I attended the 1987 and 1993 Marches and they were sooooo impowering. I think we march for ourselves as much as for justice. We can appreciate the saying that we must "keep on Keeping on". The justice we want WI LL come as we persevere.

4:08AM PDT on Oct 16, 2009

I support equality completely. My best friend is gay and I am very upset that he cannot be with his partner in public, get married or adopt children without criticism.

10:25PM PDT on Oct 15, 2009

When gay people specifically do NOT have the right to marry the person of their choice, are in fact BARRED BY LAW FROM marrying the person of their choice, that is NOT asking for "special" rights. That is asking for EQUAL rights; and asking specifically to CHANGE THE SPECIFIC UNEQUAL LAWS.
Not too long ago, within my lifetime {I am 73 years old}, there were SPECIFIC laws that barred Black people and White people from marrying each other. That was the LAW, in SEVERAL States of the USA! {You can LOOK IT UP, if you don't believe me!}
These laws would have prevented President Obama's mother and father from marrying each other, if such laws had been in force in Hawaii at that time.
These horribly unjust laws, that caused such a great deal of suffering among Black people and White people who loved each other and wanted to get married, these laws were, in the name of EQUALITY, overturned. Not all that long ago, either!
Black people and White people who wanted to marry each other, were not asking for any sort of "special" rights. They were simply ASKING FOR THE SAME RIGHTS AS ALL CITIZENS HAVE UNDER THE U.S. CONSTITUTION.
This total nonsense about Gay people wanting "special" rights that non-Gay people don't have, CANNOT STAND UP UNDER ANY SORT OF LOGICAL RATIONAL SCRUTINY.
Congratulations to the young folks for assaulting this last bastion of repression and blatant inequality: EQUAL rights for all LGBT people in EVERY sphere of living.

3:40PM PDT on Oct 15, 2009

EQUALITY yes DESCRMINATION no as some of you said all people are created EQUAL and should be treated equal NO exceptions im tire of all this hate and descrimination i can imagine how horrible those peoples lives are

10:43PM PDT on Oct 13, 2009

I read an article in TIME 1993 (Cnn), that informs that there is “scientific” evidence that you could be born homosexual. When I read it, I couldn’t believe it, but in that same year, I began to think that it was possible. Of course, if this is true, then there might be the case that you are either born homosexual, or you are “made to become homosexual” by others. This being the case, then the Bible is completely wrong on condemning this human behavior, if you are born with it. I believe that if you are born “homosexual”, it was God’s will that you are born that way. In this case, God cannot condemn you for being homosexual if it was His will, because if He did condem it, He would be an unjust God. According to the Bible, everything that exists is God’s will. And according to the study mentioned, Chromosomes determine gender. Males get an X from their mothers and a Y from their fathers. Women get two X’s, one from each parent. In the study, a team at the National Cancer Institute’s Laboratory of Biochemistry reported in the journal Science that 33 out of 40 pairs of gay brothers were found to share the same sequences of DNA in a particular part of the chromosome suggests that at least one gene related to homosexuality is located in that region. Homosexuality was the only trait that all 33 pairs shared. Having family members that are “gay”, I consider this good news because of the burden they have

9:05PM PDT on Oct 13, 2009

Explain to me how are they asking for "special treatment"? They are-and those of us who open our minds and listen-asking for equality. Wouldn't you be angry if the whole world is against you?!

Are they saying heterosexuals are an abomination? No.
Are they beating straight people because of their sexual preference? No.
Are they saying "husband and wife" is wrong? No.
Equality is the goal. LGBT are not equal by law, let alone by society. What's their "sin"? Loving?! Are they hurting anyone?

It's hypocritical to me, specially by right-wing fanatics, how a cheating husband is welcomed back by churches and not judged, while young believing people are not accepted because they love someone of their own sex. To think adultery is the one that's condenmed by the 10 commandments!

God bless everyone who loves and is willing to fix themselves and help others, not the other way around!

8:18PM PDT on Oct 13, 2009

It's We the people not Heterosexual Gay Transsexual etc remove the labels

8:12PM PDT on Oct 13, 2009

I speak with prejudice, they appear to be a bunch of whiners who think they deserve special treatment over others. Give special treatment like food for the hungry children in America, give jobs to the ones that need work, equal pay for equal work, There is equlity but that does not equate to special treatment. I don't have to like them, support them or care about their wanting special treatment over others & that is the impression I have seen from those I personally know, they try to force their views on others & are agressive when disagreed with. So I start with saying I am prejudiced about them & I leave the same way stating why.

11:57AM PDT on Oct 13, 2009

Kudos to Marilyn and Reagan, who are right on! Beautifully said! You don't treat the symptoms; you treat the disease--in this case the disease of prejudice against others for ANY reason. We must band together if prejudice in all its ugly forms is to weaken.

11:56AM PDT on Oct 13, 2009

I believe that we should not focus on any special rights for any group of people. We should focus on equal rights for all humanity. Our Constitutional rights cover everyone in America and we should strive to assure that these rights are implemented as written. Fighting for special rights for any particular group is against the Constitution. Our Constitution speaks of equal rights for everyone, not special rights. I respect the LGBT community, but I don’t believe they should have any special rights than any of us should. I know how you feel about and why many don’t accept it, but your rights are written in the Constution and they are equal to mine. Fight for equal rights for everyone, not just a special group. I have three cousins, a brother and a grandson that professed to being homosexuals and I don’t treat them any differently from any other person. I love them deerly, but I do not believe they should have any special rights than any other person should. A united front for equal rights to all should be the main point to fight for.

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Kristina Chew Kristina Chew teaches and writes about ancient Greek and Latin and is Online Advocacy and Marketing... more
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