Cloudy skies gave way to a sea of rainbow-colored protests as thousands of determined gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and straight marchers took over D.C. streets this weekend, rallying for equal rights and calling for an end to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that bars openly gay people from serving in the military.
The event, which spanned two days, covered much of downtown D.C., and included an equality rally in Kogan Plaza and a massive march that spanned from 15th Street to the Capitol.
The march shut down many streets Sunday when thousands paraded from McPherson Square to the Capitol for the official National Equality March. GW students from Allied in Pride, the College Democrats, and the Jewish Student Association marched with other local university organizations, including Georgetown’s GU Pride.
“The crowd is absolutely beautiful,” said freshman Ariel Kersky, a member of the College Democrats who said she marched in support of her gay friends at home and at the University.
Overtaking the lawn of the Capitol, demonstrators assembled for the rally and the Gay Men’s Choir of Washington D.C. sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Representatives from the executive board of the National Equality March also spoke from a stage, thanking the crowds.
On Saturday, hundreds of activists gathered for a flash protest – a quick-forming, spontaneous demonstration – calling for the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Rainbow flags and umbrellas, glittered signs and “NO H8” temporary tattoos – a reference to the California measure Proposition 8 that outlawed gay marriage in the state – decorated the ever-growing crowd that utilized text messages and social media to coordinate marches and rallies.
“It’s an issue that’s personal for me,” said sophomore Dan Hennessey, a member of Allied in Pride, who said he had previously considered joining the Air Force. “We need to apply more pressure on our politicians to repeal the policy. It’s the easiest thing that could be accomplished by (President) Obama.”
The policy was first implemented in 1993 by then-President Bill Clinton. It has since been upheld and has resulted in the dismissal of over 13,000 service members, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. On Saturday, Obama said in a speech that he would repeal the policy.
“It’s unfair and disadvantageous that gays and lesbians aren’t allowed to serve in the military. Anyone who wants to serve in our military should be able to. It’s like an act of terrorism,” said Elizabeth Pax, a student-participant from Dallas.
Protesters made it to Kogan Plaza as well Saturday, chanting “silence no more” with increasing tempo as they marched down Pennsylvania Avenue on the way to a rally.
“I’m here to recruit you,” Michael Komo, president of Allied in Pride, said at the rally. “I know you’re angry. I’m angry. We here at GW are affected too.”
Todd Belok, a sophomore at GW student who was dismissed from GW’s Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps in December of 2008 for being gay, brought the whole march together, coordinating efforts from on-campus organizations and national student groups.
The Kogan Plaza flash protest, which was originally for GW students only, garnered support from Students for the National Equality March, which was represented by Dave Valk, a recent graduate of the University of Califonia-Los Angeles.
“It only took a few clicks and look at what we were able to achieve,” Valk said. “We shut down the streets of our nation’s capital.”