A day for the rights of gays Huge crowd urges end to bigotry, no military ban GAY RIGHTS MARCH ON WASHINGTON

April 26, 1993|By Peter Honey | Peter Honey,Washington Bureau Nelson Schwarz contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- Hundreds of thousands of gay rights demonstrators streamed through central Washington yesterday on a march where exuberance and sexual liberation overshadowed anger.

Organizers hoped a huge turnout would boost their demands -- primarily for an end to the ban on gays in the military, protection pTC for homosexuals in a rewritten Civil Rights Act, increased funding to combat acquired immune deficiency syndrome and improvements in women's health care.

"Our demands are important, but what really matters is being here together, just being in the majority," said Rod Greenough of Salt Lake City, one of about 200 activists who had flown in from Utah.

The parade was still moving last evening, more than six hours after it began.

It was one of the biggest civil rights demonstrations in U.S. history, but it may not have been the record-breaking million-plus crowd that organizers claimed it was.

U.S. Park Police put the crowd at 300,000 -- an estimate that march organizer Billy Hileman called "an insult." That would make it smaller than last year's abortion rights rally, which drew 500,000, and only 100,000 larger than the 1987 gay rights march on Washington, according to Park Service estimates.

President Clinton sent a message in support of the demonstration that was read on his behalf by Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, a leading advocate of gay and lesbian rights in Congress.

"I stand with you in the struggle for equality for all Americans, including gay men and lesbians," he wrote, urging Americans to "put aside what divides us and focus on what we share."

He promised to announce soon a new AIDS coordinator to improve health care for AIDS sufferers and establish a national prevention plan to fight the spread of the disease.

Mr. Clinton, who angered some gay activists by failing to address the crowd personally or, as organizers had hoped, by live television, was in Boston, speaking to a meeting of newspaper editors as the marchers streamed past the White House. He said last week he did not think it appropriate for a president to address a protest rally.

"Don't forget," Ms. Pelosi told the crowd. "It's not that Bill Clinton isn't standing here, but that he is standing up for the end of discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans."

Larry Kramer, playwright and founder of the radical gay group, ACT-UP, was harshly critical of Mr. Clinton and his administration for failing to do more to fight AIDS.

"He made us promises, and we paid for these promises," he said, an apparent reference to the $3 million that gays contributed to the Clinton campaign. "And he has done nothing to implement these promises."

Mr. Kramer said Mr. Clinton and his administration were saying the right things but not doing enough to fight AIDS, a situation he likened to Franklin Roosevelt's attitude toward the Jews during Hitler's rise to power.

"This is genocide," Mr. Kramer said of the AIDS epidemic and, referring to the capital's newest museum, added: "This is our holocaust."

But others who delivered addresses on the National Mall praised Mr. Clinton for taking steps toward lifting the ban on gays in the military and for his support of gay rights.

The Rev. Ben Chavis, the new executive director of the NAACP, acknowledged that some in the nation's oldest civil rights organization questioned his decision to speak at the march.

"We must be against all forms of discrimination," explained Mr. Chavis. He was followed to the microphone by William F. Gibson, the NAACP's board chairman, who also defended the black civil rights group's participation, quoting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s statement that "justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere."

As dawn bloomed into a summer-like day, marchers began gathering on the lawns surrounding the Washington Monument to listen to speeches, music and comic entertainment.

As the crowd swelled, vendors of T-shirts, gay books, lapel buttons, hot dogs and sodas did brisk trade. Some men, and a few women, removed their shirts as the unseasonably warm, sunny day wore on. The smell of marijuana drifted on the breeze.

"Is this Woodstock '93 or what?" observed a young man walking hand-in-hand with his boyfriend.

The march, which stretched more than one mile, kicked off at noon, flowed north past the White House and along Pennsylvania Avenue to the National Mall near the foot of the Capitol for the afternoon's entertainment and speeches.

Among those leading the march were Cybill Shepherd, the movie actress; Martina Navratilova, the tennis player; National Organization for Women President Patricia Ireland, and Ian McKellen, the Shakespearean actor. John Sculley, chief executive officer of Apple Computer, and Phil Donahue, the television talk show host, also appeared onstage.

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