TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO, on October 14, 1979, an estimated 75,000 to 125,000 lesbians and gay men from all across America marched on Washington at a moment in the movement’s history that was remarkably different from the current one. This was the first such March on Washington staged by American gays, rendering it in collective memory as the symbolic coming out and birth of a national movement for lesbian and gay rights. Gleaning insights into why this march happened and how it was organized both commemorates the 25th anniversary of the event and offers clues into contemporary gay culture and politics.
The gay liberation movement of the late 1970’s legitimized a range of causes that it was advancing by linking itself to other grassroots demonstrations, especially the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington. Such connections helped to establish the movement as a progressive one and also emphasized the need for an autonomous lesbian and gay political presence. In a letter dated Sept. 10, 1979, and circulated to major gay organizations and leaders throughout the U.S., march coordinators Steve Ault and Joyce Hunter wrote,