WASHINGTON — Yale student activists added a splash of Bulldog blue to the rainbow-colored crowd at the National Equality March on Sunday.
About 25 Yale students travelled to the nation’s capital to participate in the march, which drew tens of thousands of members of the LGBT community and their supporters here. Most of the students traveled to the event with more than 70 Connecticut activists on a bus chartered by the Connecticut chapter of Equality Across America.
The march was part of a national effort to raise awareness about discrimination against gays. Participants carried signs and shouted chants advocating for same-sex marriage, abolition of the U.S. military “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, and protection of LGBT individuals in schools and the workplace. The march came the day after President Barack Obama’s address at the Human Rights Campaign National Dinner on Saturday night, during which the president renewed his promise to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military but did not offer any specific timetable.
Marchers of all age groups, ranging from high school students to the elderly, flooded down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to the South Lawn of the Capitol, where the event culminated in a rally featuring gay activist icons such as Cleve Jones, an AIDS activist and protege of Harvey Milk, and Lt. Daniel Choi, a discharged National Guardsman. Many of the Yale students in attendance, including Amalia Horon-Skilton ’13, cited Jones, an AIDS and LGBT activist who visited Yale Law School on Oct. 6, as a source of inspiration.
The Yalies left New Haven at 4:30 a.m. on a bus chartered by the Connecticut chapter of Equality Across America, a group created to rally supporters to attend the march.
Despite sleep deprivation and the seven-hour bus ride, students arrived in Washington eager to make signs for and participate in the march.
Of the six Yale students interviewed, all said they were upset at openly-gay Democratic Congressman Barney Frank’s comments Saturday in which he described the march as a “waste of time at best.”
Alison Adams ’09, who now works at a non-profit environmental organization in Washington, D.C., said she thinks the march will put pressure on members of Congress to overturn the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy.
“I think Barney Frank’s comment is ridiculous,” Adams said. “There’s going to be a lot of press coverage about the march, and the politicians afterwards will have to respond to this.”
Lexi Gainsmith ’13 said she came to the event to speak out as a lesbian and that she is looking for “equality in everything.”
“I don’t think it’s just a one time deal,” Gainsmith said. “We should all rally and also send letters to our senators and congressmen.”
Other universities also had contingents at the march. Students from Princeton University carried a large orange banner to show their support. The Pride Alliance of Amherst College sent 20 students to the event.
The Yale students dressed in relatively subdued casual clothing compared with students from other colleges, who decked themselves in rainbow stripes. But when it came time to chant, the Yalies were just as fervent, shouting cheers such as, “Hey Obama, can’t you see? We demand equality.”
During the rally following the march, several speakers addressed Obama’s seeming lack of commitment to the LGBT cause. David Mixner, the chief organizer of the National Equality March, criticized the president for not signing a stop-loss order to halt the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy temporarily.
“The president asked us to help him, and help him, we did,” Mixner said. “But we voted for him not to be led by Congress, but for him to lead Congress.”
Choi, a U.S. Army combat veteran who was discharged from the National Guard after he disclosed his sexual orientation on The Rachel Maddow Show this March, gave a personal testimony about how difficult it is for LGBT people to serve in the military.
“Love is worth fighting for,” Choi said. “We love our country even when it rejects our love.”
The rally also featured a performance by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C., which sang classics like “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Over the Rainbow.” The chorus’s concluding rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” drew warm applause from the audience, which filled the South Lawn of the Capitol and spilled over into the surrounding sidewalks.
The march appeared to draw little criticism from tourists or the residents of Washingtonian, D.C., as onlookers who lined the sidewalk along the march route cheered on while waving rainbow flags.
While the March itself took place on Sunday, the Web site for Equality Across America advertised events beginning Friday afternoon and stretching to Monday.