President Donald Trump’s first few months have been marked by protest. There was the Women’s March. There was the Day Without a Woman strike. Then there were the March for Science and the People’s Climate March.
Now there’s the Equality March for Unity and Pride, a protest by and for LGBTQ people, on Sunday, June 11. And it could be big: Organizers expect 260,000 to 300,000 will attend.
The march will target a broad set of problems facing LGBTQ Americans, according to organizers:
The “Equality March for Unity & Pride” is a grassroots movement which will mobilize the diverse LGBTQ+ communities to peacefully and clearly address concerns about the current political landscapes and how it is contributing to the persecution and discrimination of LGBTQ+ individuals.
Although Trump and his administration’s rhetoric and actions are on organizers’ minds, the point of the march is broader — addressing nondiscrimination laws, hate crimes (including murders of transgender people), disparities in the criminal justice system, and the unique challenges of LGBTQ immigrants.
And even though it’s coming in the middle of LGBTQ Pride Month, the march is not meant to be a traditional Pride parade; it’s geared more toward protest than celebration.
The march won’t be a standard Pride parade
Pride events have always been about celebrating LGBTQ identities. This was, especially in the 1970s, an act of protest: In a society in which Americans were evenly split on whether homosexuality should even be legal, showing one’s pride in his, her, or their LGBTQ identity was an act of defiance — it signaled to others that LGBTQ people weren’t going to back down and hide just because much of society was intolerant. The first Pride march, after all, commemorated the Stonewall riot — a response to regular police raids of LGBTQ establishments, particularly in big cities like New York, where just same-sex dancing could draw the attention of the law.
With more Americans now supportive of LGBTQ rights and same-sex marriage now law of the land nationwide, Pride events have become increasingly celebratory. They still signal LGBTQ visibility and solidarity, but there’s a very different tone now that big corporations, government officials and agencies, and presidential candidates take part.
Equality March organizers want to move back more to the original Pride marches — which were much more protest than celebration. “The event is grounded in the idea that Pride started as a resistance — as a riot, if you want to call it that,” Jose Plaza, co-chair for the Equality March and president of the Latino GBLT History Project, told me.
In doing this, they want to send a strong message to the people in power — including, yes, the Trump administration — that LGBTQ people demand equality now.
“We need an actual revolution to breathe and walk unapologetically in our truth,” Catalina Velasquez, co-chair for the Equality March and senior director of strategic partnerships and communications at Casa Ruby, told me. “The Equality March for Unity and Pride will be that space to say, ‘Okay, enough is enough.’ It’s an act of resilience. It’s an act of resistance, defiance, and also an act of revolutionary self-love.”
How to attend and what to expect
The main Equality March will take place in Washington, DC, where essentially anyone will be welcome. But there are marches happening across the country, from Portland, Maine, to Los Angeles to Anchorage, Alaska, to Honolulu, Hawaii. (More details on all of the different marches are available at the official Equality March website.)
In DC, the march will begin on Sunday, June 11, at 10 am. The march will start at Logan Circle, continue in front of the White House, and eventually end at the National Mall.
The march will cap off with a rally. Some of the speakers at the rally will be celebrities, but they won’t be the focus. The goal, organizers said, is to give the spotlight primarily to grassroots LGBTQ activists.
“We want to bring in the margins,” Plaza said. “We want the speakers to have working community knowledge. So basically we don’t have the president of the Human Rights Campaign or the president of the LGBTQ Task Force or elected officials. We want this to be community-grounded.”
If you want to attend, organizers ask that you register online through Eventbrite. “We are asking that marchers register so that we can have an accurate count to ensure we have the proper services available,” the Equality March FAQ states.
Anyone is welcome, LGBTQ or not. But no violence is allowed.
Organizers are especially emphasizing diversity and inclusivity to make sure everyone feels welcome:
The march is centered on the principle that in order to heal from the decades of neglect and erasure of marginalized people in the community, we must center transgender and gender expansive communities, and people of color. The co-chairs demand the inclusion of those left behind by social justice movements, including Black, Latinx, Bisexual, and differently-abled individuals. The co-chairs firmly believe that the community finds strength in diversity, and that the current political and social movement demands not just solidarity, but work towards intentional equity, representation, and protection of the most vulnerable.
If you do attend, you should expect a lot of people, a bit of walking, lots of noise and protest signs, and some speakers — typical march and rally stuff.
The hope, though, is that this will extend beyond one day and will foster a revitalized LGBTQ movement from June on. That’s why, after the march, organizers plan to hold a Queer Resistance Bootcamp for “an afternoon of grassroots trainings to arm attendees with the tools and skills for community organizing and resistance needed to keep their activism going long after the march.”
Organizers are even looking into whether they should set up a formal advocacy group to keep momentum going. As Plaza put it, “We want to ensure that the diversity that was brought together can be seen as a momentum to continue post-June 11.”
There’s still a lot to fight for after marriage equality, Trump or not
So what exactly are the issues that LGBTQ people are fired up about, two years after the massive victory of marriage equality?
The issue at the front of many LGBTQ people’s minds is violence. The march, after all, is coming a day before the one-year anniversary of the deadliest mass shooting in US history: the Pulse shooting in Orlando, Florida, where a shooter targeted LGBTQ people at a nightclub, killing 49 and wounding dozens more.
In the past few months, there have been more examples of potential hate crimes. A small-town California mayor had her rainbow flag stolen and burned. There was a drive-by shooting at the Oklahomans for Equality headquarters in Tulsa, followed by verbal harassment later in the day. And at least 11 transgender women of color have been murdered this year alone. While not all these incidents have been definitively identified by police as hate crimes (which can be difficult), they’re all cause for alarm among LGBTQ communities.
“There are life and death concerns post-marriage,” Velasquez said.
On this issue, part of the problem is legal: Although the federal government recognizes anti-LGBTQ attacks as hate crimes, not every state law does. Since the feds don’t have the resources to prosecute all anti-LGBTQ hate crimes as hate crimes, that can leave many of these incidents uninvestigated and unpunished.
Another issue is nondiscrimination laws. The federal government and most state laws explicitly prohibit discrimination in the workplace, housing, public accommodations (hotels, restaurants, and other places that serve the public), and schools based on race, sex (except public accommodations at the federal level), and other protected categories. But sexual orientation and gender identity aren’t explicitly included in federal or most states’ laws.
So in most states, it is legal under local and state law to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace, housing, public accommodations, and schools. So an employer can legally fire someone because he’s gay, a landlord can legally evict someone because she’s a lesbian, and a hotel manager can legally deny service to someone who’s transgender — for no reason other than the person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
There’s many other issues, including the unique challenges LGBTQ people face in the criminal justice system, LGBTQ youth homelessness, health problems like HIV/AIDS, the extreme threat of deportation for undocumented immigrants fleeing anti-LGBTQ persecution, and more. The Equality March platform references 15 total issues.
These are issues that span decades — before the Trump administration. The march, organizers said, is a chance to bring such causes to the spotlight.
“It’s an opportunity to engage folks who have been actively sidelined or silenced,” Velasquez said. “It’s not a direct response to Trump.”
Trump does matter to some extent
Still, there are some Trump-specific issues. His administration is staffed by politicians who have been vocally anti-LGBTQ for years, including Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And Trump hasn’t formally declared June as Pride Month — as President Barack Obama and President Bill Clinton, but not President George W. Bush, did before him.
In its most high-profile move on LGBTQ issues yet, Trump’s administration rescinded an Obama-era guidance that asked publicly funded K-12 schools to respect and protect transgender students’ rights, including their ability to use the bathroom and locker room that align with their gender identity.
This played into the bathroom myth that has been increasingly used to subjugate trans rights across the US. The argument, in short, is that if trans people are allowed to use the bathroom for their gender identity, either trans women or men who pose as trans women will sexually assault or harass women in bathrooms. There is zero evidence for this, as I have repeatedly explained. But the myth has been used to bar trans people from using the bathroom for their gender identity, with several states passing laws or considering bills to that effect.
Gavin Grimm, a trans teenager who’s sued his school for access to the right bathroom, best captured why these anti-trans policies are a big problem: “This wasn’t just about bathrooms. It was about the right to exist in public spaces for trans people,” he told me, quoting trans actress Laverne Cox. “Without the access to appropriate bathrooms, there’s so much that you’re limited in doing. If you try to imagine what your day would be like if you had absolutely no restrooms to use other than the home, it would take planning. You would probably find yourself avoiding liquids, probably avoiding eating, maybe [avoiding] going out in public for too long at a time.”
Equality March organizers are aware that Trump’s actions are a problem, but they say focusing just on Trump is too narrow a focus.
“We’re not ignoring the fact that the current administration’s hate messages and propaganda have galvanized and inspired hate that has propelled and manifested an increase in hate crimes,” Velasquez said. “But to say that this is just a response to Trump is in violation to our struggle and objectives to liberate transgender and queer bodies — and fails to acknowledge that neither party has worked for us.”