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March on Washington

I followed the “Dyketones” to Washington, DC for the 1987 Gay and Lesbian March on Washington where celebrities spoke and performed as an estimated 600,000 activists filled the Mall – the hallowed ground between the Capitol building and Washington Monument – amongst the nations museums and galleries showcasing our cultural accomplishments and identity.

A focal point of the March was that president Ronald Reagan had not ever mentioned AIDS publicly. It was thought by many that this fact was the main reason the government was not studying, funding or establishing programs to better understand the disease, describe the crisis to the American people and begin research for a cure. The lack of information and relative ignorance within the nation about AIDS disease resulted in a culture of stereotyping, judgment and fear around the rapidly expanding epidemic.

The demonstration included 100’s of thousands of activists who marched past the White House on their way to a place on the National Mall in front of the Capitol Building. The marchers at leading edge of the massive crowd, many of them in wheelchairs, were citizens diagnosed with AIDS. As they approached the White House, Right Wing religious groups of demonstrators shouted hate speech slogans as they held signs with demeaning and threatening messages across the street from the White House.

Now stopped in front of the White House the demonstrators with AIDs and their supporters at the front of the marchers began a swinging pivot arching toward the White House while chanting in unison “ SHAME …. SHAME …. SHAME” while gesturing with extended arms and pointing fingers at the White House. The chanting could be heard back across the ranks of thousands of marchers behind the front lines echoing the same SHAME SHAME SHAME.

Ronald Reagan was not at home. He was spending the weekend with Nancy at Camp David.

As the march moved on toward the Capital thousands of citizens lined the sidewalks along the route and with deep emotion many spontaneously reached out offering hugs and comfort to members passing by in the demonstration who were assumed to have AIDS. This contact was a huge gesture because at that time most considered it a great risk to make contact with anyone who was known to have contracted AIDS. For many Americans this public show of support and physical contact with the victims sent a signal that began a national discussion that ultimately became an educational dialogue about Aids and eventually led to a government information campaign, funding and research for a cure.

[a selection of photographs from the complete portfolio]

Note: A video journal of this subject is currently in development and will be posted here when complete.

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