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Washington, D.C.When gay activist Keith Boykin arrived at the VIP entrance for presenters at the Millions More Movement rally Saturday morning near the Capitol, organizers told him he wasnt on the list of speakers. At first he thought it was a mistake.
After all, there had been months of negotiations between the National Black Justice Coalitionthe African American gay rights group of which he is a board member and the marchs chief organizer Reverend Louis Farrakhan.
Activists say Boykin had been selected to represent the black gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community to the hundreds of thousands expected to assemble for the 10-year anniversary of the Million Man March. (Farrakhan could not be reached today for comment.)
Though a turn at the podium was not to be, Boykin and his supporters would not be silenced. Later that morning, Boykin took his prepared speech to Freedom Plaza, where a group of about 75 GLBT activists stood holding rainbow flags and signs that read Gay by God.
We didnt come all this way to back down, Boykin said to a mixed-gender, mixed-race crowd that seemed more contemplative than angry. We are going to go march down to that mall and tell those people we will not be divided!
An hour before heavy hitters Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton took the stage to ask the crowd to focus on the 2006 congressional elections and the 2008 presidential elections, as well as to give their support to impoverished Katrina victims fighting to take part in the rebuilding of their cities, buses were still arriving.
Unaware of the controversy, members of a social justice group from Norton, New Jersey, unloaded Afrocentric flags for the rally. Douglass Turner, a 51-year-old construction worker, says he woke up at 3 a.m. to get on board. People who call Farrakhan anti-gay and anti-Semitic are against black unity he says. In his opinion, Farrakhan is one of few African American leaders who havent been bought.
Not far away, a small, intense, disciplined-looking group of women and men from the controversial New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense were also getting ready to march, standing at attention as a drill-sergeant-like leader barked orders.
A different sort of scene unfolded across the lawn as a group of 23 boys and girls in long dresses and neat suits began tuning their violins. Students from the Muhammad School of Music in Buffalo began practicing the classical number they would later perform in front of the crowd of thousands. Theyve been working on it for six months, says Jeannine Mohammad, whose 15-year-old daughter, Jamila, plays bass as well. This march means everything to us! she says. Black people coming together in unity. Its a day Ive always dreamed of. I couldnt come to the family march, so this is my first one.
When asked what she thinks about the criticism the minister Farrakhan has received for being anti-Semitic and anti-gay, she also dismisses the accusations. He is very tolerant of all races, she says. And he recently told the gay community they are welcomeand surely they are in need of healing, so they are welcome.
Its well-meaning but not quite accepting attitudes like Muhammads that some hope to change. The GLBT activists marched from Freedom Plaza to the Washington Mall, shouting Black, gay, proud! and We are your mothers, your sisters, your brothers, your uncles, to a few cheers, a few taunts, and many stares from onlookers. They weaved through the crowd, their chants competing with the amplified voices from the official podium. Uh-uh, I know he didnt just say he was gay, said a teenager in a Millions More t-shirt.
Vallerie Wagner, a 46-year-old nonprofit worker, walked arm-in-arm with the woman shes dating, Courtney Snowdon, a 26-year-old lobbyist. They cheerfully endured the stares. Wagner said she thought a minister close to Farrakhan was behind the reported rebuffing of Boykin, and that it wasnt the decision of Farrakhan himself. I wasn't really surprised they reneged, she said. But it speaks to the amount of hurt and hatred in the black community. Its a sad day.
According to the Washington Blade, Cleo Manago, a controversial queer speaker who does not identify as "gay" but rather as a "same-gender-loving black man" spoke briefly to the crowd. Black GLBT activists are calling the substitution unsatisfying.
Sam Varner, a 26-year-old accounts payable clerk, said not having a strong gay speaker saddened him because the march was billed as an inclusive thing, but [African Americans] are behaving like those who once excluded us. Its wrong.