"What do we want? Full equality! When do we want it? Now!" These sentiments provided a unified chant for gay-rights protesters March 1 on the south steps of the Mississippi Capitol building.
As I drove south on Interstate 55 the morning of Fondren's March for Gay Equality last week, the sky, which had been a beautiful early-morning blue, began to cloud over. I checked the weather and saw a 30-percent chance of rain beginning at 9 a.m., the time when the march was set to begin. I then thought of people who protested in the past for rights they were denied, and I remembered the stories of the civil-rights marches in 1960s Alabama and the atrocities of the raids at New York City's Stonewall Inn. Walking in Jackson in the rain seems better.
At Cups in Fondren, where the march to the Capitol was to begin, I wasn't surprised to see a police presence—10 uniformed officers, six patrol cars and two police motorcycles. About 60 people waited for the three-mile hike down State Street to begin.
Not long after, it became apparent that we were not walking anywhere. With amplification, a policeman announced that we could not walk together to the Capitol. Bob Gilchrist, who organized the march, had not secured the liability insurance required for an organized group to walk together. We could drive to the Capitol and stage a protest on the south steps, but the march was off.
Later I learned that a group of seven people, after questioning officers, did make the sidewalk trek, carrying an ACLU banner, and that Gilchrist walked the designated route alone Thursday afternoon.
At the Capitol, amid a rather impressive media presence, Gilchrist and others led those present in chants. A desire for equality and the ability to participate fully in society—to marry—certainly emerged. Some protesters loudly cursed. I don't agree with that behavior, because professionalism and emphasis on commonality are essential in winning support.
The demonstration ended as many participants joined the second annual Mississippi AIDS Day press conference in the Capitol second-floor rotunda to implore the Legislature to find $2.5 million to finance AIDS treatment in the state. Mississippi's allocated funding for AIDS is about 10 times less than monies allocated by neighboring states.
As one of the people at AIDS Day said, "Mississippians want to live, not only survive."
In my opinion, LGBT persons everywhere have tired of institutionalized relegation to the outskirts of society, which is precisely why home-grown, grassroots protests like Fondren's March for Gay Equality are becoming more popular. Even in categorically conservative Mississippi, gays and lesbians have wearied of any "majority" having license over them. Desperately wanting marriage equality, gays and lesbians will no longer be silent and hide their feelings somewhere in the idiomatic closet. They say publicly, "I am somebody, and I deserve full equality."
Despite the fact that the march was called off, Gilchrist said he remains optimistic.
I talked to him by phone March 8, and he said that as we were speaking, he was standing with his rainbow flag outside the Hilton on County Line Road. "Newt Gingrich is at the Hilton," he said.
Gilchrist said that although he was expecting more to march last Thursday he still feels that the turnout was beautiful. He is pleased, because Jacksonians saw that "we were not silenced."
Gilchrist is planning another walk to the Capitol March 24. See the Facebook event page for details.