March on Washington, 1993

What struck me first was the sheer numbers, queers everywhere.

Battalions of sailors and infantry, proud in their uniforms.

Eventually, I made uneasy peace with this equal right.


And merchandise galore — I got a Keith Haring t-shirt before he was cool.

ACT UP wore their Silence=Death shirts, staged mock funerals.

Cybill Shepherd gave a pithy speech, her presence enough,

a heterosexual woman willing to stand, out of one hundred movie stars asked.

Martina Navratilova —

her journey from behind the Iron Curtain, to tolerance in tennis,

to finally belonging, among a million people, on the Mall.

The Indigo Girls, still in the closet, claimed ally status.

Six hours of entertainment peppered with speeches promoting equality and coming out.

Nancy Pelosi read the President’s message to cheers and boos.

We were where it mattered, not in a colony, not watching on TV.


It was queer central in Dupont Circle,

antiques, boutiques, sex toy emporiums, bookstores.

Dykes ate on the cheap: falafels and pizza,

while the men saved their scant caloric intakes for haute cuisine.

Later we all drank in the same bars.


The men congregated near the Washington Monument.

I expected a condom to be rolled over that giant phallus.

Near the White House, which seemed unoccupied, lay The Quilt –

coffin-sized panels sewn together, football fields long.

We sobbed as did most everyone else.


In New York state, driving home

small-town papers diminished the event

to a few queens and scantily-clad men,

gave equal press to the coterie of Bible-thumpers

with their futile attempts at shaming and conversion.

When our van-load of dykes crossed the border

we breathed a sigh.

The Globe and Mail reported a million people at the March.


Back then, there was still hope that Clinton would act on his promises.

I was learning to be outraged.

Bibliographical info

Jane Byers “March on Washington, 1993” Copyright © 2016 by Jane Byers. Source “March on Washington, 1993” from Acquired Community (Caitlin Press, 2016). Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

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