As dawn was breaking in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Sunday morning, three very sleepy friends and I crammed ourselves into a small, banged-up Honda, cranked on the acoustic lesbian folk music and began the lengthy drive to Washington, D.C., to be gay. The National Equality March, meant to draw attention to marriage equality and "don't ask, don't tell" -- and demand changes from the Obama administration -- was going to be the first gay march on the Capitol since 2000. While none of my trip companions (or I) are particularly energized by the gay marriage cause -- given our long-standing, uh, skepticism of the institution -- we still wanted to seize what might be our last chance ever to attend a large-scale gay rally in D.C.
Four hours and 12 gas station tacos later, we walked into the march route on 12st and Pennsylvania Avenue to discover a much larger, and more diverse, crowd than we'd expected. Numbering somewhere in the tens of thousands (though the organizers' estimate of 150,000 attendees seems a bit overenthusiastic), the marchers were a healthy mix of male, female, gay and straight. Some were noisy (one student group dramatically threatened "Civil rights or civil war"), but most were sedate, and some had dogs or strollers. The outrageous displays that characterize gay pride marches were nowhere to be seen (aside from "Mr. DC Bear" carrying a bear flag, and a group holding a "sodomize conformity" sign). What seemed most noteworthy to us was the relative age of the marchers -- which included a disproportionate number of 20-somethings, teens and young children.
By 2 p.m., the crowd had spread itself out on the lawn next to the Capitol, and the atmosphere was more like a large park gathering than a political rally. Groups of young men and women hung around on the grass and chatted, and others walked around cruising each other, many shirtless, while sporadically applauding the speakers. Cynthia Nixon and Judy Shepard all gave impassioned speeches, but the warmest reception of the day was reserved for Lady Gaga, who appeared about one hour into the rally wearing a large blond wig. When her name was announced, the crowd suddenly ran up to get a closer look, with their iPhones in the air, cheering every time she finished a sentence. It was a combination of endearing and cringe-worthy -- but it also led to my biggest moment of solidarity.
We may not all want to get married, or join the military, but it's hard not to be moved when you're standing on the lawn of the Capitol, a bewigged pop star takes the stage -- and as you look over to the pink-haired gay teenager standing next to you, you both instinctively roll your eyes.