Atlanta is one of more than three dozen cities participating in a global march for LGBT equality on Saturday, April 21.
Organizers hope the event, billed as the “2012 Worldwide LGBT Civil Rights March,” will draw thousands of LGBT people and their allies to the streets to demand full equality and to raise awareness of ongoing LGBT issues.
The marches are the brainchild of Joe Knudson, an author based in Oklahoma City. Knudson said in a phone interview that the idea for a worldwide event came to him about a year ago when he created a Facebook campaign to draw attention to the struggle for LGBT equality.
“Through that group we started a committee and looked at what we could do for a mass movement,” Knudson said. “We commissioned an outside firm that does litigation work on civil rights issues. They decided this year would be a great year to do something worldwide, especially since the UN [United Nations] spoke out for gay rights last year.
“We’re just gonna do it, just get this thing going, especially since it’s an election year in America,” Knudson continued.
The objective of the marches, Knudson said, is simply to raise awareness for issues that affect the LGBT community.
“Our biggest goal is to make the governments around the world, and all of society, aware of our struggle, aware of the lack of rights for our community.
“There’s not a whole lot that government or society can do if they’re ignorant of what’s going on,” Knudson said.
Organizing some 40 marches around the globe is no easy task, but Knudson said that Atlanta’s march, led by local activist Dusty Wenk, is in good hands. An overall planning committee of six volunteers, overseen by Knudson, and dozens of local activists working on the ground in each city have made the events possible, Knudson said.
“Atlanta, I don’t have to worry about very much,” Knudson said. “It gives me time to get the other locations up and going.”
Knudson said that national gay rights groups have offered little, if any, support.
“One thing about this movement is that it’s strictly grassroots. We’re not getting a lot of support from the larger organizations like the HRC or the ACLU. They’re satisfied with the progress that they make on a yearly basis. They need our equality strung out so they can have a reason to exist. They have a way and a method of getting what is ‘enough’ equality to satisfy us. We’re not going to settle for anything,” Knudson said.
Other cities listed as participating in the march include Chicago, New York, Oklahoma City, Portland, Washington, D.C., Port Elizabeth (South Africa), Abuja (Nigeria) and London. In total, some 30 cities across the globe have signed on to take part. Knudson hopes to reach a total of 40 as several other cities will host other events that day, while others may join in the days leading up to the march.
A voter registration initiative at each location is a pivotal aspect of the movement, Knudson said. Each location will have printed materials on candidates running for office locally and nationally.
“We’re no different than anyone else, we just don’t have the same rights as everyone else,” Knudson said. “Society is pretty understanding once they have the complete set of facts. This movement will raise awareness, I think voters will get out there in this pivotal in this election year.”
LGBT parades, marches and rallies are still taboo (and illegal) in many parts of the world. Some cities, like an as-of-yet undisclosed location in Pakistan, won’t announce participation until right before the march kicks off, Knudson said.
“Some of those locations aren’t being advertised too heavily because some locations could be shut down and people could be arrested. We do have a lot of foreign participants. The talk is that something big is going to happen around the world in April,” Knudson said.
“Sexual orientation, gender identity needs to be a part of basic human rights. Until it is, we’re not going to have full equality.”
March to Georgia State Capitol
The Atlanta march kicks off at noon and will take participants from Woodruff Park to Georgia’s Capitol building, local organizer Dusty Wenk said.
Wenk, a German national, has lived in Atlanta for four years. Living in the states has been an eye-opening experience on how Americans treat the LGBT community, Wenk said.
“I’m German, and my girlfriend is American and in the military. We went through housing together with ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ When I came to the states, I felt discriminated against,” she said. “I was an activist from the first minute I came here.”
Wenk added that six speakers will be tapped for a post-march rally at the Capitol. As of press time, Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham and Ga. State Rep. Simone Bell (D-Atlanta) were confirmed. Bell is one of four openly gay members of the Georgia General Assembly and was the first African American lesbian elected to serve in a U.S. state legislature.
“After the speeches, we’re going to go to Piedmont Park to hang out, just for a little barbeque or whatever. We’re going to have a closing event at Island Breeze in East Atlanta. A few different LGBT entertainers will help us close it out,” Wenk said.
Wenk said she hopes the local LGBT community will support and participate in the march.
“The women’s movement, the civil rights movement, they all stood up for themselves,” she said. “Everybody complains, but nobody stands up for themselves. There’s nothing to be ashamed or to be quiet about.
“We are one community, we have to stand up as one community.”
Top photo: Left: ‘We are one community, we have to stand up as one community,’ says Dusty Wenk, organizer of Atlanta’s local events for the 2012 Worldwide LGBT Civil Rights March. (Courtesy photo) Right: Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham (center) and State Rep. Simone Bell are slated to speak April 21 at the Georgia march. (File photos)