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From the archives: The 1987 March on Washington drew attention to the AIDS crisis

Sitting in a wheelchair and holding a sign saying, “I have AIDS, please hug me. I can’t make you sick,” Jonathan Strong, a San Diego gay activist with AIDS, joined a San Diego contingent and hundreds of thousands of other protesters in the National March on Washington for Lesbian Rights. and gay people and more AIDS funding, 35 years ago. Strong died eight months later, in June 1988. He was 24 years old.

From the San Diego Union, Monday, October 12, 1987:

Lesbians and Gays March on Capitol Hill – Over 200,000 Call for AIDS Funds, End Stigma

By Mark Ragan, Copley News Service

Chanting ‘for shame, for shame’ and ‘homophobia must go’, more than 200,000 gay and lesbian activists and their supporters marched past the White House yesterday for a rally on Capitol Hill, where they demanded more money for AIDS research and the end of discrimination.

The march – with participants carrying signs with messages such as “acceptance of sexual diversity sets us all free” and “ignorance is contagious” – spanned more than a dozen city blocks, from the Capitol steps to the Washington Memorial.

United States Park Police put the total number of marchers at 200,000. Organizers, estimating the crowd at 500,000, hailed the protest as the largest civil rights march since Martin Luther King Jr. led 200,000 activists to the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.

About 400 to 600 San Diego gay activists joined the three-hour march, marching behind a long white banner with the words “San Diego gays and lesbians” in purple.

Twelve of the San Diego walkers had AIDS or an AIDS-related complex and were flown to Washington after a fundraising campaign to pay their fees.

Some, like Jonathan Strong of Golden Hill, rode in wheelchairs at the front of the procession. Strong held a sign in his lap that read, “I have AIDS. Please hug me. I can’t make you sick.

Others leaned on canes or the arms of friends as they passed the White House, the Smithsonian Institution and the Capitol. As they advanced, the crowd cheered them from the sidewalks.

“I knew there would be a lot of people on the march,” said Stevin Henderson, a 31-year-old gay activist from Normal Heights. “But I never thought there would be so many people cheering us on.”

Nicole Ramirez Murray, a gay activist from San Diego and organizer of the march, greeted the crowd saying “this is the biggest meeting I have ever seen or attended”.

In a speech last night, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, pledged his support for gay rights while calling for increased federal spending on AIDS research and education.

He said: “We come together today to say that we insist on equal protection under the law for every American, for workers’ rights, for women’s rights, for religious freedom rights, for individual privacy, for sexual preference rights. We unite for the rights of all Americans. »

Jackson, noting that he declared his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination on Saturday, concluded his speech by saying, “Today I am with you. On election day, you are with me.

Other speakers included two gay members of Congress, Rep. Gerry E. Studds and Barney Frank, both Massachusetts Democrats; Eleanor Smeal, former president of the National Organization for Women; and Cesar Chavez, president of the United Farm Workers of America. Artists Robert Blake, Whoopi Goldberg and Holly Near also participated.

Speakers at the rally demanded passage of a national gay and lesbian rights bill and an end to discrimination against people with AIDS.

They also demanded massive increases in funding for AIDS research, education and treatment; the legal recognition of gay and lesbian couples; and the repeal of laws making sodomy between consenting adults a crime.

Chavez, thanking gay and lesbian activists in San Francisco for helping farmworkers during their struggles in the 1960s, vowed “to never forget that you came to our aid. It opened our eyes to your problems.

Activists, politicians and artists spent much of the rally attacking the Reagan administration with speeches, signs and songs.

Actress and comedian Goldberg lambasted the Reagan administration for dragging its feet on AIDS funding and led the crowd in a chant of “How long?”

Goldberg, who pushed a person in a wheelchair with AIDS along the course, reminded the crowd of a recent incident in Florida where the home of three children exposed to the AIDS virus was burned down.

“Mr. Reagan, when those children’s homes burned down in Florida, did you send them your condolences?” Goldberg demanded to know. “Why didn’t the president tell those children, ‘I am behind you. I am also your president. ”

For the San Diego contingent, the day began with shocking news from home. An hour before the group lined up for the march, gay organizer Tony Zampella told activists that a prominent San Diego gay fundraiser had been badly beaten the day before in Balboa Park.

Zampella, publisher of the gay Bravo! newspaper, said he heard from friends in San Diego that gay activist Bruce Russell, who has raised thousands of dollars for gay and lesbian groups in San Diego, was attacked by two men after having left the Peacock Bar alley.

Gathering the marchers in a circle, Zampella called Russell’s beating “gay bashing” and used the incident in San Diego to rally the group for the day’s protest.

“That’s what (the march) is about,” he said.

San Diego police said they were unable to provide details of the attack immediately.

Activists began their day yesterday with the sunrise unfurling of a 7,000-pound quilt bearing the names of people who have died of AIDS. The quilt, which spans the length of two football fields, contained panels with the names of actor Rock Hudson, fashion designer Willi Smith, lawyer Roy Cohn, choreographer Michael Bennett and the artist Liberace and other AIDS victims.

Tomorrow, hundreds of activists are planning a civil disobedience demonstration on the steps of the Supreme Court.

A spokesperson for the Washington Police Department did not report any incidents.

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