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This Month in SGN History: The March on Washington that dare not speak its name: National delegates clash over name, purpose, and structure

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The front page of Volume 20, Issue 4  

JANUARY 24, 1992

Dive into the archives of the SGN at https://issuu.com/sgn.org

The headline above is courtesy of Miriam Ben-Shalom, and succinctly sums up the enormous debate for a name for the National March on Washington.

The MOW planning meeting was held in Los Angeles the weekend of January 18-19. About 75 delegates from the various regions of the country decided on an official name and elected a steering committee.

Reminiscent of Seattle's own long Pride march moniker, the new name is the "1993 March on Washington for Lesbian/Gay/Bi Equal Rights and Liberation." The activists spent hours in contentious deliberations trying to settle upon a name. The main point of debate was over the question of whether to include the word "Bisexual" in the title.

Bisexuals came to the meeting very organized to advocate for the name change. They had received dozens of endorsements from major national leaders and organizations in support.

The delegates at the Los Angeles meeting were deeply divided over the issue. One reason for opposition to the change of the march name was that it would change the identity of the movement and the delegates weren't sure they had the right to do that.

Several people were opposed to the word "sexual," saying that it defined people too narrowly by their sexuality. Others voiced objections saying the inclusion of "Bisexual" would be divisive and alienate Lesbians and Gays from Midwestern and Southern regions. Still others felt that for the sake of continuity with the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, and to simplify publicity sound bites, the name should stay the same.

The Bisexual contingent fought aggressively for their position. Rebecca Hensler, a self-described "Bisexual dyke" from San Francisco, was a leading proponent of the name change. "This is not a question of whether Lesbians and Gays are going to accept Bisexuals into their movement! We are in the movement. This room is not full of just lesbians and Gays."

Several Seattle groups sent endorsements for the inclusion of Bisexuals in the title, including Lambert House, Queer Nation, Seattle Bisexual Men's Union, Lesbian Mothers National Defense Fund, People of Color Against AIDS Network, American Friends Service Committee, Beyond the Closet Bookstore, University of Washington Lesbian and Gay Commission, Seattle Municipal Elections Committee, Puget Sound Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Veterans of America, and Seattle Bisexual Women's Network.

To make all this debate even more interesting, the Seattle delegation led a discussion on the inclusion of transsexuals and transgenderal people in the title. Seattle has a large transgender community largely due to the presence of the Ingersol [sic] Institute. Two Seattle transgender activists were present at the Los Angeles meeting, Princess LaRouge and Kaz.

Seattle delegates felt if the name was going to be changed on the principle of 'inclusion,' transgender people should then be named as well.

Several people were opposed to the name including transgender on the grounds that it would play into the hands of opponents of the Gay and Lesbian community.

Several other discussions went on simultaneously. Queer Nationalists threw out the idea of a March on Washington for Queer Liberation. Most of the delegates recognized that "queer" was a word that many Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and transgendered people are not able to identify with.

There was also a debate on "why we are marching." Some of the suggestions were liberation, rights, human rights, civil rights, justice, unity, and freedom.

The word "liberation" harkens back to the Gay liberation movement and reflects that our liberation is more than a matter of passing laws, speakers said. One Black activist pointed out that Blacks have passed civil rights legislation but not yet achieved liberation.

Other activists gravitated toward the term "equal rights." They said that opponents of Gay/Lesbian/Bi rights accuse the community of wanting "special rights," and that using the words "equal rights" would emphasize the fact that the movement is seeking only what is guaranteed to citizens under the constitution.

The final result of all these discussions was transgendered people were not named in the title. The word Bi, as opposed to Bisexual, was included in the title. And both "equal rights" and "liberation" were included in the title.

This article was edited for length. To view the original article in full, visit Washington Digital Newspapers