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Pushing buttons: funded by pins and pints, the first national gay rights march was a surprising success 30 years ago.


IF THIS YEAR'S MARCH ON WASHINGTON, an event expected to draw tens of thousands to the National Mall on October 11, seems like a big undertaking, imagine putting it together without the Internet and during a time when Jesse Helms plagued the Senate. In 1979 organizers of the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights were so strapped for cash that they took to throwing beer busts and selling buttons (like the ones displayed here) to raise money. "We made 'era for a dime and sold 'era for a dollar," says John O'Brien, a Los Angeles-based gay activist and memorabilia collector who has held on to the pins ever since. Greyhound was the preferred travel option for marchers back then, and attendees bunked in church basements and university housing. "Most of the people with money didn't come." O'Brien recalls. "They couldn't afford to risk their profession." O'Brien's most vivid memory of the march was hearing activist Frank Kameny speak at the foot of the Washington Monument (then--D.C. mayor Marion Barry and poets Audre Lorde and Allen Ginsberg were among others who shared the podium) while scanning the swelling crowd, which was estimated at 100,000 people. "The march showed we could come together" O'Brien says. "It was there that gays became a national force."

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Title Annotation:ADVANCE: Exhibit A
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2009
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