Walk Tall

Local delegation heads to the National Equality March in Washington, D.C.

| October 08, 2009
Tommy Simmons and Hunter Johnston display the banner they'll be carrying in the National Equality March in Washington, D.C., on October 11th.
- Bianca Phillips
Tommy Simmons and Hunter Johnston display the banner they'll be carrying in the National Equality March in Washington, D.C., on October 11th.

Local gay-rights activist Hunter Johnston has been let go from three jobs because of his sexual orientation. With no federal employment non-discrimination protections in place for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) people, Johnston has had no recourse.

"In none of those cases was I ever fired for not doing my job well," Johnston said. "In every case, I had received promotions and raises. One of the jobs was at a chemical plant where I'd worked for four years. I firmly believe we need the Employment Non-Discrimination Act."

Demanding passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) — currently being debated in Congress — is one of several items on the agenda of gay-rights advocates participating in the National Equality March in Washington, D.C., Sunday, October 11th. Johnston is one about 35 Memphians (and 200 Tennesseans) going to D.C. for the march.

"Our overall goal is for full federal GLBT equality in matters governed by civil law in all 50 states," said Tommy Simmons, the local organizer for the Tennessee delegation.

That includes the repeal of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy and the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, as well as the passage of GLBT-inclusive federal hate crimes legislation, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and an immigration bill that would allow same-sex partners of U.S. citizens to obtain permanent resident status.

The march is being planned as a serious event, aimed at drawing attention to GLBT equality, so it won't have the same celebratory atmosphere as traditional pride parades (however, pop star Lady Gaga has announced that she will be marching).

The weekend prior to the march will instead be filled with grassroots training workshops, speakers, and a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in honor of fallen gay soldiers.

"It's important that the event is a serious march about the issues," Simmons said. "We've been fighting for these basic rights for 40-plus years. It's time for us to get serious and demand full equality."

The National Equality March will be the fourth gay-rights march on Washington. Others were held in 1979, 1987, and 1992.

"I was at the 1992 march, and it's sad that some of the things we were fighting for then are the same things we're fighting for now," Simmons said.

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