Equality Pennsylvania president Adrian Shanker will be among the speakers at the Aug. 24 50th Anniversary March on Washington, joining labor, health, housing, education and civil and human-rights advocates, as well as Congressmembers and President Obama.
Shanker is the only announced speaker who works primarily for LGBT rights. The event is expected to bring a crowd of 500,000 for a rally at the Lincoln Memorial followed by a march to the King Memorial.
Shanker said the opportunity came about after he spoke earlier this month at a march-mobilization event at Community College of Philadelphia hosted by Martin Luther King III and his Communities Without Boundaries International, who is staging the march along with the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.
Shanker, who has served as EQPA president for two years and previously was vice president of the Pennsylvania Diversity Network, said this is “certainly among the biggest honors” of his activist career.
“I’m honored and humbled and excited and very energized to bring LGBT issues into the discussion that’s going to be had with half-a-million people,” he said. Shanker said he once spoke at an Obama/Biden rally before 4,000 people but “4,000 and 500,000 are very different things.”
But he’s eager to bring LGBT issues into the larger discussion on social justice.
“We have a lot that we need now in terms of equality, it’s not just one or two or three issues. And we need to be talking about the intersections with other civil-rights movements. I’ll be speaking in solidarity with other tangentially related issues because I believe the LGBT community needs to stand in solidarity with communities of color, women, immigrants, all other groups that need their civil rights too.”
Shanker’s invite came just days after Obama announced the late LGBT pioneer Bayard Rustin, a Pennsylvania native, would receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Rustin is largely credited with organizing the original March on Washington, but was kept out of the spotlight from fears about his sexual orientation sidetracking the event.
“He was the reason the march came together as smoothly as it did but he wasn’t allowed to speak,” Shanker said. “So the fact that there is an openly gay speaker at this march on the 50th anniversaryis very important. And I will certainly be reflecting on Bayard Rustin’s legacy and may be quoting him in my remarks.”
Shanker added that, while the civil-rights causes King was fighting for have evolved in the past five decades, many of the core struggles at issue in 1963 are still prevalent today, for LGBTs and others.
“The dream he shared 50 years ago and the reasons they marched in 1963 are frankly the same reasons we need to march now,” Shanker said. “They marched in 1963 for jobs and freedom; we still don’t have family-sustaining wages for most jobs. There is still a lack of freedom, to marry and in other forms of civil rights. They marched for voting rights in ’63, and we’re still marching for voting rights. They marched for safe communities free from violence, and that is still an issue that resonates for LGBTs and especially communities of color in the wake of the Trayvon Martin verdict. We’ve come a long way, but a lot of the issues they marched for then, we’re marching for now.”
Busses will leave from a number of sites in Philadelphia. For more information, visit www.nationalactionnetwork.net.