Equality Pennsylvania president Adrian Shanker was one of six LGBT individuals to speak at the 50th-anniversary event Aug. 24, which was organized in part by Martin Luther King III and the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.
In his speech to the crowd of more than 10,000, Shanker said he was proud of the work civil-rights leaders have accomplished in the past five decades, but acknowledged there was far more work to be done.
“I stand here reflecting on the civil-rights leaders who paved the paths that allow us to stand here today, more equal than we were yesterday, but with so much farther to go before the dream that Dr. King shared will be realized,” Shanker said in his speech. “But today’s march is not just a commemoration. It is a march to mobilize our communities, to work for freedom, justice and equality under the law.”
Shanker said he was both inspired and impressed by the crowd and the positive atmosphere during and after the speeches.
“It was just an amazing feeling, being there. Standing there on the 50th anniversary was historic. It was great seeing an inclusive and intentionally inclusive group of speakers sharing an inclusive vision of America that is all too similar to the dream Dr. King shared,” Shanker said. “We were talking about the same exact issues that were talked about 50 years ago. It was amazing being a part of that.”
Other LGBT speakers included Human Rights Campaign associate director of field outreach Donna Payne, HRC director of faith partnership and mobilization the Rev. MacArthur Flournoy, National Black Justice Coalition executive director Sharon Lettman-Hicks, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten and Service Employees International Union Mark Kay Henry.
Shanker specifically addressed LGBT-rights legislation, in Pennsylvania and federally, in the scope of such issues as nondiscrimination, voter rights, education and marriage.
“Fifty years ago, a half-million people marched for jobs. In Pennsylvania, we can still be fired from our jobs because of our sexual orientation or gender identity. Congress needs to pass the Employment Nondiscrimination Act to end job discrimination in America,” he told the crowd. “Fifty years ago, a half-million people marched for voting rights. In Pennsylvania, our governor signed a voter-ID law intended to suppress our votes. Congress needs to guarantee broad voting rights to protect our democracy. Fifty years ago, a half-million people marched for education. In Pennsylvania, [LGBT] youth face bullying in schools every day. Congress needs to pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act to make every school safe for all our children. Fifty years ago, a half-million people marched for freedom. In Pennsylvania, my legal marriage to my husband Brandon is not recognized by my government. In 37 states, same-sex couples do not have the freedom to marry the person we love — it is time for marriage equality for all Americans.”
Also in his speech, Shanker cited Bayard’s theory of “angelic troublemakers” and urged people to be such leaders for their own communities.
“I encouraged people in my remarks to go back to the community as angelic troublemakers and make changes that will realize the dream. People need to go back to their communities and take action in their communities to make them equal for all of us,” he told PGN. “I hoped people would go home inspired and motivated to work harder than ever before so we could achieve equality.”