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Chicago’s sign for the 1987 March on Washington. Photo by Toni Armstrong Jr.

The front line of the March featured celebrities, movement leaders, and people with AIDS. Photo by M.J. Murphy for Outlines newspaper.

There have been four gay marches on Washington, but the first two sparked the most grass-roots activism back in the marchers' home states. The National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, held Oct. 14, 1979, marked the 10thanniversary year for New York's Stonewall riots and came soon after Dan White's lenient sentence for killing gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk. More than 100,000 people marched, and many Chicagoans returned home inspired to create political, cultural, sports and other groups.

Eight years later, AIDS had wrapped its tentacles around the gay movement, and it was a very different Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, held Oct. 11, 1987, with an estimated 500,000 to 650,000 people. The mood was somber at the front of the line, as celebrities such as Whoopi Goldberg were joined by many people with AIDS, in wheelchairs. The NAMES Project's AIDS Memorial Quilt was on display during the weekend, and on Oct. 13 the Supreme Court saw its largest protest since the Vietnam War ( more than 800 were arrested, including many future ACT UP Chicagoans and attorney Renee Hanover ) .

Chicagoans were out in force for the 1987 march, and thousands returned home full of energy and anger, ready to act up and fight back, both in the streets and in the corridors of power. Co-chairs Victor Salvo and Julie Valoni were joined by hundreds of volunteers in the Chicago March on Washington Committee. In subsequent years, Oct. 11 has been marked as National Coming Out Day.

There was also a March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation that took place in 1993, after Bill Clinton was elected president, so a big focus was on the betrayal of servicemembers under the compromise “don't ask, don't tell” measure. The Millennium March on Washington for Equality, billed as “a national march for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender civil rights,” held in 2000, was a more celebrity-filled, corporate-backed event. It was directed by a national board and plagued by controversy because of how it was managed and because funds were reported stolen.

Another important and heavily attended event to which many Chicagoans traveled was the 1994 New York celebration of the 25th anniversary of Stonewall, which coincided with the Gay Games in that city.

From Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City's Gay Community, edited by Tracy Baim, Surrey Books, 2008.

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