WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump may have spent Sunday at his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey, but LGBTQ protesters hope that the self-described “ally” could hear their dissatisfaction with his administration’s policies all the way from the nation’s capital.
Thousands lined the streets of Washington on Saturday to participate in Capital Pride, the parade and festival celebrating LGBTQ culture and equality—as gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and queer Washingtonians have done for 45 years. But while Saturday represented a day of celebration, Sunday’s agenda featured a single bullet point: old-school political action.
Dubbed the Equality March for Unity and Pride, the action aimed to mobilize LGBTQ communities and allies who views the administration’s putatively historic commitment to protecting queer Americans as leaving much to be desired.
Winding its way from Farragut Square along the National Mall before culminating with a rally in front of the U.S. Capitol, the march represented for many activists the most aggressive grassroots push for LGBTQ rights and policies of the post-Obergefell era. Speaking with the Daily Beast, many of the marchers expressed hope that the protest will usher in a new era of LGBT activism that was largely quiet in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s landmark 2015 ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
“Especially in the last few years, we really got under that banner of, ‘it gets better,’ and people forgot that it doesn’t get better unless you make it better,” Seth, 42, told the Daily Beast. “This is about taking action. Pride’s really become about getting drunk for three days. I didn’t even go to pride.”
Seth wasn’t the only one bucking pride in favor of protests. Many of the marchers who spoke with the Daily Beast expressed frustration that LGBTQ community members had let their guard down in the wake of the same-sex marriage ruling—a complacency that may have aided Trump’s election victory last November.
“I don’t generally go to pride parades anymore. I’ve been doing it for too many years. I don’t go to these types of events. But this year, actually, I had to. I had to show up,” Kurt Anderson, 50, told the Daily Beast. “I’m too angry to celebrate right now. I’ve been too angry since November 8th to celebrate anything. Prides are great; they’re a lot of fun. But right now, we need equality.”
As they marched past the White House, protesters held signs that read, “Stonewall Is Not Over,” “I Could Be Fired Tomorrow,” and “TRUMP DOOMS NATION.” The 90-degree weather and exceptional D.C. humidity didn’t seem to deter the activists. Event organizers declined to say exactly how many people attended both the march and the rally, only saying attendance was “in the tens of thousands.”
Anderson traveled to Washington from California for the march, and extended family members who marched alongside him had come from Michigan. Many of the marchers had come even farther—the Daily Beast spoke with people who came from Minnesota, Florida, Missouri, and Illinois, among other places, to counter what they see as rising threats against LGBTQ Americans from their own government.
Many were quick to point out the distinction between a pride parade—a celebration of LGBTQ communities—and a march, orchestrated by people pushing back against the perceived hostility on the part of the Trump administration and state governments.
“I think in terms of Capital Pride weekends, there’s a pretty good turnout, but people, honestly, have been using it as an excuse to party,” Heather, 47, told The Daily Beast. “I think now this march is really reflective of, ‘no, we still have a lot of work to do.’”
Trump campaigned as an ally of LGBTQ Americans—even making an historic overture during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in July, pledging to do “everything in my power to protect LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.” But the president’s actions since his inauguration have indicated that, though Trump himself may hold no special animosity toward LGBTQ people, he will appoint officials and enact policies that activists say represent real threats to LGBTQ communities and individuals.
On the same day that the White House released a statement claiming that Trump is “respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights,” the Departments of Education and Justice issued a joint letter rescinding a 2016 Obama administration guidance on transgender students. The Obama policy had declared that the federal government considered restrictions on transgender students’ access to appropriate restrooms and locker rooms to be in violation of Title IX’s 1972 ban on sex discrimination in public education.
Trump’s administration also floated the possibility of signing a far-reaching “religious liberty” executive order, the language of which was so broad that it would have allowed any person or organization who claims religious or moral objections to same-sex marriage, premarital sex, abortion, or the existence of trans identities to discriminate in almost every sphere. That order was eventually tabled following public outcry.
Throw in Trump’s silence on Pride Month, and many of the marchers feel that his administration is enough of a threat to take to the streets.
“[Trump] most definitely has increased our feeling that we need to be more active. And that’s a shame that we need to be more active,” Janet, 64, told The Daily Beast. “We’re seniors. We’re elders. And we remember being closeted. We were there during Stonewall. And this scares us. We don’t ever want to go back.”
The pushback against complacency among LGBTQ people even spilled over into the parade celebrations. At Saturday’s pride parade, “No Justice, No Pride” demonstrators blocked the parade route to bring attention to overlooked issues within the LGBT community, as well as other areas of concern relating to the Trump administration—such as the Dakota Access Pipeline—affecting indigenous LGBTQ people and LGBTQs of color.
“We are not equal and free until everybody in our group is,” said Johnna, 31.
Often at protests in Washington, demonstrators are met by counter-protesters. The Daily Beast did not spot any along the march route or the rally.
A group of marchers affiliated with Hello Mr., a magazine “for men who date men,” carried signs that were a campier spin-off of those used by the Westboro Baptist Church, the small Kansas-based hate group that often sends protesters to U.S. soldiers’ funerals, college campuses, LGBTQ marches, and other religious gatherings.
“GOD HATES IVANKA,” one of the signs read, referring to the first daughter and top White House adviser whose alleged friendliness towards LGBTQ people and issues has failed to find fertile ground in her father’s White House.
The group later tweeted its support of the signs.
The march attracted some GOP support as well, with one woman telling The Daily Beast: “I’m a Republican, actually, and I’m here because I just want people to know that I’m an ally of theirs, and just the fact that gay rights shouldn’t, at all, be a partisan issue.”