1979 March on Washington

The first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights was held on October 14, 1979.

Although ideas for a national march on Washington had been raised in 1973 and 1978, these ideas failed due to resistance from various local groups. The assassination of San Francisco Board of Supevisors member Harvey Milk in November 1978, gave the idea new traction.

A meeting regarding the possibility of a march was held February 24 and 25, 1979 in Philadelphia with representatives from 150 organization around the US. There was debate regarding a date in 1979 or 1980, the former being 10 years after Stonewall and the later providing more time for planning. A 1979 date was set.

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Demands of the March

  • Repeal all anti-lesbian/gay laws
  • Pass a comprehensive lesbian/gay rights bill in Congress
  • Issue a presidential executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in the federal government, federally contracted private employment, and the military
  • Child custody rights for lesbian mothers and gay fathers
  • Protect lesbian and gay youth from any laws which are used to discriminate against, oppress, and/or harass them in their homes, schools, jobs, and social environment

The last demand, was originally proposed as “Full rights for lesbian and gay youth, including revision of age of consent laws.” It was changed because some representatives felt the age of consent laws protected women and young people from rape and sexual abuse. The change was made even though there was continuing dissent from the youth contingency that proposed it.

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The National Steering Committee required that all regional groups participating in the march have gender parity, 25% representation of people of color, and that the participants be selected by community meetings.

While national groups like the National Gay Task Force, Dignity, Metropolitan Community Church and the Gay Rights National Lobby were non-committal on the march, local and regional groups looked forward to it.

The use of “Lesbian and Gay” in the march’s title rather than “Gay and Lesbian” or just “Gay” sought to bring awareness to lesbian concerns and increase lesbian visibility in the movement. The was one of the first wide know use of "Lesbian and Gay."


The 1979 March on Washington allowed for a deepening and enlarging of the a national network and provided a public display of a significant number of gay and lesbian people (as well as bisexual and transgender people).

With the intentional naming of it as the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay rights, including lesbian and listing it first, and requiring gender parity in participating regional groups there was the recognition of lesbian concerns and the need for increased lesbian visibility in the movement.

With the requirement of 25% representation of people of color in participating regional group and the concurrent gathering of the National Third World Lesbian and Gay Conference, it also marked a recognition of the presence and concerns of people of color in the movement.


Poster composed of images from the 1979 March on Washington

1979 March on Washington