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Marching with Pride

Posted: June 23rd, 2017 | Features, News, Top Story | No Comments

By Morgan M. Hurley | Editor

San Diegans represent local community in D.C.

Even though President Donald J. Trump refused to recognize June as National Pride Month — on his first opportunity to do so — members of the LGBT community from around the nation marched in unity on July 11, perhaps in spite of his lack of action. President Barack Obama had recognized National Pride Month for the last eight years.

While nearly 5,000 San Diegans marched locally, many others made the trek to Washington, D.C. to participate in the National Equality March, the sixth March on Washington of the LGBT community since 1979.

City Commissioner Nicole Murray Ramirez, who has been involved in every one of those marches, was one of the dozens named to the 2017 executive planning committee.

What many don’t realize is that there were two parades that weekend in Washington. Saturday saw the 42nd Capitol Pride Parade, of which Ramirez was one of four grand marshals. He shared the honors with national LGBT and African-American activist Mandy Carter, and marriage equality icons Jim Obergefell and Edith Windsor.

Obergefell was the sole plaintiff whose landmark case led to a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in 2015, giving same-sex couples the fundamental right to marry across the nation. Obergefell was seeking to add his name as surviving spouse on his husband’s death certificate. The couple had legally married in Maryland but their marriage was not recognized in their home state of Ohio. Windsor, the plaintiff in another landmark case that reached the Supreme Court that same session, struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. Windsor and Thea Spyer, who had been together for decades, had legally wed in Canada in 2007. Their marriage was recognized by their home state of New York in 2008, but the federal government still did not recognize same-sex marriages. Windsor sued the United States over a denial of her claim to the federal estate tax exemption when Spyer died in 2009.

(l to r) Former San Diego resident and LGBT activist Ben Chapman-Gomez; Sherman Mendoza (owner of The Caliph); San Diego City Commissioner Nicole Murray Ramirez; Bob Lehman (executive director of the San Diego Men’s Chorus); and Josh Chapman-Gomez gather with other activists near the White House before the National Equality March in Washington D.C. June 11. (Photo by Big Mike)

“Mandy and I fell out of our wombs as activists, but Jim and Edie are true heroes, and it proves that one person can make a difference,” Ramirez said. “They never set out to be activists but they are the perfect role models for those who wish to make a difference or take a stand. I call them ‘citizen gay’ — they were just average citizens and were confronted with something and instead of going quietly in the night, they said, ‘We are going to fight.’”

Ramirez noted the hate that Obergefell and Windsor have been subjected to over the years since their court cases became public.

“Did they back off, did they retreat? No,” Ramirez said. “Just like the lesbian in high school who wants to be prom king; or the person who stands up to their church. The Edies and Jims come in all ages, sizes and colors and they are the ones who are changing America.”

“What I loved was that everybody at the D.C. parade got unbelievable attention and cheers, all of them,” Michael “Big Mike” Phillips said. “So many people wanted to get their picture taken with Edie, and she is such a gentle little soul.

Nicole Murray Ramirez waits for the Capitol Pride Parade to start. (Photo by Big Mike)

“I walked alongside Nicole’s car and the crowd just went crazy over Nicole,” he added. “It was great to see that.”

On Sunday was the National Equality March and Rally, where Ramirez was again front and center. He not only led the march, holding the Equality March banner with others, he kicked off the nearly 25 speakers at the rally.

Ramirez said that although only the 1987 march to date had recognized LGBT veterans, the executive committee of the 2017 march — despite all the advancements of the Obama administration — had also voted against it, as well as any expression of U.S. patriotism during the rally.

So Ramirez did what he felt needed to be done; he wore a flag-themed shirt, handed out American flags to attendees, and worked patriotism and a personal acknowledgement of veterans into his speech.

He referenced the fight over the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy; brought up the Navy ship that will be named after Harvey Milk; listed off high ranking LGBT officers and the first openly gay Army secretary; and introduced LGBT veterans in attendance, who represented four of the five branches service, including two names known to San Diego — Navy veteran Ben Gomez and Marine Corps veteran Bob Lehman.

Gomez, a long time San Diego resident and DADT activist who is a 2013 inductee of the Benjamin F. Dillingham and Bridget Wilson Veterans Wall of Honor at the San Diego LGBT Community Center, now lives in New Mexico with his husband Josh Chapman.

San Diegan Terry Cunningham was also in D.C. for the march. (Photo by Big Mike)

Gomez said while watching the national coverage of the Women’s March on Jan. 21 of this year, he could “feel it in my bones” that there would be an LGBT march later in the year.

“Sure enough, within a week, it was announced on Facebook that a march was in the works,” Gomez said. “I told my husband that I had to be present at the march in our nation’s capital. I felt I still had a voice to support and defend my rights as a gay man and for others in the LGBT community, and that there was no choice in the matter; we had to go.”

Lehman, executive director of the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus and a 2014 inductee to the Wall of Honor, said he was “honored to represent LGBT veterans and service members” in the nation’s capital.

“The Equality March brought back a flood of memories of past battles to openly serve in the military and the right to marriage equality,” Lehman said. “Sometimes we forget what we accomplished and how hard we had to fight. While we still have miles to go, it’s pretty amazing how far we’ve come. So, marching with the crowds in D.C., I was proud of the rights we’ve won and more determined than ever that one day we’ll have full equality.”

While Ramirez said the march, as they all do, was re-energizing and brought out lots of new activists of all ages, he wants to see our community do more “coalition building” and “extend their hand” to other progressive movements, such as Planned Parenthood and environmentalists, and to work on voter oppression issues, especially for people of color.

He also said he experienced a lot of infighting on the executive committee during the planning of the march, which troubled him.

“If our community ever needed to be united, it is now,” he said. “The enemy is on the outside.”

Overall, it was an exhilarating experience for those in attendance.

“I left Washington, D.C. a reinvigorated man,” Gomez said. “Despite the current climate of our national government, I firmly believe in hope and progress. If there is no hope, what do we have worth fighting for?”

“We are not going to stop marching,” Ramirez said. “We are going to continue to march until we get our equality. Period.”

—Morgan M. Hurley can be reached at morgan@sdcnn.com.

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