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Homosexual rights marchers descend on Washington

By
JULIANA GRUENWALD

WASHINGTON -- Homosexual and bisexual activists from around the country descended on the nation's capital Sunday to rally for a civil rights bill to end discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Organizers for the March on Washington, who are hoping for a million people to participate, say the march is also an expression of force.

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'People are more excited about being counted and not being ignored anymore,' said Veronica Drake, a lesbian activist from Chicago.

Organizers were handing out detailed, postage-paid survey forms in an effort to get an accurate count of the number of participants in this year's march, which organizers are hoping will be the largest Washington civil rights march ever.

The survey asks marchers to mail their forms with a Washington postmark, to ascertain with certainty the size of the total crowd.

Organizers criticized official figures for the last large gay rights march on Washington in 1987 as being grossly underestimated.

Bearing pink triangles and rainbow colored flags, marchers from all occupations, classes and races have come to Washington to demand equal protection under the law.

Among the other issues marchers want to highlight in this year's march include the repeal of sodomy laws, increased funding for AIDS research and education, health care and anti-discrimination legislation aimed at homosexuals.

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'We don't ask to be loved,' Torie Osborn, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said in an interview on CNN's 'Newsmaker Sunday. 'We ask to be tolerated, and a place at the table.'

Several celebrities and political and religious leaders are slated to speak at the rally, which follows a march from the National Mall through downtown Washington. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., Phil Donahue, Cybill Sheppard and Martina Navratilova are just some of the celebrities and political leaders who are expected to address marchers.

Even before the crowd was fully in place, some participants were claiming a crowd size of at least 1 million marchers. More than an hour before the march began, Larry Kramer, the founder of ACT-UP, the demonstrative AIDS-rights organization, told CNN that more than a million marchers were assembled on the capital mall.

Related to the efforts to gain an accurate crowd estimate was concern about just how large the American homosexual community is. Marchers are expected to use their presence to call into question a recent survey which suggested that only 1 to 2 percent of the U.S. population is homosexual, far smaller than most gay-rights groups have long asserted.

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The New York Times reported Sunday that a new poll by Louis Harris & Associates indicated that 4.4 percent of American men and 3.6 percent of American women had sex with a same-sex partner in the five years before they were surveyed.

The march also comes at a significant time as President Clinton, who will not be attending the march, and some members of Congress continue to battle over lifting the ban on gays in the military.

Graham Davis, who traveled from Sidney, Australia for the march, said he believes the United States is far behind other countries in extending rights to homosexuals and bisexuals. Australia and many other countries no longer ban homosexuals from joining the military.

'If we can do it you guys can do it,' he said.

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