Inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr., they put LGBT rights on the national agenda

Aerial view of march for LGBT rights
Marchers in 1994 commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn riots in New York. (AP Images)

They gathered outside the U.S. Capitol on October 14, 1979 — gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people and their straight allies, 75,000 strong — to demand equal rights. And they were heard.

The National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights was the first large-scale political demonstration for LGBT people and their straight allies. Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the National March made LGBT rights a national issue.

“We deserve the right to our culture and our own definition of family without being discriminated against under the law. We deserve the freedom to express our sexuality, our originality, our creativity and still be treated with equality,” says longtime activist Hardy Haberman about the event.

Organizers of the march aimed to transform scattered local efforts into a unified national movement. In the process, they chipped away at negative stereotypes and raised awareness among Americans on a very personal scale. In the words of actor and LGBT activist George Takei, as societies change, people “start discovering that gay people are maybe even members of their own family — their sons, daughters. In fact, LGBT people are children of straight people. We are part of the family.”