The Equality March for Unity and Pride that wound its way through downtown to a rally at Plaza de Cesar Chavez on Sunday was a far cry from the massive Women’s March in terms of numbers, but participants were no less enthusiastic for the cause.
It was the latest post-election march that encapsulated concerns about what the future holds under the Trump administration. More than 25,000 people turned out for the South Bay’s contribution to the national women’s event in January, and thousands turned out to line The Alameda to protest defunding Planned Parenthood the following month. Smaller events have been in solidarity with the environment and the science behind climate change.
“After I went to the Women’s March, I was going to go to all the marches,” said Steve Barcelos of San Jose, a gay schoolteacher who wasn’t politically active until Trump took office. “But it didn’t quite turn out that way. I think there is some protest fatigue. … I was a little disheartened by the numbers when I got here.”
But Barcelos, carrying a sign that took aim at the vice president and “conversion therapy” programs, said this particular march was a must-go.
“I don’t worry about myself and California is lucky, but I think about transgender kids and students in other states,” he said. “I think about them being tortured, told they’re wrong and that they’re horrible. Well, they’re not.”
Unlike some previous rallies held locally, no counter demonstrators were on hand.
Despite the small turnout — there were about 300 people at any given time milling about the plaza — there were numerous politicians on hand, including U.S. Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) and Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto); State Sens. Jim Beall (D-San Jose) and Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) and State Senate President Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles); county Board President Dave Cortese; San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and a cadre of his council colleagues.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager, the county’s first openly gay elected official, kicked off the rally with a speech that was an uncharacteristically booming departure from his usual even-keeled delivery.
“Donald Trump claimed he was better for the gay community than Hillary Clinton,” Yeager said. “However, we know that claim was worth about as much as a degree from Trump University.”
He went on to blast the administration for “attempting to erase us” — dropping the LGBT rights page from the White House website, removing LGBT questions from the 2020 U.S. Census and installing an education secretary who “thinks it’s OK for schools to discriminate against transgender and queer students.”
Yeager was lauded by Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) as a civil rights icon for his work in LGBT issues.
“He’s been doing it since it wasn’t easy to do,” Kalra said. “He put himself out there in harm’s way.”
Gabrielle Antolovich of the Billy DeFrank LGBT Community Center said she’s personally seen an uptick in ugliness since the election. She recalled an incident at a recent board of supervisors meeting when a man approached her, Bible in hand and hateful words on his lips.
“He said, ‘You are going to go to hell,’” Antolovich said, leaning in with a scowl and widening her eyes to demonstrate the man’s anger.
“That’s something I might have heard in 1969, or in the ‘80s during HIV fears, but I haven’t heard it since,” Antonovich said. “It shocked me. It made me mad, and I got up and thanked the board and county for being so inclusive.”
George Licina of Campbell told the crowd that he’s an “angry old white man, but not one of those angry old white men.”
Licina, wearing a baseball cap with an anti-bullying logo and a shirt that stated “feminist” in pink letters, said he attended the Women’s March in Washington D.C., another person prompted to action by the election.
“I’ve always been a believer in equality, but I was never particularly active,” he said. “I went to college in the ‘60s but was too busy going to class. But now, we’re all in this together and dividing people against each other is going to be counterproductive. Enough is enough.”