WASHINGTON — Undaunted by gray and chilly skies, more than 200,000 gays, lesbians and their political supporters marched on the White House on Sunday to demand increased funding for AIDS research and federal anti-discrimination legislation. Sponsors said it was the largest such demonstration in the nation's history.
The festive, upbeat crowd, including a sizable contingent from Southern California, shouted slogans, waved placards and sang songs as they gathered at the foot of the Washington Monument and began a long, winding march that ended up on the lawn in front of the Capitol.
Although the size of the march, estimated by U.S. Park Police, did not live up to sponsors' predictions of 500,000 or more, they still called it a ringing success.
"Today, we mark a major turning point for gays and lesbians all over America . . . today is a day for every gay person to look at themselves and be proud of who they are," said Kay Ostby, a Washington attorney and one of three national organizers of the march.
"What's important is that we have built bridges to other groups, such as blacks, women and labor," she said, noting the presence of presidential candidate Jesse Jackson, Eleanor Smeal, former president of the National Organization for Women, and Cesar Chavez, president of the United Farm Workers, all of whom spoke briefly.
Late in the gray afternoon, Jackson told the big crowd that stretched for a dozen blocks along the mall below the Capitol:
"Let's find a common ground of humanity. We share the desire for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, equal protection under the law. Let's not dwell on distinctions."
There was standing applause when Jackson declared: "We can fight AIDS and every form of death. Let's give life a chance."
Smeal told the throng it num bered 500,000--more than twice the police estimate--and called on her listeners to "feel the political power of the moment."
The march, which sponsors said was endorsed by religious groups, civil rights organizations, political associations and community activists across the nation, came off smoothly and was unmarred by violence or injuries, Washington police said.
As they made their way through the streets, many demonstrators embraced each other with great emotion and held hands. A group of AIDS patients, some in wheelchairs and others walking with canes, raised fists in triumph as crowds along the downtown route cheered.
But for others it was a day of anger. Numerous marchers held signs charging that the Reagan Administration has not allocated enough funds for AIDS research. Others mocked the President's AIDS commission, saying some of its members are homophobic and know little about acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
Los Angeles Caterer
"Today, I feel great anger and embarrassment," said Hugh Magladry, 35, a Los Angeles caterer with AIDS-related complex, a medical precursor of the deadly disease, as he walked slowly past the gates of the White House, arms linked with other demonstrators.
"People are dying and this Administration pretends that the problem will go away. It reminds of an old line: 'Just when I think I'm cynical enough, I realize that I'm not nearly cynical enough to get by,' " he said.
Seconds later, Magladry and his friends were greeted by the taunts of several hecklers, who waved placards urging marchers to "repent" and "remember Sodom." One man, grasping a bullhorn, kept yelling: "Shame on you for what you do," and was answered by jeers from hundreds of demonstrators.
As the march continued, unsuspecting tourists who had wandered down to the White House for an afternoon of picture-taking stood quietly on the sidewalk, watching the colorful parade. Beverly Fontenot, a housewife from Liberty, Tex., seemed fascinated by a homosexual country-Western dance troupe in cowboy regalia from San Diego.
'To Each His Own'
"I'm not here as part of the demonstration, oh my goodness, no," she said. "But as far as I'm concerned it's just fine. To each his own, that's what they taught us in school."
Many marchers seemed to agree. When they began gathering in front of the Capitol, for example, demonstrators at one point heard several off-color, heavily amplified songs about homosexual and lesbian dress and sexual behavior. They cheered with enthusiasm.
"This weekend, Washington, D.C., is ours," the Rev. Troy Perry, a founder of the Metropolitan Community Churches, told the audience. "This is the gay capital of the world!"
Indeed, organizers said they had other events planned for the remainder of the week, including a national strategy planning meeting and a nonviolent vigil in front of the Supreme Court to protest a decision that upheld a Georgia law banning sodomy.
'Pride in Themselves'
"We are here for high-visibility events," Ostby said. "This is a chance for every gay and lesbian person to feel pride in themselves once and for all."
There were poignant moments as well. Hundreds of marchers, in a ritual reminiscent of visits to the Vietnam War Memorial, walked quietly around specially embroidered quilts on the Capitol lawn listing the names of AIDS victims.
One marcher sank to his knees, took off his cap and wept when he saw the inscription honoring his lover, who died this year.
"For some of us, this is a day of hope," said Tom Panagiotoros of San Francisco as a light rain fell. "But it is also a day of great sadness and loss."