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Monday, May 1, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Marchers ask equal rights for gay people

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Hundreds of thousands of gays and supporters marched yesterday on the Capitol, transforming the National Mall into a sea of multicolored flags and joining hands in a show of unity they hope will transform recent victories into wider protections for homosexuals.

"We're only asking for the same rights as anyone else," Adam May of Atlanta said as he walked with the throngs of marchers. "Depriving one person . . . puts everyone at risk of losing."

In a crowd dotted with openly gay celebrities, the marchers celebrated a week of victories that included passage of a new law in Vermont giving gays marriage-like rights and a renewed plea by President Clinton for a federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

But participants vowed not to rest until same-sex couples get equal rights in all 50 states, and some wore costumes or carried signs calling attention to fights still on the horizon.

One man wore a Boy Scout uniform and held up a sign reading a "Straight Scouts for gay Scouts," calling attention to a case heard by the Supreme Court last week in which a Scout leader was fired because he was gay. Others carried signs saying "Stop Hate Crimes" and chanted, "Full rights for gays."

Clinton spoke via videotape to what was the first gay-rights march on Washington since 1993. His image shown on a giant screen, the president declared he had presided over "the most inclusive administration in history," which has appointed more than 150 openly gay people to important government posts.

Also in the crowd was the father of Matthew Shepard, the 21-year-old gay University of Wyoming student who died in October 1998 after being beaten into a coma and tied to a fence.

Dennis Shepard said he met with Clinton on Friday and was optimistic the hate-crimes bill would pass.

"If my son was alive, he would be here today," Shepard said. "Gay rights is the civil-rights issue of this century."

A major theme was family. "Family Values Value All Families," read one sign. "A Closet is a Terrible Place to Raise a Child" and "Men with Strollers," read others.

Law-enforcement officials estimated the crowd numbered at least 200,000.

Small pockets of counterprotesters carrying placards lined the march route. "The Bible says homosexuality is a sin! Please repent," read one.

March organizers spoke of trying to mobilize gay and lesbian supporters into an important voting bloc for November's presidential election, and some dismissed Republican George W. Bush's recent overture to the gay community.

"I think there would be a lot of anger if Bush got elected because a lot of conservative values would come back into play," said Debbie Fitzpatrick, who traveled from New Jersey for the march. "The Clinton administration has done more for gays than anyone in the past."

Information from the Los Angeles Times is included in this report.

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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