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NY marriage: One step forward

Yesterday the New York State Comptroller released a statement on marriage recognition. No doubt, it is one step forward for marriage equality in New York.

According to WSTM.com, the Comptroller said that the New York State Government and local retirement systems will recognize marriages between same-sex couples from any jurisdiction where they are currently recognized legally. Married LGBT couples from Canada, Massachusetts, the Netherlands, South Africa and other nations will now have their marriages legally recognized in New York.

To read the full statement, visit WSTM.com.

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PlattsburghFor the past two weeks I have spent my days and nights working with Soulforce Q’s Right to Marry Campaign in the State of New York. From July 14th through the 28th I joined 32 other young adult activists in traveling across New York. My particular route took me and seven others to the beautiful North Country. From Albany north to Saratoga Springs, Plattsburgh, Canton, Lake Placid and more, we took in the wondrous sights, sounds and smells of the Adirondack Mountains and the local, down-home flavor of each of the small towns we visited.

Photo right: The Northern Van in Plattsburgh, NY

To our surprise, we found that no matter where we traveled, the overwhelming majority of community members and leaders we spoke to supported offering full marriage equality to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. Our meetings with state legislators, although not as productive as conversations with community members, also went very well.

Our first meeting with a New York lawmaker was, perhaps, our most important. At the beginning of the two week campaign, we met with Senate Majority Leader, Senator Joseph L. Bruno. A Republican who has been in office since the 1970s, Senator Bruno is a powerful member of the New York Senate and represents a very conservative district north of Albany, oftentimes called “Bruno Country.” As leader of the Senate, Senator Bruno has the power to place – or not to place – certain bills on the floor of the legislative body. It was his decision not to place the marriage equality bill on the Senate floor that prompted our meeting with him.

We were saddened that we were not able to meet with Senator Bruno himself, instead meeting with a staff person. The Senator’s staff member was polite and cordial, although we learned nothing in the meeting that we did not know prior to it.

So from our meeting with Senator Bruno’s staff, we moved north. From the Chief of Staff for Assemblyman Roy McDonald in Fort Edward, to the LGBT-accepting Republican Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, our meetings varied in style and feeling.

Assemblyman McDonald’s Chief of Staff, Mark Luciano, was condescending and arrogant. He offered his “advice” in telling us that we should try “different tactics” other than talking to elected officials. He suggested we talk to community members and constituents, of which he thought many were “white trash.” He said that we should be patient and that the lack of progress was because of “the process.” He said civil unions were better. The meeting, needless to say really, was not a positive experience.

SaywardSo, after having our plight of second class citizenship compared to water-sewer problems in Saratoga County, we moved to Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward. The mother of an openly gay son, Assemblywoman Sayward joyfully agreed to meet with us. The only Republican co-sponsor of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s marriage equality bill, the Assemblywoman spoke to us very frankly, stating that once you come to the point where you know being gay is not a choice, then this issue becomes not a religious or moral one, but rather one solely about civil rights.

Photo left: The Northern Van with Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward

DupreyWe also met with Assemblywoman Janet Duprey. The Assemblywoman had originally voted no on the marriage equality bill, but in our meeting with her she stated that since that time she had met with many people, read more on the subject and was beginning to see things in a different light. We firmly believe and hope that the Assemblywoman, if the vote ever comes up again, will vote in our favor.

Photo right: The Northern Van with Assemblywoman Janet Duprey

Our saddest “meeting” was with Senator Griffo in Utica. I put the quotation marks around the word “meeting” because we really never got the chance to meet with him. For weeks, if not months, we worked hard to secure a meeting with either the Senator or his staff. Time and time again, we were shrugged off. When we showed up to his office anyway, we were shrugged off once again. What kind of elected official ignores American citizens who wish to only speak with him?

Overall, I had a wonderful time on the Right to Marry Campaign. Unlike the Equality Ride, this particular Soulforce Q action was more politically based, something I absolutely love and something that was definitely right up my alley. The meetings with state legislators and their staffs was definitely a high point, but more importantly the meetings and conversations we had with community members and New York citizens was definitely enjoyable and productive as well. The overwhelming majority of those we met supported us fully.

New York is next. New York will be a place where LGBT citizens are full citizens and where second class citizenship is a thing of the past. Maybe not this year, perhaps not next year… but it is coming and it is coming soon!

A Couple’s Story
The following is from Greensboro, NC couple Cris Elkins and Gene Hannold. They sent the following letter and shoes to the office of New York Senate Majority Leader, Senator Joseph L. Bruno, as a part of the “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” Campaign (link).

July 27, 2007

Senator Joseph L. Bruno
Legislative Office Building, Rm. 909
Albany, NY 12247

Dear Senator Bruno:

Walk1We are a same-gender couple who have been in a committed, loving relationship for 33 years. We are not getting any younger and could use the security, protections, rights, and responsibilities that a marriage license affords. Marriage equality for gay and lesbian Americans is all about civil rights and having our nation live up to its highest ideal of liberty and equality under the law. There is no greater personal freedom than the right to marry the person one loves. To love, honor, and cherish is the noblest promise two people can make. Barring gays from marriage is inhumane and unfair. Allowing and expecting marriage would show respect for the welfare and equality of all Americans.

Walk2Two years ago we sold our home of 26 years in Virginia and moved to North Carolina. A plethora of anti-gay legislation, including a marriage amendment, made it clear that gays were no longer welcome or safe in Virginia. Since we are both retired we did not have to stay and support our own oppression. We are currently living in mother’s home in NC and taking care of her. We have found NC much more accepting, affirming, and supportive of gays and lesbians than Virginia. NC is the only southern state without a marriage amendment. Perhaps that is because the state legislature is controlled by Democrats and the governor is also a Democrat.

When mother dies we will be looking to relocate to a state that provides us the right to marry. It is my hope that New York will be one of those states. We have a great fondness for NYC and made numerous trips there while living in northern Virginia. Please do the right thing and allow marriage equality in NY. You will be proud that people around the world can look to NY as a beacon in the struggle for human dignity.

Sincerely,

Cris F. Elkins
Gene E. Hannold

Here are some snippets and links from articles about Soulforce Q’s Right to Marry Campaign from the past two weeks…

SoulForce Youth in NY to Lobby on Marriage link
By: ANDY HUMM
07/26/2007 Gay City News
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Thirty-five young people from SoulForce Q, mostly from out of state, fanned out across New York this week to lobby legislators on the bill opening marriage to gay couples that passed the Democrat-led Assembly in June but is stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Matthew Nelson, 26, the co-director of the group’s Right to Marry Campaign, told Gay City News from Nyack that “people of my generation really care about marriage equality.” A resident of California, he said that he and his partner of two-and-a-half years are set to sign up as domestic partners there in the only other state where at least one branch of the legislature has approved a marriage equality law. A 2005 measure passed by both the Assembly and the Senate in California was vetoed by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

SoulForce Protests State Senator Diaz link
July 26, 2007 New York Press
Gay rights activists from the New York chapter of SoulForce stopped by the Bronx office of State Senator Rev. Ruben Diaz today to demand a meeting with him on passing legislation in the State Senate to legalize same-sex marriage in New York State (the Assembly has already passed a bill calling for it).

Rev. Diaz is perhaps the strongest Democratic opponent of same-sex marriage in the State, and SoulForce organizer Matthew Nelson said his group was hoping to meet with the state senator to change his mind on the issue. But Rev. Diaz denied a request for a meeting, stating that his mind is already made up on the issue and no meeting would ever change that.

So without a meeting SoulForce decided instead to take their fight to the streets, handing out literature to passers-by, reading from the Bible and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, in particular emphasizing the “and justice for all” closing line. The group also sent two bouquets of flowers to Rev. Diaz’s office, with one of the cards reading “please let this [sic] roses remind you of the flower my daughter will never walk down the aisle holding.”

Young adults campaign for same-sex marriage in New York link
By ANDREA VanVALKENBURG
Staff Writer, Plattsburgh Press-Republican

PLATTSBURGH — Brian Murphy recently left a pair of shoes with Sen. Joseph Bruno’s staff, asking the New York representative to walk a mile in his shoes.

The California man was one of 32 young adults who fanned out across New York to meet with residents and legislators in support of the New York State Equality of Marriage Act and the right for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender New Yorkers to marry.

“There’s such a need for this,” Murphy said when eight members of Soulforce Q, a national interfaith organization, stopped in Plattsburgh during their two-week Right to Marry Campaign across the state.

“Marriage is a right that should be protected for everyone.”

Video from the North Van of the Right to Marry Campaign
The following video was put together by me and Brian Murphy.

The Right to Marry Campaign
Put together for the Right to Marry Campaign by Brian Murphy

soulforceshoesSoulforceQ, the young adult division of Soulforce, is telling citizens of the State of New York and folks around the country to send a strong message to New York Senate Majority Leader, Republican Senator Joseph Bruno. The Senator, who heads the New York Senate’s Rules Committee, had refused to put New York’s Marriage Equality bill on the floor for debate and is making no signs that he will ever do so in the near future. The bill has through 2008 to pass, or else it will die and must be resubmitted for 2009.

Photo right: SoulforceQ members with openly gay Nyack mayor John Shields (credit: Ricky Flores, The Journal News).

With this reality, SoulforceQ is urging citizens to send Senator Bruno a pair of their own shoes, with a short statement on why marriage matters to them, in order to tell Bruno their stories and life experiences. The “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” campaign is a part of SoulforceQ’s Right to Marry Campaign, of which I have been participating since June 14th. The Right to Marry Campaign will end on June 28th, but the shoe campaign will continue! We must let Senator Bruno know what it is like to live our lives and “walk in our shoes.”

The shoe campaign has gotten some media coverage, although not much yet… and we hope there will be more.

From Lower Hudson Online:

A group of young activists is calling on New Yorkers to clear their closets of old sneakers, stilettos and Oxfords and send them to the state capital.

The old shoes are being packed and shipped to Albany to the office of New York state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, carrying a message in support of a bill that would allow same-sex marriage.

“We’re saying walk a mile in our shoes and then perhaps you will be less likely to stymie the progress of this marriage-equality bill,” said Matthew Nelson, a member of Soulforce Q, the young adult division of Soulforce, an organization that promotes equal rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Eight activists from Soulforce Q have made Nyack their base over the past week, planning and coordinating trips throughout Rockland and Westchester to try to gain support for their Right to Marry Campaign.

They have canvassed communities -including Nyack, Tarrytown, Chappaqua and Irvington – asking people to send their shoes to Bruno along with a message asking him to support the bill.

“We want to inundate his office with these shoes to send a message that he needs to allow this to go the Senate floor to be voted,” said Nelson, co-director for Soulforce Q’s South Bus, one of four Soulforce buses traveling throughout the state.

Nelson did not know how many pairs of shoes had been sent because the team had encouraged people to send them as individuals.

You can read the rest of that article here.

Also… our Facebook group for the campaign has already reached over 700 members and we hope it will grow.

Will you help make this campaign a national one? Can you help push Senator Bruno to have our stories and experiences heard on the Senate floor?

OF COURSE YOU CAN!

Send a pair of your old shoes, with a letter telling your own personal story as an LGBT person, an ally or family member, or just a supportive citizen to:

    Senator Joseph L. Bruno
    Legislative Office Building, Rm: 909
    Albany, NY 12247

If you send your shoes, be sure to snap a photo before you package them and send the photo (and perhaps a copy of your story/letter) to katie@soulforce.org.

The stories of my childhood in a rural, fundamentalist, independent Baptist church in the South aren’t really stories I have too often told others. Being “saved” at the age of 8, growing up practically shadowing “Preacher” and all the challenges that came along with coming to terms with who I am are all stories that are hard to tell and, I guess for some, hard to hear. Oh, yes… people have heard some of the stories, but many have yet to hear the entirety of it. Needless to say, the emotions and memories associated with those stories are ones to which I try hard not to return.

Many of those feelings came flooding back to my mind on Wednesday night in Albany. Our Northern van route of the Right to Marry Campaign had a stop in and around Albany and its suburbs, including the towns of Troy, Saratoga Springs, Fort Edward and Glens Falls.

On Wednesday evening, with the gracious assistance of the Metropolitan Community Church in Albany, we held a screening of a PBS marriage equality documentary. The group of those who gathered was supportive, mostly gay, lesbian and bi, and loving, Christ-centered folks. We watched the film and kind of casually discussed the issues in groups that formed quite naturally.

Near the end of the evening, as we were packing up the snacks and the projector, computer and speakers, a group of young folks just like us walked in. One was a bit older, late twenties I’d guess, wearing a suit. The three others, two women and one guy, were younger, closer to our age.

Rob, one of the campaign participants, walked over to meet the group and welcome them. I eventually walked over to join Rob. The group of folks and I got into a discussion about coming out and coming to terms with my sexuality and my faith. They quickly identified themselves as Baptist and, being Baptist myself, the admission was a warm and welcome sight (Baptists certainly aren’t as numerous up north as they are in the South). I don’t think I picked up on anything unusual from the group, although I certainly thought that they must be straight. But I had no clue or idea of what would come next.

We had to leave the church because the church members who had let us use the space needed to get home, so we all waked outside and sat on the steps facing toward the street. It was outside of this beautiful, old Baptist church, after this group had already gained my trust and, in some ways, my respect, that I heard the real reason for their visit. Rob had already felt that something was a bit odd with them and so had some of the other Campaign participants. Somehow these feelings flew right past me and never entered my mind for a second. Perhaps it was because I was so happy to be talking with who seemed to be folks like me… accepting, loving Baptists.

The group was there to tell us about being “ex-gay” and about “finding freedom from homosexuality.” I felt betrayed as I heard them explain their point of view. Brian, another Campaign participant who had also participated with me in this past spring’s Equality Ride, and I naturally took up the conversation and engaged the four “ex-gays” in a peaceful, respectful dialogue about our faiths, our life experiences and our perceptions of our faith in light of our experiences as gay Christians.

During the Equality Ride I had found it difficult to maintain my peaceful state-of-mind for longer conversations, but for some reason I was able to talk for almost an hour without any indication of moving away from a non-violent spirit.

But it was when we began to discuss our deeply personal faith journeys and relationships with Christ that I began to crack. For me, coming to terms with my sexuality was something that I had to do in order to live and survive. If I had not have come to terms with my sexuality, I can guess that I would be in one of two places: A conservative Baptist church following in the footsteps of my Preacher and teaching a congregation that gay people are worthy of death and absolute exclusion from the life of our world and church, or buried in a pine box six feet under the ground.

My relationship with Christ is a personal one. I can truly say that I have a deeply personal relationship and walk with Christ. I’m not perfect… I’m no where near it, but of course Christ knows this; He is my Saviour, after all. My walk with Christ is between only me, Christ, my God and, if I so choose, my family and my pastor. My walk with Christ is not subject to the thoughts and feelings of others who wonder and judge what I am, who I am or if I am worthy of God’s love.

As I began to cry, I practically begged the group of “ex-gays” to respect my walk with Christ. If I can, as a part of my duty to support and encourage my fellow believers in Christ, respect their personal decisions in their walk with Christ, then why can’t they respect mine? I had to leave the church of my childhood. I had to leave a place where, from the pulpit, I was taught, “Put all the queers on a ship, pluck a hole into the side of it and send it out to see.” If I had remained at that church, or if I had not have come to terms with who I am, then my walk with Christ would be entirely different. I’d go far enough to say that my walk with Christ would be less personal and, I think I might say that I might harbor hate in my heart for God.

I eventually had to get up and leave the conversation. We’ve been taught to approach situations with a non-violent spirit – meaning no violence of the fist, the heart and spirit or of the tongue. In the emotional state I had gotten into, there was no way I could have continued in that non-violent spirit, especially because of all the tough memories brought back into my mind.

I felt betrayed. My trust had been broken by a group I thought was friendly. No matter how nice their words sounded and no matter how much they couched their hate-filled words in what amounted to nothing more than fancy gift and bubble wrap, their words – in my mind – were no different than my Preacher’s: You aren’t worthy of Christ and God does not love you. You aren’t worthy of life.

It has taken me years to mend those wounds; in fact, many of those wounds have still yet to heal. But to have finally realized that despite what I was taught as a child, my God does love me… that is truly amazing and wondrous. He will always love me and Christ will always be there for me… gay or straight. That is the truth. That is, truly, my redeeming message. “Be still and know that I am God,” He says. I know and I will not let anyone tell me I am not worthy of His love.

From News 10:

Soulforce Q lobbies for “right to marry”
Updated: 7/18/2007 4:47:43 PM
By: Bill Carey

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Their goal — to change minds. Their target — state lawmakers in Central New York and the Hudson Valley. Their method — face to face meetings to discuss the real life impact of the continued ban on same sex marriage.

“This is really about bringing it down to the level of people and how we seek to have loving, committed relationships and protect and care for our children,” said Haven Herrin, Co-Director of Soulforce Q.

“It’s a contract that you enter into with someone else and it’s a way that we as a society and we as communities hold each other accountable and we encourage and foster relationships between individuals who love each other in a healthy way,” said Curtis Peterson, a member of Soulforce Q.

Those favoring gay marriage in New York State have won their battle in the New York State assembly, but have hit a major roadblock in the New York State Senate. There, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno has flatly refused to bring any bill to a vote.

Volunteers are targeting members of the State Senate in their travels. In Syracuse, democrat David Valesky’s office was the first stop.

Valesky supports civil unions but not same-sex marriage. Soulforce Q members, talking to a Valesky aide, hope to change the senator’s mind.

“These are issues that are just too real to ignore through politics or through bigoted religious stances or through just going by the polling. This is about people and their lives,” Herrin said.

Group members say that it is time to press for change. That recent polling shows lawmakers can take action without fear of a voter backlash.

Peterson said, “Sixty-eight percent of New Yorkers just said in 2006 that if their lawmaker were to vote to support and to allow same sex couples to marry, 68 percent of people said that it would not affect their support or it would increase their support of these lawmakers.”

One stop down and many more to go. The volunteers are optimistic that hard work now will eventually break the logjam at the state capitol.

Wow… like who ever thought? Being openly gay and a current or former athlete is tough enough, but transgender and transitioning to another gender? She’s got some guts.

Gina Duncan, formerly known as Greg Pingston and now living in Orlando, used to play on the East Carolina Football team during the 1970s. Since last November, Duncan has been living openly as a woman and is now completing her transition to female.

Checkout the story at the Orlando Sentinel.

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On tap for today: the county fair

So we all have really nice looking teal-colored shirts and we are so going to test them out at the county fair in Saratoga County. Our shirts are cute, I think, and on the front they say, “Do you believe in Marriage? I do.” We’ve got our logo on the back. We spent a couple hours last night putting them together (iron ons, yes). Cat, Brian and Rob did a fabulous job.

Photos from the county fair and our awesome t-shirts later.  Maybe a video (I keep saying that and if I keep saying it more I might just be the boy who cried wolf).