Thursday, July 31, 2008

Michelle's Law passes U.S. House

Growing up in Southeast Manchester [N.H.] throughout the 1990s, Michelle Morse was a familiar face. We rode the bus to school each day. We shared many of the same teachers. Our mothers attended Pop Warner cheerleading competitions across the state. I moved in New York upon graduation from the University of New Hampshire in May 2004, but news of her death from cancer in November 2005 hit me as a complete and utterly painful shock.

Doctors diagnosed Michelle with cancer during her junior year at Plymouth [N.H.] State University. She faced the agonizing decision of losing her health insurance coverage if she curtailed her studies because of her illness. Michelle chose to remain enrolled at PSU while embarking upon a brave and valiant fight against the disease. And her mother AnnMarie became a tireless advocate on her behalf and in support of those college students who must confront such an unfortunate and utterly unnecessary decision.

New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch signed a bill known as "Michelle's Law" in January 2006, and members of the Granite State's Congressional delegation have introduced it in Washington. The U.S. House passed "Michelle's Law" yesterday in a move that represents a significant step forward in AnnMarie's effort to ensure nobody else has to endure the pain with which she and her family continue to deal. The bill also attempts to guarantee college students will never again have to face the cruel choice of risking the loss of their health insurance if they decide to curtail their course load to fight a serious illness.

The American health care system remains one of this country's most scandalous and disgraceful elements. "Michelle's Law" represents a direct challenge to a system that has failed countless millions of Americans. Michelle's legacy will continue to live on through her example and her mother's undying advocacy. I have no doubt she has a smile on her face tonight as she looks down upon the lawmakers in Washington who did the right thing yesterday. May you continue to rest in peace Michelle!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Life's a really good beach!

Yesterday's steady stream of severe thunderstorms may have made Fire Island one of the Tri-State's least desirable places yesterday, but the fine people over at Men's Fitness confirmed what most locals and visitors already know: the beach is one of the top 10 in the country.

The magazine singled out Sailors Haven, a beach between Cherry Grove and Point O' Woods, in a survey of the country's best beaches it published last month. The below article from the fifth issue of this summer's Fire Island News details how Men's Fitness came to its decision and how locals reacted. Their response was as you can probably imagine.

Most Fire Islanders already know their beaches are among the best in the country, and one publication confirmed what most of the News' loyal readers undoubtedly concluded long ago. Men's Fitness named Sailors Haven and Sunken Forest as one of its "10 Hot Spots to Visit This Summer" in an article posted on its Web site on June 16. Writer Devin Pratt described the strand as "one of the best-kept secrets on the East Coast." He further noted the beach provides the "perfect escape" from New York's hustle and bustle.

"With clean, lifeguard-protected beaches that are never crowded, Sailors Haven offers what most other New York beaches can't—peace and quiet," Pratt wrote. "In fact, it's not unusual to walk five or 10 minutes down the beach and not see another person."

The magazine further noted Sunken Forest's nature trails were another added bonus.

"It is a very precious jewel of the park," Fire Island National Seashore spokesperson Paula Valentine said. "We welcome them [visitors] to enjoy it and take the time to explore and appreciate the value that's preserved in a National Parks Service area like the Fire Island seashore."

Sailors Haven joins Island Beach State Park on the Jersey Shore, Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, South Padre Island in Texas, Venice and Zuma Beaches near Los Angeles, Lanikai Beach in Hawaii, Hilton Head Island in South Carolina and Cape Florida State Park near Miami on this year's list. Other South Shore beaches routinely rank among the country's best. Doctor Stephen Leatherman, the director of Florida International University's Laboratory for Coastal Research who is known as Dr. Beach, ranked Coopers Beach in Southampton and Main Street in East Hampton as two of the country's best beaches in his annual list released earlier this year.

Suzanne Feynman and Joe Pitrelli, sunning themselves last Sunday in Sailors Haven, seemed pleasantly surprised upon learning of the prestigious ranking.

Feynman said she feels the beach is a best kept secret. Sayville resident Robert Belfield agreed.

"The beaches on the South Shore are some of the nicest beaches in the world," he said.

Log onto to read the full article. Also log onto FINS' Web site [] for more information.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Activists and politicians seek to reduce summer anti-LGBT attacks

Hate crimes remain some of the most difficult things I have covered as a journalist. They are barbaric. They are gruesome. And they are most importantly reflective of broader prejudice, homophobia and other social ills that continue to leave a bitter stain on society.

Two incidents late last month and on July 7 in the five boroughs were yet another reminder anti-LGBT hate crimes remain a problem in New York. My article for EDGE details how local activists and politicians reacted, and what they say they hope will happen to lessen the incidents of these assaults. Let's hope they work.

As reports of anti-LGBT hate crimes continue to rise in many parts of the country, two incidents in the five boroughs within weeks of each other prove LGBT New Yorkers remain vulnerable to this violence.

A man and a woman attacked a gay man and his partner on a crowded 1 train late last month as they returned from volunteering at a Greenwich Village church. The second incident occurred at Carmen’s Place, a shelter for transgender youth in Astoria, on July 7. Four teenagers allegedly assaulted the Rev. Louis Braxton, Jr., the shelter’s director, with a paint bucket and other objects after he stopped them from attacking a trans woman who was reportedly dancing outside the Steinway Street facility.

The New York Police Department arrested four suspects shortly after the attack, but the first incident took place the day before hundreds of thousands of people poured into Manhattan for the city’s annual LGBT Pride parade. Politicians were quick to react.

"Homophobia must never be tolerated, but it is especially surprising and hurtful that such an attack could occur in the West Village so near to the birthplace of the LGBT movement, and the day before the [LGBT] Pride march," openly lesbian City Council Speaker Christine Quinn [D-Chelsea], openly gay state Sen. Tom Duane [D-Chelsea] and City Councilmember Alan Gerson [D-Tribeca] said in a statement released shortly after the attack took place. "June is the month that we celebrate the LGBT community in New York City and advocate for equal rights and the elimination of intolerance and prejudice, and this attack only goes to show that we still have a long way to go."

The Anti-Violence Project reports the number of reported anti-LGBT hate crimes spikes during the summer. This increase is due, in part, because of the greater visibility LGBT people have during Pride month festivities and other celebrations. The increased attention around the push for marriage for same-sex couples and other issues can also play a factor.

Duane told EDGE in a recent interview from his Manhattan office he feels working with the NYPD in neighborhoods with large LGBT populations is one way to prevent such attacks. He further pointed to a mobile command post on 14th Street during Pride as another potential deterrent.

"It’s an advertisement to gay bashers that they better think twice before they act on homophobic impulses," Duane said.

He added targeting LGBT New Yorkers through newsletters and e-mails are among the other ways to educate them about the potential risks they face from these attacks. And AVP executive director Sharon Stapel pointed to organizing and education through the city’s schools and community centers.

"We are talking about people who live their lives honestly with integrity," she said.

A number of anti-LGBT hate crimes have rocked New York in recent years. A car struck and killed Michael Sandy on the Belt Parkway in Sheepshead Bay in October 2006 as he attempted to flee three men and a teenager who attacked him after they lured him to an isolated beach along Jamaica Bay. A group of men robbed and beat performer Kevin Aviance after leaving an East Village bar in June 2006. Rashawn Brazell’s dismembered remains were found inside a Brooklyn subway tunnel and recycling plant in February 2005. And Richard McCullough stabbed Sakia Gunn to death after he and another man confronted the teen and a group of friends while they waited for a bus in downtown Newark in May 2003 after a night out in Manhattan.

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects reported earlier this year the number of reported anti-LGBT hate crimes in New York dropped 14 percent in 2007. The state’s hate crimes law includes sexual orientation, but not gender identity and expression. But Stapel stressed, however, she feels New Yorkers across the five boroughs have an important role to play in preventing these attacks.

"As a community, as the LGBT community and as a society as a whole, we have to say this is unacceptable," she said. "We have to recognize that it’s all of our problem. As long as we tolerate violence in a community, we will continue to see violence in that community and other communities."

Monday, July 21, 2008

More Fire Island reflections

The beach in the Fire Island Pines provided locals and visitors alike with an escape from the heat.

Another weekend has come and gone on Fire Island and I am winding up my day at home in Ocean Beach. New Yorkers packed the beach in droves to escape the oppressive heat and humidity that have blanketed most of the Tri-State area over the last several days. My friend Paul made his Fire Island debut this weekend. And the Fire Island Dance Festival once again proved to be one of my favorite events of the season to cover.

My publisher and I have begun to realize the season is more than half over. The fifth issue of the Fire Island News hit the beach last Thursday, and I am almost scared to concede the not so tongue-in-cheek fantasy that is my summer on Fire Island will be over in just a few weeks. I remain completely blessed by this amazing opportunity. I often find myself pinching myself at the opportunities that have come before me in the last couple of months--the Invasion and my conversation with Caroline Rhea following yesterday's dance festival. All good things unfortunately must come to an end, but the next six weeks will almost certainly remain sweet indeed!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New Yorker cover sparks controversy

My publisher and I were putting the fifth issue of this season's Fire Island News to bed yesterday, so I didn't have time to opine about the brouhaha that erupted on Monday over the New Yorker cover that depicts Barack Obama in traditional Muslim clothing and his wife Michelle as a terrorist fist bumping inside the White House with a picture of Osama bin Laden on the wall and the American flag burning in the fire place.

Rumors and speculation surrounding the Obamas' religion and patriotism certainly persist, and the cover obviously attempted to provide some satirical commentary. The New Yorker's readership, which is largely wealthy and progressive Manhattanites and other Gothamites, arguably understood the statement the magazine's editors tried to make. The lesson from this week remains, however, the vast majority of the country does not think like the demographic to which the celebrated publication seeks to reach. The reactions are obviously very real. They touch a sensitive nerve within the Obama campaign and among its supporters and raise a number of questions over how the media continues to cover the ongoing election cycles.

Are the editors of the New Yorker anti-Muslim? Most likely not. But they must consider the impact these election-inspired satires have among a public that is already highly polarized and sensitive.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Gay bishop challenges exclusion from Anglican meeting

Openly gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson remains one of the most fascinating--and awe-inspiring--people I have interviewed, and his appearances in London over the last few days continue to prove that point well.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams excluded Robinson from the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference in an effort to prevent further schisms in the religious body, but the Associated Press and other media outlets have reported this decision has almost certainly backfired.

Robinson is an inspiration for millions of gay and lesbian people of faith around the world. He continues to profess his own unique brand of ministry to people, such as himself, who remain at the margins of society and in the communities in which they live. The Anglican Church obviously continues to struggle to maintain some sort of traditional identity that allows the power brokers found within it to keep a sense of control. Robinson represents a very clear and present threat to this hierarchical system. The church is arguably a stronger and frankly more viable institution with his presence and inclusive ministry.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Jackson's verbal misstep against Obama

I always welcome the opportunity to opine on something beyond the trials and tribulations of the movement for LGBT rights, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson's comments towards Barack Obama provide the perfect opportunity to do so.

The civil rights leader sparked consternation after he told a Fox News reporter before an interview he wanted to "cut his [Obama's] nuts off" in response to his "talking down to black people on this faith based..." Jackson, who was expressing his disagreement over Obama's recent comments in black churches about how men of color need to be better fathers, said he didn't realize the microphone was turned on before he made the comments, but they are the latest in a series of verbal missteps that have taken place throughout this campaign.

As with almost everything associated with this contest, however, the comments are simply part of an arguable much bigger picture that needs to be discussed. An argument can be clearly made Obama's candidacy and message transcends politics based on race and other identities--the post-racial politics if you will. Another possible theory is Obama's campaign poses a very real threat to Jackson and other so-called old school civil rights leaders. One thing remains clear: Obama's candidacy has certainly sparked an arguably long overdue conversation in this country about race and its continued implications. This debate will obviously continue.

Monday, July 7, 2008

A Fire Island Invasion

The Fourth of July has come and gone and Fire Island continues to slowly recover from the holiday weekend onslaught. The past few days featured a whirlwind of parties, barbecues, quick jumps into pools, dancing the night away and other activities endemic to the beach. The Invasion of the Fire Island Pines remains the highlight of these myriad of events.

Hundreds of drag queens board a ferry in Cherry Grove to invade the Pines each July 4. The late-John Whyte refused to serve a man dressed as a woman in 1975. Panzi and a group of fellow queens boarded a water taxi the following year and 'invaded' the Pines. The annual commemoration has become one of Fire Island's most revered and celebrated summer events. And this reporter, who donned a cheap Old Navy top, ripped blue jeans and gaudy jewelry as the incomparable Ciara Borealis, was among them.

Seeing thousands of people awaiting the ferry's arrival in the Pines remains one of the most exhilarating moments I have experienced both as a faux queen and a reporter. Fire Island may represent a lot of things to a lot of people--elitism, personal entitlement, a misguided social scene based on parties, drugs and sex, clique-like mentality--but one thing that remains true is the beach (and its events) is one of the most unique places in the world.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The price of progress?

As New Yorkers take time to mark the 39th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots--and their LGBT pride--it is important to take a moment to step back and examine the price so-called progress has had on revered pink institutions in the city and around the country.

The ongoing debate over the citations issued for disorderly conduct and possession of a controlled substance inside the Meat Rack on Fire Island last month, and the closure of Florent in the Meatpacking District on gay Pride Sunday are two examples of recent incidents or news stories that allow us to reflect upon recent developments. Both the Meat Rack and Florent have secured themselves in local LGBT popular culture. Both the Meat Rack and Florent either attract or have attracted a plethora of gay men and others. And both the Meat rack and Florent as a place in the hearts of more than a few New Yorkers.

The question becomes how progress has affected these two institutions (or perhaps more accurately venues). The Meat rack, while still secure in its place as a forum for sexual liberation, remains a venerable part of the Fire Island experience for many. Florent, on the other hand, became a venerable institution that attracted a wide variety of characters from the neighborhood and other areas. It has now closed while Fire Islanders continue to lament the Fire Island National Seashore's supposed intrusion into their once idyllic woods. Is this progress or is this a step back? The answer to this question certainly lays in the eyes of the beholder, but one thing is certain: the idea of progress continues, for better or worse depending upon one's perspective, continues to transform many pink institutions and venues throughout Gotham and its surrounding environs.