Wednesday, December 30, 2009

An adieu to the oughts

As the debate continues over whether to call the first decade of the 21st century the oughts, it is almost absurdly appropriate to reflect upon the last 10 years that have brought monumental change, heartbreak, triumph and tragedy.

I was a senior at Memorial High School in Manchester, New Hampshire, at the turn of the century. Ten years and more than 50 pounds lighter, I am now a resident of Brooklyn and a journalist whose work has appeared in publications around the world. Below is a look back at the events that have helped shaped the 'Oughts for this boy in Bushwick.

- June 7, 2000: Graduated from Memorial High School in Manchester, New Hampshire
- May 27, 2001: Came out
- Sept. 11, 2001
- Aug. 16, 2002: Turned 21
- Jan. 10, 2003-May 21, 2003: Studied in Granada, Spain
- May 22, 2004: Graduated from the University of New Hampshire
- July 1, 2004: Moved to New York City
- May 2, 2006: Dad suffered heart attack
- Nov. 23, 2006: Traveled to Morocco
- Feb. 5, 2007: Fired from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation
- June 10, 2007: Sister married high school sweetheart
- Jan. 15, 2009: Appeared on the BBC for the first time

June 7, 2000

Dec. 30, 2009

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2009: a look back

As I think of how to reflect upon the year that has almost come to a close, there is an arguable sense of irony and even unbridled cynicism in the “optimistic tone” under which I wished “everyone a happy, healthy and prosperous 2009” in my Dec. 30, 2008, posting. This year certainly proved to be an exciting, yet tumultuous one for this boy in Bushwick. And while I am certainly no worse for wear, here is a look back at 2009.

Barack Obama

President Barack Obama became the country’s 44th president on Jan. 20. His inauguration took place amid the worst economic crisis the United States has seen since the Great Depression, but he came into office under (arguably unrealistic) expectations he would immediately resolve the country’s many problems.

Nearly a year later, the administration has increased the number of troops on the ground in Afghanistan, enacted an economic stimulus package that has arguably stabilized the American economy and has nearly achieved some form of long overdue health care reform. Obama has also made some overtures to LGBT Americans—the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to federal hate crime statutes and the end of the ban that had prevented people with HIV/AIDS from entering the country. Many, however, continue to argue the administration can continue to do more.

I covered Obama’s inauguration for EDGE and WNYC at the LGBT Community Center in Manhattan. It was a bitterly cold January day, but those who gathered on West 13th Street could barely contain their hope and optimism (and distain for former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney.) Obama’s inauguration certainly does not erase the historical injustices underrepresented groups had (and continue to) suffer, but it remains a monumental turning point in American history.

New Yorkers watch President Barack Obama's inauguration from the LGBT Community Center on Jan. 20.

Economy and LGBT Journalism

Even though the economy continues to show some signs of recovery, 2009 proved extremely difficult for journalism.

Genre, HX and the New York Blade are among the local LGBT publications that folded earlier this year. And Window Media’s insolvency last month sent shock waves through an already vulnerable industry. A lesbian reporter noted this month there were only a handful of us—reporters who work for LGBT-specific publications—who covered the ceremony at which Gov. David Paterson signed an executive order to ban discrimination against transgender New York State public employees. A very sobering thought indeed!

On assignment in Union Square earlier this month. [Photo courtesy of Joe Jervis]

Hate Crimes

Some of the most difficult stories to cover are those that involve victims of anti-LGBT hate violence. And Jack Price, José Sucuzhañay and Jorge Steven López Mercado are among those who dominated a significant portion of my 2009 reportage.

Daniel Aleman and Daniel Rodriguez, Jr., allegedly used anti-gay slurs as they nearly beat Price to death outside a College Point deli in early October. Police took Hakim Scott and Keith Phoenix into custody in late February in connection Sucuzhañay’s murder near a Bushwick street corner in Dec. 2008. And Juan A. Martínez Matos confessed he stabbed López to death on Nov. 13 before he dumped the gay teenager’s decapitated, dismembered and partially burned body along a remote Puerto Rican roadside.

These brutal attacks and others sparked outrage among LGBT activists and their supporters around the country (and world.) They also ignited sometimes passionate debate among those who wanted to claim these victims as their own. The fact remains, however, anti-LGBT hate crimes remain a serious problem that legislation alone will not solve. And I truly look forward to the day when I will not have to continuously report on these atrocities.

Hundreds gathered on the Christopher Street Pier on Nov. 22 to pay tribute to Jorge Steven López Mercado.


The push for marriage for same-sex couples continued in earnest in 2009, and activists’ efforts produced mixed results.

The California Supreme Court in May upheld Proposition 8 that overturned the state’s law that had allowed gays and lesbians to marry. Maine voters in November approved a referendum that struck down the Pine Tree State’s law that had allowed nuptials for same-sex couples. And the New York State Senate struck down a measure earlier this month that would have allowed gays and lesbians to marry.

Conversely, gays and lesbians began to legally marry in Iowa in April and in Vermont in September. The District of Columbia extended marriage to same-sex couples earlier this month. And New Hampshire will allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot on Jan. 1.

An argument can certainly be made the country is simply not ready to accept marriage for gays and lesbians. This hypothesis does not denigrate the efforts of activists who continue to push the issue at the state and even federal level, but it is merely a stark realization based upon the series of defeats listed above. That said; my friend Paul and I will be among those who will attend New Hampshire Rep. Bob Thompson and Michael Jacobsen’s wedding in my hometown on Saturday. I honestly never thought I would see the day a gay couple could legally tie the knot in Manchester—a city from which I moved away more than five years ago. Progress indeed appears in the seemingly least likely of places.

The California Supreme Court upheld Prop 8 in a May 26 ruling.

Final Thoughts

For the personal and professional excitement and tumult 2009 brought, there were several hopeful and even inspirational moments of note. The so-called Miracle on the Hudson in January, my emergence as a talking head, Ascension Party, which was coincidentally my 28th birthday, in the Fire Island Pines and my new 34 inch waist line are among the happier moments from 2009.

Hope truly springs eternal, and I remain optimistic about the prospects of a new year and a new decade.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Welcome home

It's always good to get away from the city for a few days, but there is truly nothing better than to see the Manhattan skyline from almost any vantage point. I shot these short clips with my new camera as the bus drove west on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway near the Long Island Expressway intersection and the Kosciuszko Bridge.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy holidays

I'm going to take a few days off, but I would like to wish everyone a merry Christmas and a happy and healthy 2010. It has certainly been an exciting, but tumultuous year, but I am hopeful 2010 will prove to be even better.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mexico City lawmakers approve a bill to allow gays and lesbians to marry

Mexico City lawmakers voted 39-20 yesterday to approve a measure that would allow gays and lesbians to marry in the Distrito Federal. This vote came in spite of opposition from the Roman Catholic Church and conservative lawmakers associated with President Felipe Calderon's political party. And Mayor Marcelo Ebrard is expected to sign Article 146 into law.

Courtesy of the Associated Press.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ricky Martin speaks out against hate crimes, urges acceptance

Ricky Martin specifically mentioned Jorge Steven López Mercado, murdered Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero, Matthew Shepard and other hate crimes victims in an op-ed el Nuevo Dia published earlier today.

The Puerto Rican singer, who has faced consistent questions about his own sexual orientation over the years, said headlines about López's brutal murder near Cayey last month and other recent murders have shaken him.

"The deaths of James Byrd, like that of Matthew Shepard, Jorge Steven López, Marcelo Lucero and Luis Ramírez, like other victims of violent hate crimes, should be unacceptable to all human beings; because we are all human beings," Martin said.

He further wrote he feels mere tolerance of those who are different is simply not enough.

"If we accept each other, humanity will come together," Martin wrote. "And if humanity comes together, equality for human rights will become a reality. If equality for human rights becomes a reality, peace will be within our reach."

Martin is the latest Puerto Rican celebrity who has spoken out against hate crimes since Juan A. Martínez Matos murdered López and dumped his decapitated, dismembered and partially burned body along a remote roadside on Nov. 13. Olga Tañón discussed the case on her weekly talk show earlier this month. And reggaeton artist René Pérez and Miss Universe 2001 Denise Quiñones spoke out against López's murder after they attended a San Juan vigil late last month.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Authorities identify man found murdered in Puerto Rican motel

Puerto Rican authorities have identified the man who was found stabbed to death inside a Ponce motel on Wednesday afternoon.

Officials said Fernando López de Victoria, 35, of Hato Rey, suffered nearly two dozen stab wounds inside Motel Las Colinas in Ponce either late Tuesday, Dec. 15, or Wednesday, Dec. 16. Motel employees said López de Victoria, who worked for Puerto Rico's Department of Housing, checked-in with another man on Tuesday afternoon. The man with whom he arrived at the motel left around 1:30 p.m. the following day.

Meanwhile, Vocero reported Puerto Rican police took a 50-year-old man who is addicted to drugs into custody yesterday afternoon in connection with the murder. The newspaper reported the suspect was seen with López de Victoria on a variety of occasions.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Unidentified man found stabbed to death inside Puerto Rico motel

Puerto Rican authorities continue to investigate the murder of a man inside a Ponce motel.

An unidentified man believed to have been gay was found nude inside a Motel Las Colinas room on Dec. 16. Investigator Richard Nazario told Nuevo Dia the man, who he said was between 40 and 45 years old, had 20 stab wounds on other parts of his body he said were consistent with "a person who tried to defend himself."

Motel employees told investigators two men checked-in Tuesday afternoon, and one of them left around 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 16. Nazario added local authorities have not received any missing person reports. And police continue to look at the motel's surveillance tapes.

This man's death comes roughly a month after Juan A. Martínez Matos allegedly murdered gay teenager. Martínez, known by his nickname Gasper, reportedly confessed he decapitated, dismembered and partially burned López's body before he dumped it alongside a road near Cayey on Nov. 13.

Pedro Julio Serrano of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s urged Puerto Rican authorities to investigate the man's murder as a possible anti-gay hate crime.

"Through the particular circumstances of his arrival at the motel with another man, the brutality of his murder, the hate with which [the second man allegedly] committed it and through clear signs of cruelty, we ask the authorities to investigate the hate angle in this case," he said in a statement released earlier today to Spanish-speaking media.

BBC's coverage of Uganda's 'anti-homosexuality bill' sparks controversy

The British Broadcasting Corporation has responded to the growing controversy over a question a debate on one of its programs about a Ugandan bill that would impose the death penalty against anyone found guilty of homosexuality in the East African country.

Africa Have Your Say asked its listeners to debate the question: "Should homosexuals face execution." Peter Horrocks, director of the World Service, responded to the controversy earlier today.

"The reaction from part of our audience was very strong and [we] do feel in retrospect the headline taken out of context was too stark and [we] do apologize for any offense that was caused to people, but it was an absolutely legitimate debate to have," he said. "We were having that debate clearly because that's the question the Uganda Parliament is having."

Indeed, Ugandan lawmakers are scheduled to debate the so-called "anti-homosexuality bill" in Kampala tomorrow. People have taken to the streets in Chicago, San Francisco and other cities around the world to protest the proposed law.

British activist Peter Tatchell opined the BBC should encourage debate over the draconian bill, but he added he feels editors should have approached it differently.

“I think it perfectly reasonable for the BBC to host a debate about the current Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill, but not in the terms that it was framed,” Tatchell said.

Horrocks again defended the debate he said he feels Africa Had Your Say encouraged.

"This question is being posed directly in the Ugandan Parliament and there were plenty of people who took part in the program who were supportive of it," he said. "It is a legitimate subject for debate, but clearly the way that you handle something like that with different sensitivities in different societies [over] the ways the questions are posed is something we need to be careful about."

A journalist's basic obligation is to pose difficult questions--including those that make their sources and those who hear, read or watch them uncomfortable or even angry. The idea Uganda could potentially sanction executions of gays and lesbians is a disgusting and shameful stain on the East African country. The BBC and other media outlets, however, have a responsibility to encourage an honest and open debate about the bill and the very real impact it could have on gay and lesbian Ugandans. And this obligation must trump any potential controversy and outrage that could result from such an exchange.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Paterson bans discrimination against transgender New York state employees

Governor David Paterson received a standing ovation at the LGBT Community Center in lower Manhattan earlier today as he signed an executive order to ban discrimination against transgender state employees.

"For far too long... the transgender community has had to wait for the same equality others enjoy based on employment," he said. "That ends today."

Governor David Paterson signs the executive order.

Empire State Pride Agenda executive director Alan Van Capelle and Michael Silverman of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund were among those who joined state Sen. Tom Duane, state Assemblymembers Deborah Glick, Dick Gottfried, Danny O'Donnell and other elected officials on stage as Paterson signed the directive.

"Transgender people, like all New Yorkers, need stability, and it starts in the workplace," Melissa Sklarz, director of the New York Transgender Rights Organization, said.

Paterson's executive order makes New York the seventh state to specifically ban discrimination against trans public employees. His mandate also came as an arguably much needed shot in the arm for activists who continue to lobby state lawmakers to pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, marriage for same-sex coupes and the Dignity in All Schools Act.

"Today is a good first step," Van Capelle said. "It is not the end of our fight."

From right; Michael Silverman of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund and Pauline Park of the New York Association for Gender Rights and Advocacy stand alongside Gov. David Paterson.

State Sen. Tom Duane applauds Gov. David Paterson.

Melissa Sklarz of the New York Transgender Rights Organization.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Paterson to ban discrimination against transgender New York State employees

Boy in Bushwick has learned Gov. David Paterson will sign an executive order tomorrow that will ban discrimination against transgender state employees.

The governor is scheduled to sign the order tomorrow morning at the LGBT Community Center in lower Manhattan. Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, praised the move.

"This executive order will ensure that hard-working transgender employees of New York State can work without fear of discrimination, and provide for themselves and their families," he said. “We applaud [Gov.] Paterson for taking this important step for transgender equal rights.”

Delaware, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania currently ban discrimination against their public employees based gender identity and expression. The federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act remains stalled in Congress, but Dru Levasseur of Lambda Legal told the New York Times he feels the state will once again be at the forefront of what he described as states "that are taking the lead on workplace fairness."

Prominent Honduran gay activist murdered

Amnesty International and other organizations have called upon the Honduran government to investigate the murder of a prominent LGBT activist in Tegucigalpa late Sunday night.

A gunman reportedly shot Walter Tróchez in the chest late Sunday night as he walked home through the center of the Honduran capital. Amnesty International said on its Web site a group of masked men had tried to kidnap Tróchez earlier this month in search of those they felt opposed President Manuel Zelaya's ouster from power earlier this year. The human rights organization said the four men forced Tróchez into their man, hooded him and repeatedly pistol-whipped him in the face as they threatened to kill him.

"The murder of Walter Tróchez must be investigated immediately and those responsible brought to justice." Kerrie Howard, Americas deputy director for Amnesty International, said. "It is essential that human rights defenders and opposition activists are able to exercise freedom of expression without fearing threats or attacks."

Tróchez had documented what Amnesty International further described as "human rights violations during protests against" the June 28 coup. Doug Ireland's blog contains further information about Tróchez's work and Honduran reaction to his murder.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Prominent HIV/AIDS activist Dennis deLeon passes away

Prominent New York HIV/AIDS activist Dennis deLeon passed away earlier today in Manhattan. He was 61.

“Dennis was a force to be reckoned with," Ernesto Loperena, former board chair of the Latino Commission on AIDS, said. "If there was a social justice issue that needed to be addressed you knew you wanted Dennis on your side. His work and his voice were respected nationwide and there was no greater champion for Latinos living with or affected by HIV/AIDS. He will be greatly missed.”

A former New York City Human Rights Commissioner, deLeon publicly disclosed his status as a person living with the virus in an op-ed the New York Times published in May 1993. He became president of the Latino Commission on AIDS a year later. And deLeon led the organization until earlier this year.

“For the better part of the past two decades, Dennis deLeon has worked tirelessly to end discrimination against HIV-positive individuals and expand access to care for all communities, and I was saddened to learn of his passing this morning," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn described deLeon as "a friend, a mentor, an advocate, a trailblazer and a hero."

“A pioneer in his work, Dennis deLeon has left a legacy in the LGBT community, the HIV/AIDS community and the Latino community," she continued. "His work in each community was valiant and he was one of the hardest workers and most committed people I ever had the privilege of working with on any issue."

Latino Commission on AIDS president Guillermo Chacon further applauded his former boss.

“It will be a challenge to pick up the mantle Dennis has left for us at the Commission," he said. "Dennis was a friend, a mentor and an example of what a national leader should be. He is a testament to the human spirit and the power of perseverance. His work and his dedication to our community will not be forgotten."

DeLeon's partner of 32 years, Bruce Kiernan, survives him alongside his father, sister, stepmother and other family members.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Bushwick marks first anniversary of José Sucuzhañay’s death

Dozens of Bushwick residents and relatives of hate crimes victims were among those at Make the Road New York earlier today who marked the first anniversary of José Sucuzhañay’s death.

“I’m here today with much sadness,” Diego Sucuzhañay said in Spanish. “This is the season we lost our beloved brother. He was the leader of our family.”

Sucuzhañay further spoke about the impact his brother’s murder has had on his young niece and nephew.

“This year, José’s kids will not receive the Merry Christmas their dad always gave them,” he said.

Hakim Scott and Keith Phoenix allegedly used anti-gay and anti-Latino slurs as they beat José Sucuzhañay with a baseball bat and broken bottles on Dec. 7, 2008, as he and his brother Romel walked arm and arm near the corner of Bushwick Avenue and Kossuth Place. The Ecuadorian immigrant died in a Queens hospital two days later. And hundreds of people marched down Myrtle Avenue less than a week after José Sucuzhañay’s death to demand justice.

“Hate in my community is entirely unacceptable,” City Councilmember Diana Reyna [D-Bushwick] said.

Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez agreed as she spoke of the need for the White House to pass what she described as comprehensive immigration reform.

“This is our moral obligation,” she said. “I cannot look in the eye the mother José or [Marcelo] Lucero, who was killed on Long Island [in Nov. 2008]… and say I’m sorry this is not the right time. It is the right time.”

This vigil came less than a week after news two bouncers at a Jackson Heights bar attacked a prominent gay activist broke. And it also comes roughly a month after Puerto Rican authorities found Jorge Steven López Mercado’s decapitated, dismembered and partially burned body along a remote roadside near Cayey.

Mario Vega suffered serious brain injuries after three men attacked him near his Bushwick apartment in late September. And police maintain Daniel Aleman and Daniel Rodriguez, Jr., nearly beat openly gay Jack Price to death outside a College Point deli on Oct. 9.

Diego Sucuzhañay told Boy in Bushwick after the vigil he feels immigrant and LGBT advocacy organizations have a responsibility to work together to end hate crimes

“We maybe have different priorities, but we are two groups being targeted by hate right now,” he said. “We are suffering the same. We are fighting for human rights. We need stop being treated as second class citizens.”

Diego Sucuzhañay speaks about his brother José's murder.

Members of the New York City Anti-Violence Project lead a candlelight vigil.

Diego Sucuzhañay.

Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez

From left: Joselo Lucero and Diego Sucuzhañay.

No more hate violence!

Outside Make the Road New York's Bushwick office.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Jackson Heights bar bouncers allegedly beat prominent gay activist

Roughly two months after two men allegedly beat a College Point man into a coma, bouncers at a Jackson Heights bar reportedly assaulted a prominent local activist because he was dancing with his partner.

Tarlach MacNiallais of the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization has alleged two security guards at Guadalajara de Noche on Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights assaulted him early Saturday, Dec. 5. Blogs and local media reported the two men wrestled MacNiallais to the ground and dragged him off the dance floor before they punched and kicked him. The security guards also allegedly smashed a chair over MacNiallais' head.

This attack is the latest in a series of anti-LGBT assaults that have rocked Queens in recent months.

Police contend Daniel Rodriguez, 21, and Daniel Aleman, 26, nearly beat Jack Price, 49, to death outside a College Point deli on Oct. 8 because of his sexual orientation.

Video courtesy of the Associated Press

A Queens County grand jury indicted Trinidad Tapia, 19, and Gilberto Ortiz, 32, on hate crimes charges late last month after they allegedly beat Leslie Mora, who is transgender, with a belt buckle as she walked along Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights on June 19. And the New York Police Department maintains Nathaniel Mims, 25, and Rasheed Thomas, 22, shouted anti-gay slurs at Carmella Etienne, who is also trans, before they attacked her with rocks and empty beer bottles as she walked home from a store near her St. Albans apartment on July 8.

Activist Brendan Fay and openly City Councilmember-elect Danny Dromm [D-Jackson Heights] both expressed to Boy in Bushwick their outrage over the alleged incident at Guadalajara de Noche. MacNiallais did not immediately return request for comment, but the NYPD continues to investigate his allegations.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Olga Tañón discusses homophobia, Jorge Steven López Mercado's murder

Puerto Rican singer Olga Tañón discussed homophobia and Jorge Steven López Mercado's gruesome murder last night on her weekly talk show.

Pedro Julio Serrano was among those who appeared on Hablemos D. The audio is a bit muffled at times, but the entire segment in Spanish is posted below.

The show comes days after Tañón publicly spoke out against homophobia and the gay teenager's gruesome murder last month near Cayey.

"Look, to be gay is nothing bad," she said to Primera Hora as translated from Spanish. "Sexual orientation is nothing bad, and it shouldn’t be used as a reason to castigate or discriminate."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Suspect in gay Puerto Rican teenager’s murder ordered to undergo psychological evaluation

A Puerto Rican judge has ordered the man who has reportedly confessed to the gruesome murder of a gay teenager last month to undergo a psychological evaluation.

Judge Camila Jusino accepted state psychologist Rafael Cabrera's recommendation Juan J. Martínez Matos remain under evaluation at a psychiatric hospital in Rio Piedras to determine whether the accused killer is competent to stand trial.

Matos is scheduled to return to court on Jan. 13.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Pride Agenda endorses José Peralta for State Senate

As LGBT activists appear poised to target those who opposed a bill that would have allowed gays and lesbians to marry, the Empire State Pride Agenda announced this morning it has endorsed a Queens assemblyman who seeks to unseat embattled state Sen. Hiram Monserrate [D-Jackson Heights.]

Pride Agenda executive director Alan Van Capelle said in a statement that announced his organization's decision to endorse Assemblymember José Peralta [D-Jackson Heights] he feels "Queens needs a new state Senator--one with integrity and honor, and who stands up for the rights of all New Yorkers."

“José Peralta has demonstrated time and time again that he is a champion of equality and justice for all New Yorkers and has consistently represented the interests of his district in the New York State Assembly,” Van Capelle said. “His record on LGBT issues demonstrates that he does not duck-and-run when our bills come up for a vote. He has stood up for us in the Assembly, and we will stand with him in his race for the state Senate.”

Monserrate, who was convicted in October of misdemeanor assault against his girlfriend, is one of eight Democrats who voted against the marriage bill that went before the state Senate last week. This vote was arguably the last straw among the embattled senator's growing list of detractors. And the Peralta endorsement is the latest indication Monserrate and others who opposed the marriage bill remain squarely in the electoral cross hairs of LGBT activists and their supporters.

“Over the next several months, the Pride Agenda will roll out
endorsements of candidates who support equality and will challenge sitting
members of the state Senate on both sides of the aisle whose record on equality
is a stain on New York,” Van Capelle said.

Albany jury convicts former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno of corruption

An Albany jury yesterday found former New York State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno [R-Saratoga Springs] guilty on two federal corruption charges.

The panel acquitted Bruno on five other charges, but Ken Lovett of the Daily News correctly described the conviction as "the guilty verdict heard 'round the state'" because it essentially amounts to an indictment of the way Albany lawmakers have conducted themselves for decades.

The jury found Bruno guilty of two counts of mail fraud in connection with various 'consulting' work he did for Leonard Fassler and other businessmen and companies during his legislative tenure. The former Senate Majority Leader, who retired last year, reportedly made $3.2 million from his association with Fassler and other clients.

U.S. District Court Judge Gary Sharpe will sentence Bruno on March 31. The former lawmaker faces up to 20 years in prison, but he has vowed to appeal his conviction.

New Jersey Senate committee approves bill to allow gays and lesbians to marry

The New Jersey state Senate's Judiciary Committee voted 7-6 last night to approve a bill that would allow gays and lesbians to marry.

The measure will go before the full Senate on Thursday. And Steven Goldstein, executive director of Garden State Equality, remained optimistic about the chances lawmakers would approve the bill.

"The marriage equality movement in America starts again right here," he told supporters in Trenton.

The committee's vote came less than a week after the New York State Senate defeated a bill that would have allowed gays and lesbians to marry in the Empire State. And it also comes a little more than a month after Maine voters approved a referendum that overturned their state's law that had allowed nuptials for same-sex couples.

It remains unclear as to whether the bill has enough support in the New Jersey state Senate to pass. It remains obvious, however, the Garden State could provide the movement for marriage for gays and lesbians a desperately needed shot in the arm after what has been a disastrous few weeks. Stay tuned...

Monday, December 7, 2009

José Sucuzhañay memorial service to take place in Bushwick on Dec. 12

Transgender woman sues Orlando McDonald's for discrimination

The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund announced earlier today it has filed a complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Rights against an Orlando area McDonald's after its manager allegedly refused to hire Zikerria Bellamy because she is transgender.

Bellamy, 17, applied online for a shift manager position in July. The teenager said the franchise's manager learned she is transgender and left a homophobic voice mail on her cell phone a few weeks later.

Florida law does not specifically address discrimination based on gender identity, the state's administrative agencies have concluded transgender Floridians are protected under the Florida Human Rights Act's prohibitions on sex and disability discrimination. Lawmakers last month also introduced the Competitive Workforce Bill, which would add both gender identity and sexual orientation to the Florida Civil Rights Act.

McDonald's has yet to respond to Bellamy's allegation.

A sad anniversary

Today marks a year since Hakeem Scott and Keith Phoenix allegedly attacked Ecuadorian immigrant José Sucuzhañay near the corner of Bushwick Avenue and Kossuth Place.

The two men reportedly used anti-gay and anti-Latino slurs as they beat Sucuzhañay early Dec. 7, 2008, with a baseball bat and broken bottles as he and his brother Romel walked home arm-and-arm from a local party. Sucuzhañay, whose two young children live in his homeland, succumb to his injuries two days later at a Queens hospital.

Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, Congressman Anthony Weiner, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and City Comptroller Bill Thompson were among the hundreds of people who marched through Bushwick shortly after Sucuzhañay’s death. And the New York Police Department arrested Scott and Phoenix earlier this year.

The two men will go on trial sometime next year, but the unfortunate fact remains hate crimes based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity have become an all too common aspect of my reportage. These include LaTeisha Green of Syracuse, Jack Price of College Point, Leslie Mora and Carmella Etienne of Jackson Heights and Jorge Steven López Mercado of Puerto Rico.

Juan A. Martínez Matos, who reportedly confessed to Puerto Rican prosecutors he killed López and subsequently decapitated, dismembered and partially burned the gay teenager’s body last month, returns to court on Wednesday for his preliminary hearing.

President Barack Obama signed a bill into law in late October that added both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to federal hate crimes laws, but these statutes alone will arguably not curb the increasing rates of anti-LGBT violence that continue to plague this country. And on this sad anniversary, Myriam Mercado’s own words perhaps provide this Bushwick resident with the most comfort: El amor vence el odio. Love conquers hate.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Cuban blogosphere emerges

Even though the bulk of my recent work has focused on the push to secure marriage for same-sex couples, hate crimes and other LGBT-specific issues, international affairs, multiculturalism, socio-economics and other topics are among those in which I remain acutely interested.

On this thread, I was quite frankly shocked to receive an instant message from a blogger in Havana a few weeks ago after I e-mailed him about his blog Fotos desde Cuba. I have never experienced the struggles many Cubans face every day on the island, but Pedro's pictures certainly provide a glimpse into a country and a society of which a majority of Americans remain unaware.

Signs of the Cuban Revolution in Havana.

A protest in Vedado on Nov. 20.

An advertisement for a transgender festival in Havana late last month.

Two men sit along Havana's oceanfront.

Yoani Sánchez is perhaps Cuba's most recognized blogger. President Barack Obama answered seven questions she sent to him and Cuban President Raúl Castro last month. Castro has yet to respond to Sánchez's questions, but she blogged on Generación Y three Cuban security agents in street clothes detained and beat her last month as she was on her way to attend a march.

Sánchez's blog links to other bloggers around the country.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Hundreds rally in Union Square against state Senate marriage vote

Governor David Paterson, state Sen. Tom Duane [D-Chelsea] and New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn were among the hundreds who gathered in Union Square earlier tonight to protest the state Senate's vote yesterday against a bill that would have allowed gays and lesbians to marry.

"I'm angry at the betrayal of people who are supposed to be standing up for our civil rights," Duane proclaimed as the crowd cheered. "The Democrats failed us in the Senate."

Six of the eight Democrats who opposed the bill--state Sens. Joseph Addabbo, Jr., Ruben Diaz, Sr., Shirley Huntley, Carl Kruger, Hiram Monserrate and George Onorato--are from the five boroughs. Diaz is the only lawmaker who spoke against the marriage bill on the Senate floor yesterday. And Duane told Boy in Bushwick the 37 others who opposed the proposed legislation have yet to provide him with a reason they decided to vote against it.

"They have no good reason," he added. "There is no excuse for saying no."

Governor David Paterson speaks to the crowd.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

New Yorkers gather in Times Square to protest marriage vote

Multiple deadlines prevented me from going to Times Square earlier tonight, but hundreds gathered in Duffy Square to protest the New York State Senate's 24-36 vote against a bill that would have allowed gays and lesbians to marry.

Andres Duque graciously allowed Boy in Bushwick to post some pictures he took during the protest. Fellow blogger Joe Jervis was among those who were also there.

Another protest is scheduled to take place in Union Square tomorrow afternoon.

New York State Senate rejects marriage bill

The New York State Senate voted 24-38 today against a bill that would have allowed gays and lesbians to marry in the Empire State.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

No New York marriage vote tonight

The New York State Senate has adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow.

New York State Senate could vote late tonight on marriage bill

Activists have begun to travel to Albany ahead of a possible vote later tonight on a bill that would allow gays and lesbians to marry in New York State.

An Albany source confirmed the possibility to Boy in Bushwick earlier this afternoon. The source said lawmakers could potentially vote on the proposed legislation after they address the state's deficit reduction plan and farmers' bill. Elizabeth Benjamin of the Daily News further reported state Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr. [D-Bronx,] who vigorously opposes any move to allow marriage for same-sex couples, had retired to his office to pray.

A spokesperson for state Sen. Tom Duane [D-Chelsea] declined comment on the reports, but it remains unclear as to whether the bill has enough support in the state Senate to pass. It appears clear, however, bill proponents will need bi-partisan support if they have any hope of passage.

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn expressed her optimism about bi-partisan support during an interview with WNBC before she left for Albany.

"The right thing to do is to have a vote," Quinn said. "This is an issue where the state has the power to do this. This is an emotional personal issue and an issue where you have to say your position; say it in public."

The session is slated to begin at 9 p.m.

New York State marriage vote eminent?

We have all been down this road before, but the blogosphere is abuzz this morning with news the New York State Senate may vote later today on a bill that would allow gays and lesbians to marry.

A spokesperson for state Sen. Dale Volker [R-Depew] discussed the possibility of a vote with a Buffalo television station earlier this morning. An activist expressed similar optimism to Boy in Bushwick earlier today. And the National Organization for Marriage continues to urge its supporters to contact Albany lawmakers and urge them to oppose the proposed legislation.

Governor David Paterson and Albany lawmakers continue to grapple with the state's massive budget deficit, and so it's reasonable to conclude a marriage vote will not happen until they reach an agreement. That said, Albany has proven time and time again it is simply foolish to believe any speculation until something actually happens.

Stay tuned...

Boy in Bushwick commemorates World AIDS Day

Monday, November 30, 2009

Puerto Rican activist maintains murdered teenager identified as gay

As Jorge Steven López Mercado's family continues to mourn the teenager's death, activist Pedro Julio Serrano continues to insist the 19-year-old identified himself as a gay man.

"He was very comfortable in his own skin, he loved to cross gender boundaries and he was accepted as such by his friends, his partner and his own parents," Serrano, who remains in Puerto Rico and continues to counsel López's family, wrote on a blog he posted on Nov. 27. "His mom, Myriam Mercado, knowing that his son used hair extensions as part of his look, even told the press in Puerto Rico, "Behind that wig and those boots, there was a human being, a very much loved son, a brother and a friend."

Serrano further alluded to activists, bloggers and others who suggested Juan A. Martínez Matos murdered López and subsequently decapitated, dismembered and partially burned his body near Cayey earlier this month in an act of anti-transgender violence.

"I understand the politics behind identifying a hate crime victim as trans when part of his or her expression does not conform to his or her sex, but sometimes we must bend the rules to accommodate the cultural and societal differences," he wrote. "I would like to ask for respect of our cultural and societal differences from our friends in the U.S. In our Puerto Rican culture, people who are gender nonconforming, gender variant or gender queer are not considered trans. We only consider as transgender or transsexual, people who identify as such. And we respect that."

Puerto Rican law enforcement officials announced last week they would investigate López's murder as a hate crime, but Serrano once again stressed acceptance and unity among LGBTs during an impromptu late night speech at Krash in Santurce over the weekend in which he criticizes the crowd for anti-trans comments some made in the wake of López's gruesome death.

"Let's respect everyone, let's open spaces for everyone and let's achieve a Puerto Rico for all," he said.

Massachusetts Episcopal bishop allows priests to officiate same-sex weddings

More than five years after gays and lesbians began to legally marry in the Bay State, the bishop who oversees Episcopalian priests in Eastern Massachusetts officially granted them permission to officiate nuptials for same-sex couples.

Bishop M. Thomas Shaw III's decision comes a month after local clergy and parishioners endorsed a resolution that expressed hope he would allow priests within the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts to officiate these weddings. He further discussed his decision in an interview with the Boston Globe.

"The time has come," Shaw said. "It’s time for us to offer to gay and lesbian people the same sacrament of fidelity that we offer to the heterosexual world."

Shaw's decision comes more than six years after New Hampshire Episcopalians consecrated openly gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson. And it is sure to further stoke the internal debate within both the American Episcopal Church and the broader Anglican Communion over the role gays and lesbians will continue to play and whether priests should allow same-sex couples to marry.

The Rev. Anne C. Fowler of Jamaica Plain was among those who applauded Shaw's decision to the Globe.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thousands march against hate crimes in Puerto Rico

More than a thousand people marched through the streets of San Juan last night to pay tribute to Jorge Steven López Mercado and to demand an end to hate crimes.

"Today a new Puerto Rico that is not goint to tolerate any anti-gay hate crimes is born," Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force said as Nuevo Dia reported. "The voices of intolerance are realizing their hateful discourse does not resonate with the public."

López's family, friends and religious leaders were among those who took part.

Photos courtesy of Pedro Julio Serrano.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Puerto Rican authorities agree to investigate Jorge Steven López Mercado's murder as a hate crime

Puerto Rican authorities have agreed to investigate Jorge Steven López Mercado's murder as a hate crime after they met with local representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Nuevo Dia reported William Ramírez, executive director of the ACLU and of the University of Puerto Rico's Legal Clinic, pointed out to Puerto Rico Department of Justice Secretary Antonio Sagardía the Commonwealth has a history of "not investigating hate crimes cases" like the one he said to which Juan A. Martínez Matos reportedly has confessed.

"The ACLU has tried to get the government to accept its responsibility to investigate cases... that are hate crimes, particularly that of young Jorge Steven López Mercado," Ramírez said in a statement. "We should not be satisfied with the possibility the federal government will do what our government is not interested in doing; which is to protect every citizen."

Activists on Puerto Rico and around the country have repeatedly called upon local authorities to charge Matos under Puerto Rico's hate crimes law, which includes sexual orientation. They have also blasted investigator Ángel Rodríguez Colón's assertion López somehow contributed to his own death. The Federal Bureau of Investigation in San Juan has not ruled out the possibility of additional federal charges in the case.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Jorge Steven López Mercado's family and friends lay him to rest

Jorge Steven López Mercado's friends and family laid him to rest earlier today in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico.

"The support we have received from the public and Steven's friends has given us the strength to bear this moment of such horrible pain," Lopez's aunt Rubi Mercado told el Nuevo Dia between tears (as translated from Spanish into English.) "I asked Steven with his wings from heaven to help us carry on without having him by our side."

El Nuevo Dia further reported López's aunt and his ex-boyfriend, Luis Rivera, opened the urn that contained the murdered teen's ashes and placed a necklace and a white rose inside it at the end of the funeral Mass. The newspaper further reported López's parents hugged their son's friends and cried.

"We definitely hope people and society wake up and demand justice," López's friend José Alicea told el Nuevo Dia (as translated from Spanish into English.)

López's friends carried balloons and white roses as they walked to the cemetery. Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" played during the procession.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hundreds attend New York vigil for Jorge Steven Lopez and Jason Mattison, Jr.

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, City Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito, City Councilmember-elect Danny Dromm, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation president Jarrett T. Barrios and fashion designer Malan Breton were among the hundreds who attended a vigil on the Christopher Street Pier earlier tonight in honor of Jorge Steven López and Jason Mattison, Jr., on the Christopher Street Pier earlier tonight.

This gathering was one of 20 that took place across the country.