Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bronx man arrested in beating death of Ecuadorian immigrant

New York police officials announced earlier tonight they had arrested one of the two men who allegedly beat an Ecuadorian immigrant to death on a Bushwick street in December.

Officers arrested Hakim Scott, 25, at his home in the Bronx on Tuesday. Scott and his accomplice, who police identified as Keith Phoenix, 28, of the Bronx, allegedly beat José Sucuzhañay with a baseball bat and a bottle as he and his brother Romel walked home arm in arm from a nearby party on Dec. 7. Scott and Phoenix reportedly used anti-Latino and anti-gay slurs in the course of the attack.

Sucuzhañay died at a Queens hospital five days after the attack, and Scott faces a charge of second-degree murder as a hate crime at his arraignment tomorrow.

Sucuzhañay's death, which came roughly a month after a group of Long Island teenagers allegedly beat Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero to death on a Patchogue street, sparked widespread anger across New York. New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn [D-Chelsea] joined City Councilmember Diana Reyna [D-Bushwick], Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez and hundreds of others at a rally in Bushwick shortly after Sucuzhañay succamb to his injuries. She described Sucuzhañay as "an example of the American dream" in a statement released shortly after officials announced Scott's arrest.

"His dream was tragically cut short on a cold December night just steps away from his home when he was brutally attacked by people who were heard shouting hateful anti-gay and anti-immigrant slurs," Quinn said. "Tonight's news of an arrest in the case will never bring Jose back but may help bring some closure to his family."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg praised the New York Police Department at a press conference held with NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and Brooklyn district attorney Charles Hynes earlier tonight.

"Anybody who commits a hate crime, we will not rest until we find them," Bloomberg said.

Phoenix, who was reportedly out on parole, remains at-large.

Obama seeks to assure recession-weary nation

As the recession shows little signs of abatement, President Barack Obama sought to assure Americans the country will weather this economic storm in a speech he delivered last night to Congress.

Obama appeared poised--and dare I say Presidential--as he outlined his agenda for helping the country emerge from what arguably remains the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. He rallied against corporate excesses, touched upon the need for personal responsibility and exuded the sense of hope and optimism about the United States that facilitated his historic election last November. And Obama correctly outlined what many observers and pundits have already described as sacred cows that could be cut as part of the $2 trillion of what he described as unnecessary spending he hopes to cut from the federal budget in the next decade.

It obviously remains to be seen whether these promises will actually come to fruition, but a clear case can be made Obama 'gets it' in terms of the real pain this recession has caused and the real need to put partisan ideology aside in order to solve what remains the worst economic downturn in more than 70 years. The same cannot be said for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and his patronizing lecture against the economic stimulus.

The Republican wunderkind's rebuttal speech clearly doubled as a self-serving infomercial that confirmed his 2012 presidential aspirations. It was, however, an extremely unfortunate spectacle that arguably reaffirmed how out-of-touch the Republican Party remains in the eyes of the majority of American voters. Jindal's delivery was awkward, it's substance was arguably lacking and it did little to temper the enormous goodwill Obama continues to enjoy... and it almost certainly did not do the GOP any favors.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Murdoch apologizes for NY Post cartoon

Less than a week after the New York Post published a cartoon that appeared to compare President Barack Obama to a chimpanzee that severely mauled a Connecticut woman before police shot it to death, News Corporation chair Rupert Murdoch apologized in a statement printed in today's edition.

"Last week, we made a mistake," he said. "We ran a cartoon that offended many people. Today I want to personally apologize to any reader who felt offended, and even insulted."

The Post is certainly no stranger to controversy, and Sean Delonas' cartoon is only a latest in a series of caricatures that have sparked outrage among people of color, activists within the movement for LGBT rights and others.

Murdoch said he is "ultimately responsible for what is printed in its pages." He further concluded "the buck stops with him." This mea cupla is almost certainly a welcome development to those who continue to protest outside the tabloid's Midtown offices and call for a boycott and even a review into the Federal Communications Commission's policy regarding Murdoch's New York market share. The fact remains, however, a number of concerns remain at the table.

The Post's editors ultimately decided to publish Delonas' cartoon that used racially insensitive imagery and language to opine against Obama's stimulus package. They almost certainly made this extremely unfortunate and cynical decision in order to garner attention for the tabloid. And the Post's numerous detractors almost immediately responded with protests and a threatened boycott, but this latest incident provides activists and others with an opportunity to think outside the proverbial box to send a clear and decisive message these cartoons will no longer be tolerated.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Sean Penn wins best actor Oscar for "Milk"

As the economy continues to fall into a deeper recession and a steady stream of bad news continues to garner headlines around the world, last night's Academy Awards arguably provided some much needed relief from the doldrums in which many people currently find themselves. I watched the Oscars at a friend's apartment in Manhattan before I headed back to Brooklyn, and I must confess Sean Penn's courageous and all too necessary decision to publicly call out Proposition 8 supporters and "Milk" screenwriter Dustin Lance Black's acknowledgement of gay and lesbian young people and his own struggle to come to terms with his sexual orientation left a lasting impact.

Those within the movement for LGBT rights almost immediately praised the two men.

"GLAAD applauds those who have brought the important story of Milk to so many millions of people, and congratulates Dustin Lance Black and Sean Penn for their well-deserved Oscar wins," Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation President Neil G. Giuliano said in a statement. "They are to be commended for telling a story that has the power to inform future generations about the history of our community and our struggles for equality. Through Sean Penn's own connection with the character, he was able to give audiences the opportunity to learn more about Harvey Milk's lasting influence on our movement and our community."

Chuck Wolfe of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund agreed.

"We offer our deepest thanks and congratulations to Sean Penn and Dustin Lance Black," he said. "Their extraordinary work on the film 'Milk' is richly deserving of the Academy Awards bestowed on them this evening. Harvey Milk's legacy is about facing fear and finding courage, which is something LGBT candidates do when they decide to run for office. Sean and Dustin did the same thing when set out to make this extraordinary film, and we are very grateful for that."

Some LGBT activists have criticized "Milk" for the way they feel the film either glamorizes the late-San Francisco supervisor's rise to power or overlooks key details of his life. These positions are valid, but the fact remains "Milk" brought
the story of a gay pioneer whose life was cut tragically short to millions of people. He trail blazed the path upon which those within the movement for LGBT rights and their supporters continue to walk. And Sean Penn's brilliant portrayal of Harvey Milk and his anti-Prop 8 comments last night will almost certainly recruit more soldiers to advance the cause for equal rights and justice for LGBT Americans

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Professional developments

It's a cool and damp Sunday morning here in New York as I catch up on the week's political news (as if I don't follow it enough already) and frankly wake-up after a wonderful night out in the city and in Park Slope. This coming week promises to be busy, but I would like to take a few moments to share a few recent professional developments.

As many of you may know, I have been EDGE Publication's Mid-Atlantic editor since Oct. 2007, and the publisher has recently promoted me to national news editor. I will continue to manage news coverage for the New York, Philadelphia and the recently launched Washington portal, but I will also now assign national features and other stories from across the country. Please feel free to send me any pitches and additional information on things in which you think I may be interested.

In addition to my work with EDGE, I am also a contributing writer for the Guide in December. The Canadian publication focuses on travel, entertainment, politics and sexual freedom, and I look forward to continuing my work with them.

I continue to contribute to PressPassQ and to the Fire Island News. And I have also appeared on Brian Lehrer Live (CUNY 75), the British Broadcasting Corporation and WNYC in recent weeks to discuss marriage for same-sex couples, former President George W. Bush's legacy and other related stories.

The next few months promise to be extremely busy, but I look forward to receiving any additional story ideas, suggestions, feedback, etc.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

New York Post cartoon sparks controversy

New York Post cartoonist Sean Delonas' caricature that shows a police officer shooting a chimpanzee while his partner mocks President Barack Obama's economic stimulus bill has prompted the Rev. Al Sharpton to speak out against what he asserts is an overtly racist cartoon.

The cartoon, which appears in today's Post, appears to link Travis the chimp, who severely disfigured a Stamford, Connecticut, woman on Monday before police killed him, to Obama. The caption read "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill," but Sharpton described the cartoon to the Associated Press as "troubling at best."

Delonas is certainly no stranger to controversy. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has issued numerous calls to action over his cartoons that mock LGBT people. Former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey, actor George Takei and Thomas Beatie are among those Delonas has depicted, but his latest cartoon implies GLAAD's efforts have generated little (if any) tangible results.

Sharpton's comments to the Associated Press also beg the question as to whether expressions of outrage actually draw more attention to a cartoonist who arguably generates more publicity for himself and the publication that publishes his work. I struggled with this very question at GLAAD after the Post published two of Delonas' cartoons in Oct. 2006 that mocked McGreevey and disgraced Congressman Mark Foley [R-Fla.] and compared marriage for same-sex couples to bestiality. GLAAD was quick to issue two calls to action that urged its supporters to express their outrage, but nothing concrete came out of these efforts.

Delonas' latest cartoon is certainly disturbing and unfortunate. The fact remains, however, public expressions of outrage simply garners more publicity for a publication that arguably has little incentive to listen to its critics. A new and arguably more drastic game plan is in order to adequately address these problematic cartoons and the tabloid that continues to publish them.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Jamaican MP seeks to outlaw LGBT group

A Jamaican member of parliament's call to outlaw a Kingston-based LGBT organization proves yet again homophobia remains a global problem.

MP Ernest Smith, who represents St. Ann, told the Gleaner yesterday he feels the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays could inspire people to form pedophile, marijuana smokers and other so-called illegal organizations.

"They should be outlawed," Smith proclaimed to the newspaper. "How can you legitimise an organization that is formed for the purpose of committing criminal [offenses]?"

Smith further called for a life sentence for those committed of buggery [anal sex], but he sparked widespread outrage and even condemnation when he asserted gay men have "overrun" the Jamaican police force.

J-FLAG was quick to respond to Smith's proposal in an interview with the Gleaner. It cited a provision of the Jamaican Constitution it says allows it to operate.

"J-FLAG has been able to operate successfully under this provision in the legislation for the past 10 years," J-FLAG said. "J-FLAG agitates for legal and social change and we believe that there is always provision for any group to agitate for laws to be changed."

Any conversation over whether J-FLAG is a legitimate organization is simply ridiculous, but Smith's homophobic and arguably self-serving comments only confirm the country's notorious anti-LGBT reputation. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are among the organizations that have drawn attention to the rampant violence against LGBT Jamaicans. Bounty Killer, Buju Banton and other dance hall and reggae artists have also faced criticism from activists within the movement for LGBT rights over lyrics that appear to advocate the killing of gays and lesbians. And J-FLAG co-founder Brian Williamson's murder in 2004 and Lenford Harvey's death in 2005 sparked widespread outrage.

These numerous examples simply underscore the very real danger LGBT Jamaicans face in their homeland. It's arguably easy for a gay white man in Bushwick to opine against people in a country he has yet to visit, but the atrocities that continue to take place in Jamaica are simply unacceptable. And Smith's ridiculous call to outlaw J-FLAG is only the latest manifestation of an all too familiar reality under which LGBT Jamaicans continue to live.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Valentines Schmalentines

The post-Valentines Day rush to purchase chocolates, flowers and other romantic accoutrement's is over, and for the record I did none of the above. I did, however, take some time out this weekend to enjoy the relatively mild weather that graced the five boroughs... and I also finally rid myself of the cold and/or sinus infection from which I had suffered over the last few days with the help of copious amounts of green tea and some rest.

That said, life must go on and there is of course much to be done on this third week of February. The weather will hopefully become more moderate, the benefits of the economic stimulus package President Obama will sign tomorrow will hopefully trickle down to the millions of people who desperately need them and I will hopefully find a cute outfit to wear to the club tomorrow night. Today's blog is admittedly more random than usual, but below is a clip of Cathy Marino-Thomas of Marriage Equality New York and I discussing nuptials for same-sex couples on Brian Lehrer Live last Wednesday night.

Legislating Love and Marriage Equality from Brian Lehrer Live on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Abraham Lincoln and the freedom to marry

As the country commemorates the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth, advocates of nuptials for same-sex couples have gathered in New York and around the country to protest the lack of marriage for gays and lesbians in the vast majority of states.

The New York City marriage bureau turned away hundreds of same-sex couples this morning who had wanted to apply for marriage licenses. This protest is one of dozens scheduled to take place around the country as part of the 12th annual Freedom to Marry Week. And it also coincides with Freedom to Marry executive director Evan Wolfson's op-ed in the Huffington Post that attempted to connect Lincoln's legacy to the movement to legalize marriage for same-sex couples.

An admittedly cynical argument can be made Freedom to Marry Week is little more than a self-serving campaign based around Valentine's Day, but the reality is almost certainly different. The post-Proposition 8 reality in which the movement for LGBT rights currently finds itself arguably demands heightened visibility around the denial of basic recognition and rights to same-sex couples. Gays and lesbians can legally marry in Connecticut and Massachusetts, but they cannot in 48 other states as today's protests point out... and perhaps Abraham Lincoln's commitment to equality provides a road map upon which this country can eventually recognize committed and loving same-sex couples.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Suffolk County police arrest four in connection with vandalism at LGBT center

The Suffolk County Police Department announced early morning its detectives arrested four people who allegedly vandalized the Long Island Gay & Lesbian Youth Center in Bay Shore late last month.

Detectives with the Suffolk County Police Hate Crimes Unit arrested Milagro Ruiz, 21, of Bay Shore, Gilbert R. Geigel, 20, of Bay Shore, Kerrond Miller-Jones, 19, of Bay Shore and Charles Diaz, 21, of Bay Shore, on Feb. 9. The four were charged with second degree criminal mischief. The department said in its press release the suspects do not face hate crime charges at this time.

The arrests come less than 10 days after Ruiz, Geigel, Miller-Jones and Diaz allegedly caused more than $5,000 in damages to LIGALY's offices and a van parked in an adjacent parking lot. Suffolk County executive Steve Levy, Gov. David Paterson, Congressman Steve Israel and openly lesbian New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn were among the local elected officials who condemned the vandalism.

LIGALY chief executive officer David Kilmnick expressed relief at the arrests, but pointed out two of the four suspects arrested were once clients of his organization. He added he feels the vandalism was meant to send a message of fear to LGBT people in Suffolk County.

"The Center stands as the most public declaration of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender pride on Long Island," Kilmnick said in a statement. As the most visible symbol of GLBT presence and pride, the vandalism was indeed interpreted and felt as an attack on these already vulnerable communities."

Monday, February 9, 2009

Smith discusses New York marriage timeline at HRC dinner

An early taste of spring this weekend helped to temper the often bitter cold that has blanketed the five boroughs in recent weeks, but Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith's comments at the Human Rights Campaign's annual New York dinner on Saturday reminded activists, observers and pundits alike the issue of marriage for same-sex couples remains all too present in the state.

Smith, who assumed the helm of the state Senate last month after a handful of dissident Democrats had threatened to derail his election, said there are not enough votes in his conference to pass legislation that would extend marriage to same-sex couples. The Democrat-controlled state Assembly passed a bill former Gov. Eliot Spitzer introduced in 2007. Governor David Paterson and Smith himself have repeatedly reaffirmed their support of nuptials for same-sex couples, but the Senate Majority Leader's comments are a clear indication barriers remain in the push to extend marriage to gay and lesbian New Yorkers.

Smith's comments are similar to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's announcement at the HRC's 2005 New York benefit at the Waldorf Astoria his administration had decided to appeal Justice Doris Ling-Cohan's ruling in the Hernandez v. Robles case that concluded the state's ban on marriage for same-sex couples violated New York's Constitution. She issued her decision the day before, and the mayor's decision obviously upset many inside the banquet hall. The clear fact remains, however, the state is arguably much closer to the legalization of marriage for gay and lesbian New Yorkers than it has ever been before. Smith clearly needs to manage expectations as he leads his party through the economic crisis, the perennial budget battle and other pressing issues that face him and his colleagues in Albany and in their home districts, but his comments can be interpreted as a challenge to activists and their supporters to do what they need to do in order to ensure the bill has enough votes in the Senate.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

New York human rights commissioner to visit vandalized Long Island LGBT center

As the investigation into who vandalized the Long Island Gay & Lesbian Youth Center in Bay Shore continues, State Division of Human Rights Commissioner Galen D. Kirkland plans to visit LIGALY tomorrow.

Governor David Paterson announced Kirkland's visit less than three days after a vandal (or vandals) caused more than $5,000 in damage to LIGALY's offices and a van parked outside.

"In the diverse world in which we live, where we find ourselves increasingly
dependent on each other to advance the qualities of our own lives, we must learn to celebrate our differences and embrace our common condition," Paterson said. "We must understand that an attack on any of us is an attack on all of us. Hate is unacceptable.”

Openly lesbian New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and arguably most notably Suffolk County executive Steve Levy, who was widely criticized for his initial response to Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero's murder in Patchogue last November, have also spoken out against the vandalism.

"This type of attack against the gay community will not be tolerated in Suffolk County," Levy said in a statement. "Our police department will seek to apprehend any wrongdoer and help ensure that there is swift justice to deter any such activity in the future."

Detective Sgt. Robert Reecks, commanding officer of the Suffolk County Police Hate Crimes Unit, told me earlier this week his offices will continue to investigate the vandalism as a hate crime until proven otherwise. The bigger question remains, however, as to whether hate and bias-related crimes of all kinds remains a serious problem on Long Island. This incident, Lucero's murder and others in recent years appear to affirm this unfortunate reality.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Obama to impose executive salary cap in future bailouts

As the country (and the world) continues to reel from the deepening recession, an arguable glimmer of good news for an angry and cynical public is expected to come out of Washington today with President Barack Obama's expected announcement his administration will impose a $500,000 salary cap for executives at companies that receive future government bailouts.

The New York Times reported late last night the president and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geither will make their announcement later today at the White House. The paper further reported the administration would further prohibit these executives from receiving any bonuses outside of stock dividends. It is also worth noting the Times highlighted Citigroup chief executive Vikram Pandit made $3.1 million in 2007 while Bank of America chief executive Ken Lewis made more than $20 million and General Motors chief executive Rick Wagoner made more than $14 million. All of these companies have received billions from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, and this announcement will almost certainly resonate extremely well with the vast majority of Americans who remain outraged over executive bonuses and other corporate perks that have not ceased during the economic crisis.

The salary cap almost certainly reflects the populist ideals on which Obama campaigned. The economic crisis continues to exert an ugly toll. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, their life savings and in many cases their homes. The president pledged, among other things, to bring accountability back to Washington. And this announcement puts these executives on notice business as usual cannot continue.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Super Bowl XLIII at the Penthouse Executive Club

In what almost certainly amounts to a welcome detour from the continued economic meltdown, Rev. Ted Haggard's continued hypocrisy and personal travails and other bad news of late, I joined more than a dozen other people at the Penthouse Executive Club on Manhattan's far West Side to watch Super Bowl XLIII.

This venue on the corner of 45th Street and 11th Avenue is (an upscale) strip club in case anyone who has either never been to New York or is simply curious about why an openly gay man would spend an evening in the company of topless women who have a variety of natural or surgically enhanced cup sizes. My reporter PJ invited me and I suppose my curiosity in the heterosexual experience got the better of me. The free prime rib, excellent mashed potatoes, tortellini and crème brûlée added to what turned out to be quite a pleasant, and dare I conclude, relaxed evening.

The Pittsburgh Steelers eventually beat the Arizona Cardinals. The commercials were a mixed bag as always, and the drunken bridge and tunnel folks who sat behind us in the third quarter are three notable observations. All and all, though, the Penthouse Executive Club is a surprisingly pleasant and dare I say sophisticated place to watch football and beautiful women who serve $7 diet cokes and dance topless on stage during half time.