Wednesday, April 29, 2009

New Hampshire Senate passes marriage bill

The New Hampshire state Senate narrowly passed a bill this afternoon that would extend marriage to gay and lesbian Granite Staters.

Lawmakers approved House Bill 436 by a 13-11 margin. The state Senate killed a bill that would have added gender identity and expression to New Hampshire's anti-discrimination statutes, but HB 436 returns to the House because the state Senate passed an amended version.

Popular incumbent Gov. John Lynch has stated he supports marriage between a man and a woman. He has failed, however, to indicate whether he plans to veto HB 436 into law. A number of sources have told Boy in Bushwick in recent weeks they suspect Lynch will allow the bill to become law without his signature, but the ball is certainly in his court.

New Hampshire Senate to vote on marriage bill

Less than a week after same-sex couples began to marry in Iowa, lawmakers in New Hampshire are expected to vote on a bill that would allow nuptials for gays and lesbians in the Granite State.

The state Senate Judiciary Committee recommended in a 3-2 vote last Thursday the full Senate defeat the bill. State Sen. Lou D'Allesandro [D-Manchester] is among the Democrats who remain opposed to House Bill 436, and all 12 Republican Senators are expected to vote against the bill.

A University of New Hampshire poll released earlier this week indicates 55 percent of registered voters surveyed support marriage for gays and lesbians. The poll further indicated 63 percent of Independent and 34 percent of Republican voters back nuptials for same-sex couples.

“New Hampshire has a live and let live attitude," Mo Baxley, executive director of the New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition said. "These strong numbers in support of marriage equality are not surprising.

Indeed; a legislative source told Boy in Bushwick last night he expects an extremely close vote today in Concord. Openly gay state Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley is among those who continue to lobby lawmakers to back HB 436. And another source told Boy in Bushwick she expects Gov. John Lynch, who has previously indicated he feels marriage should remain between a man and a woman, to allow the bill to become law without his signature if it comes to his desk.

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Specter leaves GOP

Senator Arlen Specter's announcement earlier today he plans to seek re-election as a Democrat is the latest evidence the Republican Party remains in the arguable political wilderness in Washington and in other areas across the country.

Specter, who was one of three Republicans who backed President Obama's economic stimulus package earlier this year, said in a statement he feels the GOP had moved too far to the right.

"I have been a Republican since 1966," he stated. "I have been working extremely hard for the Party, for its candidates and for the ideals of a Republican Party whose tent is big enough to welcome diverse points of view. While I have been comfortable being a Republican, my Party has not defined who I am. I have taken each issue one at a time and have exercised independent judgment to do what I thought was best for Pennsylvania and the nation."

Specter acknowledged his decision to back the stimulus package caused tension within his caucus. And GOP leaders were quick to respond to his defection.

“Senator Specter didn’t leave the G.O.P. based on principles of any kind," Republican Party Chair Michael Steele said as reported in the New York Times. "He left to further his personal political interests because he knew that he was going to lose a Republican primary due to his left-wing voting record. Republicans look forward to beating Senator Specter in 2010, assuming the Democrats don’t do it first.”

Specter's decision is almost certainly an extremely welcome development for Congressional Democrats and the White House itself. The GOP's reputation remains in tatters after last November's election. And Specter's defection will almost certainly contribute to their continued turmoil. Stay tuned!

Monday, April 27, 2009

RIP Bea Arthur

One of my earliest childhood memories is watching the "Golden Girls" on Saturday night with my grandmother in her Quincy, Mass., home. It was part of NBC's prime time line-up and Grandma and I would sit on the couch in her den each week. I found myself laughing at each one liner and Bea Arthur as Dorothy Zbornak, in particular, carried a presence that remains arguably unmatched.

I was deeply saddened to learn Arthur passed away Saturday at her Los Angeles home at age 86. A quick and non-scientific Facebook and Twitter survey found many of my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters felt the same emotions I did. Arthur made her mark in theatre and as Maude Findlay before she appeared in the "Golden Girls" alongside the late Estelle Getty, Betty White and Rue McClanahan.

The show broke ground with its frank discussions of sexuality, homosexuality, HIV/AIDS and other socially taboo subjects during the Reagan era. I watched the "Golden Girls" almost each morning as recently as last summer when I lived on Fire Island, and the show -- and Arthur and the rest of the cast -- still have an endearing place in my heart. Thank you for being a friend Dorothy! Rest in peace!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A personal validation: New Hampshire sheds its conservative reputation

I must say I was quite shocked to learn last Wednesday night students at Manchester Memorial High School, my alma mater, had chosen two lesbians as best couple for the yearbook. And Erica Morin and Shelby Wozmak suddenly provided the latest example of how my home state continues to shed its conservative reputation.

It is no secret I do not like the Queen City. Even as a teenager I wanted to leave my hometown and see what the rest of the world had to offer. That journey continues nearly five years after I moved to New York, but the current debate on marriage for same-sex couples, transgender rights and other progressive issues in Concord is frankly something I could not have even imagined a decade ago as I sat in class at MMHS.

My classmates routinely subjected their fellow gay students to sustained harassment, taunting and even violence in rare cases. I am ashamed to admit my silence simply enabled those who exhibited their homophobic tendencies to continue to do so. I came out in a small town in the Lakes Region after I completed my freshman year at the University of New Hampshire in 2001, but the legacy of those gay students who faced almost daily harassment in the halls of Memorial remains with me to this day.

One can argue I continue to make a difference through my reporting. I am able to share people's stories with my readers. I am also able to chronicle how a specific place, such as New Hampshire, continues to transform itself into an arguably better state in which its residents can live. And Erica and Shelby's story has proven to this cynical reporter his alma mater has begun to do the right thing and accept those who are different.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

New York Assembly passes transgender rights bill

The New York State Assembly passed a bill earlier today that would ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression.

First introduced in 2003, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act would prohibit discrimination against transgender New Yorkers in public accommodations, employment, housing and other areas. GENDA passed the Assembly last June by a vote of 108 to 34, but Empire State Pride Agenda executive director Alan Van Capelle was quick to praise today's vote.

"Transgender New Yorkers shouldn’t have to live in fear that they will lose their job, get kicked out of their apartment or be denied service in a restaurant just because of who they are," he said. "The Assembly continues to demonstrate its recognition of these important protections and its place as a leader on civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender New Yorkers and their families."

New York is among the growing number of states in which lawmakers continue to debate trans-specific legislation. The New Hampshire House of Representatives narrowly passed a bill earlier this month that would add gender identity and expression to the state's non-discrimination statutes. And Massachusetts and Rhode Island legislators have also debated similar bills in recent weeks.

GENDA now goes before the Democrat-controlled state Senate. Governor David Paterson has said he would sign the bill into law.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Back in the 11237

I have finally returned to the 11237 (my neighborhood for those who don't know Brooklyn zip codes) after nearly a week in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and a lot has happened both here in New York and around the country.

Perhaps most importantly, Gov. David Paterson announced last Thursday he plans to introduce legislation to extend marriage to same-sex couples. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn were among those who joined the governor at the announcement. It remains unclear as to whether the bill has enough votes--especially in the state Senate--to pass, but state Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr., (D-Bronx) and even former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani are among those who have spoken out against it...

In other news, lawmakers in New Hampshire heard testimony on Wednesday from proponents and opponents of a bill to extend marriage to gays and lesbians in the state. This proposed legislation, which comes on the heels of the passage of a bill that would add gender identity and expression to the state's anti-discrimination laws, is the latest indication my home state continues to grow more and more progressive. This is arguably something of which every Granite Stater can be proud...

A disturbing story to emerge from Boston and Rhode Island late last week is the so-called Craigslist killer who killed a woman in a Back Bay hotel and attempted to rob two others. The details of this story are almost certainly tailor made for the Post and other tabloids, but this killer has certainly succeeded in generating perhaps unwanted attention for those who advertise their services on the popular site and the people who utilize them...

This week promises more of the same, so stay tuned!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Paterson introduces marriage bill

Less than two weeks after Vermont lawmakers secured marriage for same-sex couples, New York Gov. David Paterson has introduced legislation that would allow gay and lesbian New Yorkers to marry.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined Paterson, lawmakers and activists at today's announcement.

"Marriage equality is about basic civil rights and personal freedom," Paterson said. "Too many individuals face legal discrimination every single day. Too many loving families do not receive the legal recognition they deserve. Anyone who has ever faced intolerance of any kind knows the solemn importance of protecting the rights of all people. That is why we stand together today to embrace civil rights for every New Yorker. We stand together today for marriage equality in the State of New York."

Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer introduced an identical bill in 2007. The state Assembly passed it while then-Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno [R-Saratoga Springs] blocked it in the state Senate.

Paterson issued an executive order last May that mandated state agencies to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples who were legally performed in other jurisdictions. Activists in New York were quick to applaud the governor after today's announcement.

"We very much appreciate Governor Paterson introducing a marriage equality program bill into the legislature and continuing the momentum that has been growing on this important issue over the past several weeks," Empire State Pride Agenda executive director Alan Van Capelle said in a statement. "For a long time the governor has been a vocal advocate for passing legislation that would provide same-sex couples and our families the 1,324 rights and responsibilities that come with a New York State marriage license.

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese agreed.

"The introduction of marriage equality legislation is a strong statement by Governor Paterson and we applaud him for standing today in support of all loving and committed couples throughout New York," he said.

It remains unclear whether the bill has enough votes in the legislature, but some observers have noted Paterson's decision to introduce it is a political gamble. Others, such as state Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr., have vowed to fight it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My day in New Hampshire

It was a good old gay time today at the University of New Hampshire in Durham as students, faculty, staff and even some alumni ate pancakes and received a healthy dose of inspiration and activism.

UNH's annual Pancake Breakfast pays tribute to a group of gay students who placed a $2,000 bid in a 1974 auction to have breakfast with then-Gov. Meldrim Thomson, Jr. Thomson once threatened to block UNH's funding after members of the Gay Students Organization held a dance and performed a play on the Durham campus, but he would almost certainly not recognize the Granite State and its increasingly progressive reputation today.

Hundreds of people gathered in Concord today to attend the state Senate Judiciary Committee's hearings on a bill that would extend marriage to same-sex couples. Openly gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson was among those who testified in support of the proposed legislation.

The House of Representatives narrowly passed a bill late last month that would add gender identity and expression to the state's non-discrimination statutes. And lawmakers have begun to debate the possible repeal of the death penalty. Times have certainly changed in my native New Hampshire!

On a much different note, the weather has been simply gorgeous since I arrived yesterday afternoon. And I spent a couple of hours along the Seacoast this afternoon. I drove from Portsmouth to Hampton Beach along the oceanfront Route 1A. The drive is roughly 20 miles and passes along rocky coves, tide pools and sandy beaches with sweeping vistas of the Isles of Shoals and even parts of Cape Ann in Massachusetts. Here are a handful of pictures...

A cemetery in New Castle

Along Route 1A near Odiorne Point in Rye

Wallis Sands in Rye

Wallis Sands jetty

Hampton Beach

Monday, April 13, 2009

Marriage debate continues in New Hampshire

As I pack for my trip to New Hampshire tomorrow, lawmakers in Concord continue to debate a bill that would extend marriage to same-sex couples.

The state Senate is scheduled to hear testimony from House Bill 436 supporters and opponents on Wednesday. A group of HB 436 supporters from the University of New Hampshire-Durham are among those expected to attend the hearing.

Governor John Lynch signed the state's civil union bill into law in 2007. It remains unclear as to whether he would sign HB 436 if it came across his desk, but New Hampshire would become the fourth state in the country to allow same-sex couples to marry.

Activists in the Granite State and across the country will certainly keep a close eye on Concord on Wednesday. Vermont lawmakers last week successfully overrode Gov. Jim Douglas' veto of a bill that allows same-sex couples to marry. And gays and lesbians can begin to get married in Iowa later this month.

New Hampshire is certainly the latest in a growing number of battleground states in the push to secure marriage for same-sex couples. And as a native Granite Stater, I find it nothing short of remarkable Concord lawmakers even debated--and let alone passed--HB 436. Progress continues to take the state in a new and arguably very exciting direction...

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Good Friday reflection

As Christians and Jews around the world continue to commemorate Holy Week and Passover, the events of the last few months certainly provide a lot of opportunity for reflection. The Italian earthquake, the string of mass murders across the United States, the ongoing global economic crisis and the Israeli offensive against Hamas in Gaza in January are among the innumerable things that have shaped our world since the new year.

This time of year symbolizes rebirth and renewal. The winter-weary have (hopefully) begun to pack their jackets and scarves away. Daffodils and tulips have begun to bloom. And images of packed beaches and pools are only a few weeks away... yes spring and especially the next couple of weeks represent an annual renaissance, but let's remember the last few months have proven more than ever that everyone has a responsibility to show compassion and love towards their fellow man or woman. This value is not a Christian or Jewish value, but rather a human value that remains woefully lacking in the world in which we all live.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

White House announces new HIV/AIDS initiative

As HIV/AIDS service providers continue to struggle to curb the epidemic among people of color and other disproportionately affected groups, the White House's announcement of a new initiative that seeks to raise awareness of the disease is almost certainly a welcome development.

Officials with the Obama administration joined representatives from the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Health and Human Services and leading civil rights and civic organizations at a press conference on Tuesday in Washington to announce the Act Against AIDS campaign. EDGE has details of the initiative, but it is a safe bet the vast majority of HIV/AIDS service providers welcome it after eight years of arguable inaction to tackle the domestic epidemic.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Vermont lawmakers extend marriage to same-sex couples

The Vermont legislature voted earlier this morning to extend marriage to same-sex couples.

The state Senate voted 23-5 and the House voted 100-49 in support of the bill. Governor Jim Douglas had vetoed the legislation, but lawmakers were able to override it.

“The struggle for equal rights is never easy," Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin said. “Today we have overridden the Governor's veto. I have never felt more proud of Vermont as we become the first state in the country to enact marriage equality not as the result of a court order, but because it is the right thing to do.”

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese was quick to praise the vote.

“This historic vote in the Vermont legislature reminds us of the incredible progress being made toward equality," he said in a statement. "Less than five years ago, lesbian and gay couples began marrying in Massachusetts. Now, with the Iowa court decision last Friday and today’s vote in Vermont, there will be four states recognizing the right to marry for loving, committed lesbian and gay couples.”

Monday, April 6, 2009

Boy in Bushwick goes on the BBC's World Have Your Say

As video of the teenager who was flogged by the Taliban in Northwest Pakistan continues to circulate around the world, the British Broadcasting Corporation's daily program "World Have Your Say" focused on whether organized religion remains an obstacle to gender equality.

I was among the commentators and guests who appeared on today's program. And I argued organized religion provides a convenient excuse for those who oppress women, gays and lesbians and other groups to continue to discriminate against them. Here is the clip.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Cherry Grove and the Fire Island Pines

The unofficial start of summer remains roughly two months away, but a few intrepid Fire Islanders have already begun to find their way back to the beach after a long and cold winter. I spent most of the day in Cherry Grove and the Fire Island Pines. The dreaded spring sea breeze did not kick in until late in the afternoon, Island Breeze in the Grove was open for burgers and cocktails, the replenished beach is broad and I even have a bit more color on my face courtesy of the strong April sun. A great day indeed!

Leaving Sayville

Approaching Cherry Grove

Fire Island Pines

Fire Island Pines

Reeds near Fire Island Boulevard and Seaview Walk (Pines)

Approaching Heaven n' Earth in Cherry Grove

Bayview Walk (Grove)

Some locals at Island Breeze (Grove)

The Belvidere

Snow fencing in the Grove

Honey at Island Breeze

The ocean from the end of Greene Walk in the Grove

Saturday, April 4, 2009

An afternoon stroll down Knickerbocker Avenue

One of the many goals of this blog is to provide its readers with a sense of daily live in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. And on that thread, here is a video I took earlier today as I walked down Knickerbocker Avenue.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Iowa extends marriage to same-sex couples

In an unanimous decision, the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the right for gays and lesbians to marry in the Hawkeye State.

The judges upheld a lower court's decision that would have allowed six same-sex couples to marry. Polk County District Judge Robert Hanson ruled in favor of the couples last year, but he suspended his decision until the state Supreme Court issued its decision.

Des Moines resident Sandi Patton-Imani praised the decision in a statement released through the Family Equality Council.

“Our family is celebrating with great joy at finally being granted full civil rights by the state we live in," she said.

This ruling, which takes effect on April 21, will almost certainly be a watershed moment for activists within the movement for LGBT rights continue to push for marriage for same-sex couples in other states. The Vermont House of Representatives passed a marriage bill last night. And lawmakers in New Hampshire and other states continue to debate the issue.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Make the Road New York to host hate crime forum in Bushwick

This forum comes nearly four months after two men allegedly beat Ecuadorian immigrant José Sucuzhañay to death on a Bushwick street corner. The New York Police Department arrested and charged Keith Phoenix and Hakim Scott in February in connection with Sucuzhañay's death. Both men remain in custody.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Gay activists seek rights in the Middle East

This week has been full of Web site updating, deadlines and pitches, but one of the things I have covered over the last few days is the push to secure rights for LGBT people in the Middle East.

The International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission honored Helem, an LGBT rights organization based in the Middle East, at a ceremony at New York University on Monday. And Helem member Georges Azzi, who accepted the award on behalf of his organization, was among those who were on a panel to discuss LGBT rights in the Arab Middle East at the LGBT Community Center in lower Manhattan.

I just posted a story onto EDGE, but the thing to take away from the Middle East is it contains within it a variety of cultures, religiosity and societies. And levels of tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality are simply a manifestation of this complex tapestry that comprises the region. The situation on the ground is almost certainly much different than the nightly news may indicate. And Helem and Azzi and other activists who work within the region are truly making a difference in the lives of their LGBT brothers and sisters.