Saturday, October 31, 2009

Key West man stabbed to death

A Key West man died earlier this morning after he was stabbed near Caroline and Duval Streets earlier this morning.

A spokesperson for the Key West Police Department identified the man as Marques Butler, 23. Butler was stabbed around 4 a.m. today during what police described as a fight between a group of "Key West residents and a group of men from out of town."

An ambulance transported Butler to the Lower Keys Medical Center, but he succumb to his injuries a short time later.

This attack comes at the height of Fantasy Fest, a week-long series of parties and other events that culminates in tonight's parade down Duval Street.

Police are questioning a Fort Lauderdale man in connection with the stabbing, but a spokesperson said there are indications the altercation may have began after someone took photos of someone's girlfriend.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Obama lifts HIV travel ban

President Barack Obama announced late this morning his administration has lifted the ban on people with HIV/AIDS from entering the United States.

The president spoke at a White House ceremony to reauthorize the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi [D-Calif.,] Congresswoman Barbara Lee [D-Calif.] and White’s mother, Jeanne White-Ginder, were among those in attendance.

Obama described the ban, which came into effect 22 years ago, as “a decision rooted in fear rather than fact.”

“We lead the world when it comes to helping stem the AIDS pandemic—yet we are one of only a dozen countries that still bar people from HIV from entering our own country,” he said. “If we want to be the global leader in combating HIV/AIDS, we need to act like it.”

Congress passed a bill last year that authorized the White House to lift the ban. Former President George W. Bush endorsed the proposal as part of a broader plan to combat the global HIV/AIDS epidemic. And Obama said his administration is “finishing the job.”

“It is a step that will encourage people to get tested and get treatment, it's a step that will keep families together, and it's a step that will save lives,” the president said.

Ban opponents quickly applauded the announcement.

“At long last, people living with HIV will no longer be pointlessly barred from this country,” Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, said.
Senator John Kerry [D-Mass.] co-sponsored the bill that authorized the administration to lift the travel ban. He echoed the administration’s sentiments in a prepared statement.

“Today a discriminatory travel and immigration ban has gone the way of the dinosaur and we’re glad it’s finally extinct,” Kerry said. “We’ve now removed one more hurdle in our fight against AIDS, and it’s long overdue for people living with HIV who battle against stigma and bigotry day in and day out.”

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Jack Price leaves the hospital

Nearly three weeks after two men nearly beat Jack Price to death outside a bodega, the College Point resident left the hospital.

Price spoke with WABC reporter Josh Einiger before doctors discharged him from Booth Memorial Hospital. He remains in obvious pain, but Price remained defiant during the interview. And he also spoke out against alleged attackers Daniel Rodriguez, Jr., and Daniel Aleman.

Rodriguez and Aleman allegedly punched and kicked Price up to 30 times outside a College Point deli earlier this month. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, mayoral candidate Bill Thompson and hundreds of others marched through the working class neighborhood on Oct. 17 to denounce the attack.

The attack against Price is the latest in a series of anti-LGBT acts of violence that have rocked Queens this year. Local activists continue to organize events and other gatherings to address how to curb these attacks in the borough.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Boy in Bushwick lands in Key West

A very slow Internet connection prevented me from uploading this video I shot during our final descent into Key West on Friday afternoon, but here it is. I honestly prefer to drive onto the island, but one fails to realize how small Key West actually is until he or she actually sees it from the air.

Obama signs hate crimes bill

President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law at the White House earlier today.

This is the culmination of a struggle that has lasted more than a decade," Obama said. "Time and again, we faced opposition. Time and again, the measure was defeated or delayed. Time and again we've been reminded of the difficulty of building a nation in which we're all free to live and love as we see fit. But the cause endured and the struggle continued, waged by the family of Matthew Shepard, by the family of James Byrd, by folks who held vigils and led marches, by those who rallied and organized and refused to give up, by the late Senator Ted Kennedy who fought so hard for this legislation... and all who toiled for years to reach this day."

The president continued.

"At root, this isn't just about our laws; this is about who we are as a people. This is about whether we value one another... whether we embrace our differences, rather than allowing them to become a source of animus," Obama said. "The moment we fail to see in another our common humanity -- the very moment when we fail to recognize in a person the same fears and hopes, the same passions and imperfections, the same dreams that we all share."


Back to Brooklyn

All good things must come to an end (at least temporarily,) but I have begun the trip back to Brooklyn after five wonderful days in Key West.

I confess I have not slept since 8 a.m. yesterday, but strangely enough I don't feel overly tired. I spent yesterday afternoon at the Island House pool working on my Key West story for the Guide, meeting a contact for coffee and simply hanging out with others who came on the trip. I spent 15 minutes looking for the key to unlock my bike, but the copious amounts of grilled pork, rice and beans and Cuban bread at El Siboney quickly evaporated my exacerbation.

The annual Headdress Ball, which literally took place 20 feet from my room at the Southernmost Hotel, demonstrated the abundance of creativity, kitsch and downright raunchiness for which Conchs are known. I interviewed the Joe Schroeder, owner of Bourbon Street, the manager of the Island House and Fantasy Fest 2009 king Ralph Garcia, who tends bar at La Te Da on lower Duval Street. And I eventually found my way to both Bourbon Street and Saloon One. Let's just say my sarong was an immediate hit among party goers.

I will post additional pictures tomorrow, but here is a video of the last few minutes of the flight from Miami to Key West on Friday afternoon. The slow Internet connection prevented me from posting it earlier, but it really gives a sense of how small the Florida Keys really are. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Quinn endorses Thompson

With a week to go until New Yorkers cast their votes in the mayoral race, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced late yesterday she has endorsed Comptroller William Thompson, Jr.

Quinn was rumored to have been a potential candidate herself until the City Council's slush fund scandal broke last year. She has faced criticism over her decision to support a proposal to allow the mayor, City Council members and other local elected officials to seek a third term, but the question remains whether Quinn's endorsement of Thompson, who continues to trail Bloomberg in opinion polls, will actually make much of a difference next Tuesday.

The New York Times described Quinn's decision to back the comptroller as a "low-key endorsement" in its headline. One can further describe it as an example of curious political bedfellows because Thompson continues to base his campaign on his opposition to the extension of term-limits without a public referendum. Either way, one can once again question whether Quinn's decision to back Thompson actually matters.

African burial ground, lesbian cruise and Old Town vistas

A torrential downpour swept across Key West a few hours ago, but all in all my third full day on the island was largely tranquil.

I interviewed the openly gay Key West police chief yesterday morning before I visited the African burial ground along Higgs Beach, the lush gardens inside the West Martello Tower and the Key West Cemetery. I managed to get a bit of work done before I headed down towards Mallory Square and Duval Street to try to talk to some locals for a story on which I am working for the Guide, but the heat and humidity honestly proved too much and I decided to go to the Island House to go for a swim and have an espresso.

Our day wound down with happy hours at three guest houses in Old Town before an extended dinner at Azure on Grinnell Street. The downpour swept over Key West a few minutes before we were to leave, but we simply stayed to enjoy some luscious desserts and more coffee.

Below are some pictures from today.

The African burial ground on Higgs Beach.

The gardens inside the West Martello Tower near Higgs Beach and the White Street Pier.

A monument in the Key West Cemetery pays tribute to those who died aboard the U.S.S. Maine.

Above ground tombs in the Key West Cemetery.

Mallory Square and the Key West harbor front from the widow's walk of the Curry Mansion Inn on Caroline Street.

A windblown Boy in Bushwick poses on top of the Curry Mansion House.

The Olivia cruise ship that brought more than 1,500 lesbians to Key West sits anchored near the Westin hotel.

Parking fit for a queen... Edith Amsterdam of the Curry Mansion Inn that is!

Obama to sign hate crimes bill into law tomorrow

Less than a week after the U.S. Senate passed a bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to federal hate crimes laws, the White House has announced President Barack Obama will sign the legislation tomorrow afternoon.

I post this blog less than 24 hours after an admittedly emotional visit to the site of an African burial ground here in Key West. It contains the remains of 294 people who died from disease after the U.S. Navy rescued them and more than 1,000 others from three illegal Cuba-bound slave ships in 1860. The United States has certainly made monumental strides since islanders came to the aid of those the federal government freed from bondage in the Florida Straits. And Obama's signature will mark yet another important chapter in the ongoing quest to ensure all Americans receive essential legal protections.

A single piece of legislation will certainly not end hate and bias-motivated crimes, but the fact the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act will become law tomorrow cannot go understated.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

An afternoon on the water

One of the best ways to appreciate Key West and the surrounding environment is on the water. And roughly two dozen people rode the BluQ to a coral reef about 10 miles west of the island. Barracuda, moon jellyfish, flying fish, brain coral, sea fans, sponges and even a sea turtle were among the myriad of flora and fauna we saw on the four hour trip. Captain Steve and first mate Mo certainly provided an enjoyable afternoon for their passengers--and the sangria once again proved particularly refreshing in the mid-afternoon sun.

Mo instructs BluQ passengers how to properly snorkel and call for help.

Approaching Man Key.

Frank DeCaro and Josh Hellman.

Woman Key.

Woman Key.

Returning to Key West.

Cute boys, a sultry sunset... and yes, more cute boys

Don't ask why I am posting this blog at 3:30 a.m., but cute boys, a sultry sunset on a clothing-optional catamaran... and more cute boys were among the many things that made our first full day in Key West wonderful.

Bloggers Rod McCullum and Joe Jervis, Sirius' Frank DeCaro, fellow EDGE contributor Mike Diamond and Josh Koll and Josh Hellman of are among those who Steve Smith of the Key West Business Guild invited to this subtropical paradise for the next five days. Boy in Bushwick wore his sarong throughout the night--two drunken women on Duval Street called it a skirt!

Jim Cantore of the Weather Channel certainly had a great time at Fantasy Fest's Coronation Ball outside La Te Da on Friday night, but perhaps one too many drag queens scared him away (or inside some more obscure room somewhere on the island.)

That said, here are a few pictures from yesterday.

Dawn breaks over Key West.

One of three lunch mojitos Boy in Bushwick enjoyed at the Casa Marina Resort.

The oceanfront adjacent to the Casa Marina Resort.

Key West AIDS Memorial at the foot of the White Street Pier.

This cat naps through the midday heat at Ernest Hemingway's house.

Mo mans the deck of the BluQ.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Boy in Bushwick lands in Key West

After weeks of anticipation, this blogger has finally landed in Key West. I will upload a video of my landing at Key West International Airport at a later date, but attached are a handful of pictures taken during the flight from Miami to Key West.

Upper Key Largo

The Overseas Highway from the mainland to Key Largo

Big Pine Key

Thursday, October 22, 2009

U.S. Senate passes hate crimes bill

In a 68-29 vote, the U.S. Senate passed a bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to federal hate crimes legislation.

The Senate voted in July to attach the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act, named in honor of Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard and Texas resident James Byrd, Jr., to the Defense Authorization for the 2010 fiscal year. The House of Representatives passed the bill earlier this month. And the president has pledged to sign it once it comes to his desk.

Activists within the movement for LGBT rights were quick to applaud the vote as historic.

“We’re in the home stretch," Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese said. “We look forward to President Obama signing it into law; our nation’s first major piece of civil rights legislation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Too many in our community have been devastated by hate violence. We now can begin the important steps to erasing hate in our country.”

Judy Shepard, president of the Matthew Shepard Foundation's board, agreed.

"Dennis and I are extremely proud of the Senate for once again passing this historic measure of protection for victims of these brutal crimes,” she said. “Knowing that the president will sign it, unlike his predecessor, has made all the hard work this year to pass it worthwhile. Hate crimes continue to affect far too many Americans who are simply trying to live their lives honestly, and they need to know that their government will protect them from violence, and provide appropriate justice for victims and their families."

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Rights, echoed the Shepards, Solmonese and others.

"Transgender people have been waiting so many years for assistance from the federal government in addressing the rampant and disproportional violence that we face," she said. "Today we move one step closer to our goal of ending violence motivated by hatred."

The attack against College Point, Queens, resident Jack Price earlier this month and far too many others certainly prove legislation alone does not deter those who seek to commit violence based on anti-LGBT bias or hatred. The Senate's vote, however, sends a very powerful message to the country the federal government is willing to recognize LGBT Americans are entitled to basic dignity and protections. Today's vote is indeed historic, and I look forward to the president's signature.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Officials continue to investigate Bushwick hate crime

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn [D-Chelsea] joined Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, members of the New York Police Department's Hate Crimes Task Force and others distributed flyers to strap hangers at the Myrtle Avenue subway station earlier this morning in connection with the bias attack that has left Mario Vega hospitalized with serious brain injuries.

The NYPD continues to offer a $12,000 reward for information that could potentially lead to the arrest of the three men who attacked Vega late last month near his Bushwick home.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, left, and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, second from right, talk with strap hangers at the Myrtle Avenue subway station earlier this morning about the bias attack that has left Mexican immigrant Mario Vega hospitalized with serious brain injuries. (Photo courtesy of Shirley Limongi.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bushwick resident remains hospitalized after bias attack

As activists, politicians and local residents rallied behind College Point resident Jack Price and his family last week, news of yet another bias attack in Bushwick broke.

Three men beat Mexican immigrant Mario Vega last month as he returned to his Bushwick home with groceries he had picked up at a lower Manhattan pantry. WABC reported the men shouted anti-Mexican slurs at Vega before they struck him in the head and knocked him from his bicycle. Channel 7 added Vega remains hospitalized in a Manhattan hospital with serious brain injuries.

The attack took place within blocks of where Keith Phoenix and Hakim Scott allegedly beat Ecuadorian immigrant José Sucuzhañay to death last December. And it comes nearly a year after seven Long Island teenagers fatally stabbed Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue.

The New York Police Department continues to offer a reward for information that could potentially lead to the arrest of the three men who attacked Vega. Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn [D-Chelsea,] Councilmember Diana Reyna [D-Bushwick,] members of the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force and others will hand out flyers to strap hangers tomorrow morning at the Myrtle Avenue subway station on Broadway.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hundreds march in College Point against hate crime

An estimated 500 people marched through College Point, Queens, earlier today to denounce what police continue to describe as an anti-gay attack that nearly killed local resident Jack Price early on Oct. 9.

Price's sister-in-law, Joanne Guarneri and her daughter Amanda were among the hundreds of elected officials, activists and local residents who took part in the march down College Point Avenue. They also spoke at a rally in a nearby park.

"They [Aleman and Rodriguez] nearly beat my brother-in-law to death for $10 and a pack of cigarettes," Guarneri said. "We have to stop violence in College Point. We have to take back our streets."

Below are pictures and video from the march and rally.

Queens residents march through College Point to denounce anti-gay hate crimes.

Jack Price's sister-in-law, Joanne Guarneri, signs a banner before she marched down College Point Avenue.

Marchers paused for a moment of silence in front of the deli where Daniel Aleman and Daniel Rodriguez, Jr., allegedly attacked Jack Price early Oct. 9.

Joanne Guarneri marches with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and other local elected officials.

Hundreds attended a rally at a local park after they marched up College Point Avenue.

Some of Rodriguez's friends gathered across the street from the rally to defend him against allegations he and Aleman attacked Price because of his sexual orientation.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Reflecting upon a tumultuous week

October has traditionally provided an abundance of fundraisers, parties and other events that usually keeps this journalist particularly busy in the weeks leading up to Halloween. This month is certainly no exception, but the past few days have proven particularly tumultuous.

I spent last Sunday with a group of nearly 100 Queens activists who took part in the National Equality March. The weather was gorgeous; the energy was certainly palpable and the march arguably energized its participants to return home and lobby for LGBT rights. The sad reality, however, remains many of those with whom I rode the bus to Washington found themselves at a press conference in front of a Flushing hospital literally hours after they returned to Queens to denounce a particularly brutal anti-gay hate crime in College Point.

Daniel Aleman and Daniel Rodriguez, Jr., allegedly beat Jack Price outside a College Point deli around 3 a.m. on Oct. 9. Price suffered a broken jaw, a collapsed lung, a ruptured spleen and other injuries. Doctors placed him in a medically induced coma, but local media reports indicate has begun to recover from his injuries.

One of Rodriguez's friends told WABC reporter Josh Einiger earlier this week he felt Price deserved what he described as a "beat down" because he had "propositioned men in the neighborhood" and "even had blown his assailants a kiss."

"I mean I don't want no man blowing me a kiss either," Marcel Gelmi said. "I've been beat up like that too, but you don't see me on the news and my family crying and this and that. Wounds heal."

Those in Queens and from other areas of the city who plan to march along College Point Avenue tomorrow will almost certainly have something to say to Gelmi and others who feel those continue to justify the attack against Price, but here is my own challenge: Look me in the eye and tell me I deserve a beat down simply because I am gay.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Queens responds to Jack Price attack

Below is information from Michael Mallon of the Queens Pride Center about how Queens activists and residents continue to respond to the attack against Jack Price in College Point.

In response to the violent beating of openly gay 49-year old Jack Price by two men outside of a convenience store in the College Point neighborhood of Queens early Friday, Oct. 9, a diverse coalition of Queens residents, activists, and community organizations are hosting a a march and rally on Saturday, Oct. 17, in and with the community of College Point to protest homophobia and to celebrate diversity.

We are also hosting an educational campaign geared towards the youth of College Point on Friday, Oct. 15; we believe that violence against LGBT people is rooted in ignorance and fear, threatens the safety of all people, and must be addressed by all members of all communities.

Please join us for one of these two important events:

Education outreach at Flushing High School in Flushing, Queens on Friday, Oct. 16, at 3 p.m.

We'll be distributing information about LGBT issues and speaking to students. Directions: Take the 7 train to Main Street and walk up to Northern Boulevard; cross the street; the school is a huge brick building. Meet us at the front gate. By bus: Take the Q14, Q16, Q17 or Q44 to 35th Avenue. School is on the corner. Take the Q25/34, Q65, Q67 to Main Street. Walk along Main Street toward Northern Boulevard.


March and rally in College Point on Saturday, Oct. 17, step off at 2 p.m.

We'll be marching down College Point Boulevard from 20th Avenue until 14th Avenue.
and then holding a rally at nearby Popenhusen Playground. Speakers TBA.
Directions: Take the 7 train to Main Street and then the Q65 bus from Roosevelt Avenue and Main Street to 20th Avenue

Please bring signs without wooden sticks, banners, friends, and your best self.


These event are endorsed by Generation Q, the Queens Community House, the Queens Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee, the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights, St. Pat’s for All Parade, Astorians United Against Hate Crimes, Gay Peruvians of the Americas, the Long Island City Alliance, the Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens, Las Buenas Amigas, Out Astoria, Integrity NYC, Western Queens for Marriage Equality, the Anti Violence Project, the International Socialist Organization, Carmen’s Place, the New York Civil Liberties Union, Project Reach, Make the Road NY.

Lieutenant Daniel Choi endorses Bloomberg

Less than a week after he addressed the National Equality March, openly gay former Lt. Daniel Choi announced he has endorsed Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“Mayor Bloomberg knows that the LGBT community deserves full equality,” Choi said in a statement Bloomberg's campaign released earlier this afternoon. “At West Point and in the Army, I learned to ‘choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong.’ That's why I came out, and that's why I, as a proud New Yorker, am endorsing Mike Bloomberg, a leader who governs by this code and fights for what he knows is right.”

The Army discharged Choi, who graduated West Point and is a veteran of the Iraq war, earlier this year after he came out national television. He has become an increasingly high profile figure in the fight to repeal the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that prohibits openly gay and lesbian soldiers. And is scheduled to accept the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's National Leadership Award at its annual Miami dinner on Oct. 17.

Choi joins restaurateur Florent Morellet, actress Cherry Jones, tennis star Billie Jean King, Dennis de Leon of the Latino Commission on AIDS and others who have endorsed the mayor's campaign. And Choi's announcement comes less than 24 hours after Bloomberg debated City Comptroller William Thompson, Jr., at the Museo del Barrio in Manhattan.

One of the questions both candidates answered was whether they felt President Barack Obama has done enough to advance LGBT rights--the mayor said no while the comptroller argued yes based on the fact "he has been there nine months." Bloomberg's campaign further described Choi's endorsement as "very significant in the closing days of the mayoral election."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Bloomberg and Thompson debate at Museo del Barrio

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Comptroller William Thompson, Jr., squared off tonight at the Museo del Barrio in Manhattan in the first of two mayoral debates.

Bloomberg's decision to extend term limits dominated the hour-long debate. A heckler interrupted the mayor as he began his introduction. And Thompson blasted Bloomberg on term limits throughout the night.

"For seven years, Mike Bloomberg promised the voters of New York City he would not avoid them by changing term limits--it is as simple of that," he said in response to a series of questions WNYC host Brian Lehrer asked both candidates about term limits. "I think the voters of New York City are insulted."

The mayor highlighted the economy as he responded to Thompson.

"I understand their thoughts; I understand their views," Bloomberg said in reference to those who oppose his decision to seek a third term. "In the end, the choices are vote for him or vote for me."

The candidates further sparred on education, how to ensure the five boroughs recover from the recession, development, the New York Police Department's stop and frisk policy and a host of other issues, but Bloomberg did not deviate from his campaign's messages during the majority of the debate. Thompson, on the other hand, appeared rather defensive at times as Lehrer, moderator Dominic Carter of NY1, Adam Lisberg of the Daily News, Juan Manuel Benitez of NY1 Noticias and Michael Scotto of NY1 questioned him.

A Quinnipiac University poll conducted late last month found 52 percent of city voters surveyed indicated they back Bloomberg versus 36 percent who said they support Thompson. Those gathered inside the theater have almost certainly made up their minds as to the candidate for whom they plan to vote on Nov. 3. The real question remains, however, whether New Yorkers (and especially those voters who remain undecided) will even care about term limits when they go to the polls.

Thompson will almost certainly continue to point out Bloomberg's decision to seek a third term. The city's Democratic establishment continues to line up behind the comptroller, but Thompson needs something more than his opposition to term limits to convince undecided New Yorkers to vote for him. And tonight's debate simply reinforced the idea the comptroller's campaign remains built upon his opposition to a single issue.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Queens man in critical condition after anti-gay attack

A Queens man remains in serious but stable condition after two men brutally beat him early Friday morning as he walked to a College Point corner store.

The Daily News identified the man as Jack Price, 49. The New York Police Department said a man they have identified as Daniel Aleman, 26, and another accomplice brutally beat Price after he bought cigarettes at a store on College Point Boulevard. Aleman remains in custody, but the NYPD continues to search for the second suspect.

Price remains in critical condition at Booth Memorial Hospital. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, openly gay City Council candidates Danny Dromm and Jimmy Van Bramer, state Sen. Tom Duane [D-Chelsea,] City Councilmember John Liu [D-Flushing] and others spoke at a press conference outside the hospital earlier today.

“When someone is attacked for being who they are, and for being proud of who they are, there is no other explanation for that attack than hatred and bigotry," Quinn said. "In response, we will do all in our power as individuals, as a community and as a city to ensure that whoever commits such a vile act of hate is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

Van Bramer agreed.

“This tragic and senseless incident is yet another reminder of how far we have to go toward making our city one that is free of hatred and violence at all times and for all people,” he said.

More than 100,000 march in Washington for LGBT rights

My eyes are increasingly blurry after nearly 24 hours without sleep, but I was among the more than an estimated 100,000 people from around the country who participated in the National Equality March in Washington.

I traveled with a group of more than 60 people from the Queens Pride Center, Generation Q, the International Socialist Organization and other organizations. I was the embedded journalist with this highly diverse and at times extremely energetic group, but both the rally and march sent a message that will hopefully resonate far beyond Capitol Hill. The manifestation that took place in Washington was the easy part. The real question is how will those who attended (and organized) the event move forward from Oct. 11, 2009.

In the words of the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts; the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die. A fitting tribute to cap off what has been an exciting and momentous day that hopefully laid the foundation upon which full equality for LGBT Americans can begun to be built.

Marchers pass the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Marchers approach Capitol Hill from Pennsylvania Avenue.

More than an estimated 100,000 people participated in the National Equality March and rally.

Transgender people were among those who marched in Washington.

Sooners made the trek from Oklahoma.

Marchers approach Capitol Hill.

Marchers pass the White House along Pennsylvania Avenue.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Obama speaks at Human Rights Campaign dinner

As LGBT activists and others around the country continue to converge on Washington for the National Equality March, President Barack Obama just delivered the keynote address at the Human Rights Campaign's annual dinner in the District of Columbia.

The commander-in-chief made multiple references back to the Stonewall Riots that kicked-off the modern movement for LGBT rights in 1969. Obama also said he would end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and he would sign the Employment Non-Discrimination Act into law once it comes across his desk. These proclamations, however, did not contain any specific timetables. And the rather obvious question remains: What impact will Obama's speech have and how will activists within the movement, LGBT Americans and others respond to it.

At strictly face value, the visage of the president standing before the country's largest LGBT advocacy organization to deliver a speech almost certainly carries enormous impact both inside the Beltway and around the country. Obama's popularity among Americans remains relatively high. And his decision to deliver the HRC keynote could potentially change more hearts and minds in support of basic LGBT equality.

There are certainly those within the movement and progressive circles, however, who will continue to conclude Obama did not go far enough tonight to prove his commitment to full LGBT equality--a handful of these criticisms have already begun to trickle into my inbox. Obama himself touched upon them as he urged dinner attendees to pressure him and other lawmakers to act on LGBT-specific bills. And he further (and arguably very correctly) concluded health care, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and other so-called bigger issues affect LGBT and straight Americans alike.

"You're soldiers, neighbors, friends and most importantly you're Americans who care deeply about this country and its future," Obama said to a rousing applause.

The president's opponents (on both the right and the left) will continue to criticize what he said (or what they feel he didn't say) in the speech. Obama's target audience was almost certainly those within the movement and progressive circles who have grown increasingly skeptical of the administration's commitment to LGBT issues. I remain intently curious, however, to know how those outside the convention center responded to the president's remarks. I wonder whether the transgender woman of color who sells her body each night on Knickerbocker Avenue in Bushwick in order to simply survive even knew Obama mentioned LGBT Americans tonight. I am curious to know whether those LGBT Americans in states where employers can still legally fire them solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression were even able to watch the speech. And I simply cannot help but wonder whether the closeted lawmaker who continues to pass anti-LGBT legislation against his own brothers and sisters even bothered to listen to the president's remarks.

The above three examples are clearly hyperbole, but the fact remains one speech from the president is not going to curb simmering skepticism or immediately end the injustices LGBT Americans of all socio-economic, racial, cultural, religious and even political backgrounds continue to endure. Obama set the right tone earlier tonight. The collective movement, however, must continue to push the White House, lawmakers and their own constituents on behalf of all of those on whose behalf it claims to advocate.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

LaTeisha Green's mother speaks at Brooklyn forum

Roxanne Green spoke emotionally, passionately and even angrily as she talked about her murdered daughter LaTeisha at a forum at the Brooklyn Law School on Oct. 7.

“You would have liked LaTeisha—she was very outgoing,” she said. “She was like the energizer bunny.”

An Onondaga County jury convicted Dwight DeLee in July of first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime and criminal possession of a weapon after prosecutors accused him of shooting Green and her brother Mark Cannon last November as they and a friend sat in a car outside a Syracuse house party. Initial media reports indicated DeLee targeted Green because he thought she was gay. She was actually transgender.

New York State does not include gender identity and expression in its hate crime statutes, but prosecutors constructed what Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, described as a “narrative Teish was gay or lesbian to achieve a conviction.” A judge sentenced DeLee in August to 25 years in prison, but Roxanne Green said she feels the sentence was too lenient.

"He shouldn't see another day on the street," she said.

Cannon added he decided to participate in the panel because he did not “want to see another family go through what our family has gone through.”

“We lost someone very important to us,” Cannon said.

LaTeisha Green’s death was among a series of anti-LGBT violence and bias crimes that have taken place across New York State over the last year. Keith Phoenix and Hakim Scott allegedly beat Ecuadorian immigrant José Sucuzhañay to death on a Bushwick street corner last December because he thought he was gay—he and his brother Romel were arm-and-arm as they walked home from a nearby bar. Trinidad Tapia and Gilberto Ortiz allegedly severely beat Leslie Mora with a belt buckle as she walked home from a Jackson Heights nightclub in June. And a group of assailants attacked Carmella Etienne with rocks and empty beer bottles as she walked home from a store in St. Albans on July 8.

“I was pretty much scared for my life,” Etienne recalled as she described how nobody came to her assistance while the men attacked her. “I felt like nobody cared. It happened in my neighborhood.”

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reported earlier this year violence against LGBT people has increased 24 percent since 2007. The NCAVP further reported 29 known bias-related murders in 2008; the highest rate since 1999.

Sharon Stapel, executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, attempted to link how she and her organization feel race, immigration status and other socio-economic factors can motivate anti-LGBT violence and bias crimes in her response to Sucuzhañay’s death.

“We at the Anti-Violence Project know too well that many people continue to be victims of violence because of their identity—whether that violence is a result of hatred of race, ethnicity or sexual orientation,” she said in a Dec. 8, 2008, statement.

Andy Marra, a senior media strategist for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, who worked with Silverman and LaTeisha Green’s family after her murder and during DeLee’s trial, pointed out what she described as additional challenges she and others who worked on LaTeisha Green’s case encountered. These include how law enforcement respond to anti-LGBT hate crimes and other bias attacks and how the media covered the murder.

“Media is not talking about what it means to be transgender—or gender variant,” Marra said.

More than 30 editors, reporters and other media professionals from the Syracuse area attended a training in April on how to cover LaTeisha Green, her death and DeLee’s then-pending trial. Marra stressed the importance of what she feels is the need to use gender-appropriate pronouns, chosen names and overall sensitivity.

“Its conversations like that I have on a daily basis,” she said. “It’s a learning process for them.”

Silverman further stressed a more general problem he encounters is a reluctance among many police departments and prosecutors to adequately pursue anti-trans hate crimes and bias-motivated attacks.

“Too many of these cases don’t get the attention like LaTeisha’s case did because of a lack of response,” he said. “Sometimes it’s us banging pots and pans and saying to make this a top priority.”

Silverman and Cannon both applauded the Onondaga County District. The Empire State Pride Agenda, TLDEF and other LGBT advocacy organizations have repeatedly used LaTeisha Green’s murder to call for the inclusion of gender identity and expression to both New York and federal anti-hate crime and discrimination laws. Roxanne Green stressed, however, her and her family’s pain continues to run very deep.

“I don’t know if it will get any easier,” she said.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bloomberg announces appointees to LGBT homeless youth commission

In what arguably was a campaign speech designed to court LGBT voters ahead of this year's general mayoral election, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced last night at the annual Ali Forney Center fundraiser at the Chelsea Art Museum he had appointed 25 activists and others to the city's Commission for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Runaway and Homeless Youth.

These appointees include Ali Forney executive director Carl Siciliano, Ana Oliveira, president of the New York Women's Association and former executive director of the Gay Men's Health Crisis, incoming LGBT Community Center executive director Glennda Testone, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, Hetrick-Martin Institute executive director Thomas Krevor and Rickke Mananzala, executive director of FIERCE.

“New York City may be one of the most tolerant places on earth, but LGBTQ youth still face daily discrimination that forces many of them to leave home and sometimes make risky decisions,” Bloomberg said in a prepared statement released before he spoke at the fundraiser. “Today we are opening up a new front focused on serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning young people. The Commission’s recommendations will address the root causes of homelessness among this population and provide a blueprint for innovative and evidence-based solutions.”

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, comedian Sandra Bernhard and singer Rufus Wainwright were among those in attendance, but this announcement comes nearly a year after the city threatened to slash federal Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS (HOPWA) funds that the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene had awarded to Ali Forney to operate its Chelsea drop-in facility. The City Council unanimously voted in December to restore the organization's HOPWA funds.

In spite of these cuts, Quinn praised the committee appointees.

“LGBTQ runaway and homeless youth face a unique set of challenges – from greater exposure to HIV/AIDS – to being ostracized by their families and communities,” Quinn said. “The group of experts serving on the New York City LGBTQ Runaway and Homeless Youth Commission give me great hope that we will be able to develop innovative solutions to confront these challenges.”

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Plans for Brooklyn Pride Community Center move forward

For those Brooklynites who don't want to schlep into the city to attend LGBT meetings, events and other gatherings, the proposed Brooklyn Pride Community Center may provide the perfect anecdote.

The BPCC states on its Web site it hopes to provide Brooklynites a variety of services that would cater to those with HIV/AIDS, immigrants, transgender people and other Brooklynites who may want to connect with LGBT people in their own borough. Sounds like a potentially good idea to this Bushwick boy!