Friday, January 29, 2010

State of the Union fails to inspire

Deadlines have kept me away from the blog for a couple of days, but President Barack Obama's State of the Union address the other night certainly remains a topic of conversation, heated debate and even consternation.

Reading through the scattered notes I scribbled down during the speech, a couple of points stick out -- jobs, jobs, jobs and public trust. The following quote certainly highlights one of the messages the White House clearly wanted to send to a country that remains extremely distrustful of its political establishment.

"They [the American people] are tired of the partisanship and the shouting and the pettiness," the president said.

The speech was a supermarket of hopeful and idealistic rhetoric, promises and even lecturing as one commentator correctly pointed out, but one of the primary takeaways from Wednesday night is the fact the president sought to reconnect with the American middle class that continued to experience significant economic hardships during the first year of his administration. A gay Republican contact described the speech as a reflection of a "desperate president." He and many others obviously made up their minds long before Obama delivered his first SOTU, but the president certainly appeared quite vulnerable in the days leading up to it. And the speech did painfully little to inspire an increasingly skeptical public to feel hopeful about the White House and its agenda.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Solidarity with the Cuban blogosphere

A vacation in Havana is certainly an enticing proposition for this winter-weary New Yorker, but it is important to remember the vast majority of Cubans continue to
endure unnecessary hardships in their own country.

Boy in Bushwick highlighted the growing Cuban blogosphere last month, but Yoani Sánchez and her colleagues are able to provide an uncensored picture of daily life in the country on a literal shoestring. Pedro Luis, a blogger who maintains Fotos desde Cuba and La Habana llora, updates them at hotels and Internet cafes throughout Havana. It costs roughly $6 an hour to access the Internet in these locations, but Pedro Luis pointed to a number of things that would make his work easier. These include blank CDs, flash drives, SIM cards and even a camera.

His contact information is below for anyone who may want to connect with him.

5352731727 (can receive text messages or MSM)

My conversations with Pedro Luis over the last few months have truly reminded me of the important role journalists, bloggers and other media professionals play in a given society. He and his colleagues provide a vitally important glimpse into the daily struggles of the Cuban people. And it remains crucial to stand up in solidarity with them.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Monserrate compares himself to murdered civil rights activists

Call him a martyr!

As the New York State Senate prepares for a probable vote to censure and expel embattled state Sen. Hiram Monserrate [D-Jackson Heights] from office, the former police officer has compared himself to four slain civil rights workers.

"Students from the college [Queens College] that I went to died to help African-Americans have the right to vote," Monserrate told the Daily News yesterday. "Today, the Senate would seek to push back the clock and discredit the major movement that occurred here in the United States to protect the rights of all Americans."

This rather desperate comment comes nearly two weeks after several Albany sources confirmed to EDGE a committee would recommend Monserrate's censure or expulsion from the state Senate after a Queens judge convicted him in October of misdemeanor assault against his girlfriend inside his Jackson Heights apartment on Dec. 2008. The committee released its findings last week. And a vote on Monserrate's future could come within days.

The clock continues to tick on Monserrate's tenure in Albany; and implications he plans to go down as a self-anointed martyr will almost certainly strengthen the resolve of those who want to rid themselves of a tiresome distraction.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Random shots from the neighborhood

A chicken empanada and espresso at El Montanero on Myrtle Avenue in Ridgewood.

The Democratic machine remains alive and well at the Knights of Columbus hall on Wyckoff Avenue in Bushwick.

The Manhattan skyline from the intersection of DeKalb and Wyckoff Avenues in Bushwick.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Delegation of activists and politicians meet with murdered gay Puerto Rican teenager's family

A delegation of activists and legislators from Chicago and New York City met with murdered gay teenager Jorge Steven López Mercado's family earlier today in San Juan.

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Illinois state Sen. Iris Martinez, who chairs the Democratic National Committee's Hispanic Caucus, Cary Alan Johnson of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and Pedro Julio Serrano were among those who traveled to Puerto Rico. They also met with fellow activists, legislators and religious leaders earlier in the day.

Quinn, who announced the trip at a fundraiser for López's family on the Lower East Side last Tuesday night, posted pictures of today's meetings on her Twitter page. And at a press conference earlier today, she, fellow Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito and others once again blasted Gov. Luis Fortuño's continued failure to publicly respond to the teenager's brutal murder.

“We in the delegation certainly hope that Governor Fortuño will hear our message loud and clear, that his response to Jorge Steven’s murder has been absolutely unacceptable," Mark-Viverito said in an e-mail. "I am profoundly disappointed in the Governor’s lack of leadership on this matter. We must expect greater accountability and responsibility on the part of our elected officials.”

New York City elected officials pose with Jorge Steven López Mercado's family at a San Juan restaurant. [Photo courtesy of Latino Commission on AIDS]

From left; Karlo Colon, Miriam Mercado, Guillermo Chacon and Jorge López.

New York City Councilmembers meet with Puerto Rican lawmakers and others in San Juan.

Applying King's legacy

The annual conversation about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,’s legacy is indeed an odd ritual as a panelist at WNYC’s annual forum at the Brooklyn Museum on Sunday correctly asserted, but self-appointed members, representatives and spokespeople of underrepresented groups who evoke it to advance a particular cause raise some particularly peculiar questions themselves.

Case in point: I came home and found an e-mail in my inbox that announced a handful of white gay activists chanted “Dr. King supported equality for all!” at various locations in Midtown Manhattan and unfurled a poster with the same message inside Grand Central. The same group staged a similar action yesterday afternoon in Union Square. As a skeptical journalist, the obvious question is whether King would have actually supported marriage for gays and lesbians and general LGBT equality.

His widow, Coretta Scott King, and their eldest daughter Yolanda indeed came out in support of nuptials for same-sex couples in the 2000s. Coretta Scott King maintained marriage for gays and lesbians is indeed a civil rights issue; and that her husband’s legacy includes equality for gays and lesbians. Based on these public statements alone, one can obviously conclude King himself would have endorsed the right of same-sex couples to marry. But is it appropriate, however, for a dozen white gay activists to take it upon themselves to publicly proclaim this almost certain reality at various locations throughout Manhattan?

The always brilliant Patricia Williams of Columbia University’s School of Law provided some guidance in her response to Celeste Headlee’s question about other issues for which she thought King would have fought. Their exchange took place within the context of Haiti, but Williams’ answer can be applied to who evokes King’s name, message and legacy and the purpose to which they apply it.

“He’s a very handy sort of authoritative figure for whatever we sort of want him to be,” she said. “I think it’s unfair sometimes to go beyond what he actually said, and I think it’s perhaps a better enterprise to take into account that he spoke words of eternal wisdom, but that’s its really up to us.”

The group of white gay men who gathered around Midtown over the weekend certainly took the “words of eternal wisdom” and applied them to support their message of LGBT equality. King’s own words provide a convenient source of catchy sound bites, feel-good messages and inclusive rhetoric. The visual reality of the white gay men in Midtown and countless others who choose to evoke them, however, often leaves a series of peculiar and even problematic questions in their wake.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

LGBT charity contributes to Haiti earthquake relief

The San Francisco-based Rainbow World Fund is among the myriad of organizations around the world that continue to raise money and support efforts to aid Haitian earthquake victims.

The RWF, which has funded numerous projects to improve nutrition and develop access to safe drinking water in the impoverished Caribbean country since 2004, has made a $50,000 donation. The organization has also partnered with CARE, which has provided food, potable water, tarps, blankets, medicine and other items to those who survived the Jan. 12 earthquake.

"This is the time to help," Jeff Cotter, executive director of the fund, said. "Even though what we're seeing is really tragic, the situation is not hopeless. Everything [we] can do will make a huge difference in Haiti's recovery."


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haitian relief effort intensifies

As the sheer magnitude of the Haitian earthquake continues to emerge, contacts in the region and here in New York have begun to raise money and accept donations on behalf of those who survived.

Cha Club in Santo Domingo in the neighboring Dominican Republic issued an appeal earlier this morning to those who subscribe to its e-mail list that contained links to local companies that are raising money and accepting donations. Washington Heights promoter Alberto Fermin, who is originally from the Dominican Republic, told Boy in Bushwick he plans to collect money for the earthquake victims at his Boy Night Party at el Morocco (3534 Broadway at West 145th Street) this Sunday.

The Rainbow World Fund, an LGBT charity organization, has also donated $35,000 to the relief efforts. A source in the Dominican Republic pointed out the Batey Relief Alliance as another option for those who may want to donate to a local group.

My heart truly breaks for the Haitian people during their darkest hour. It is heartening to see people around the world support the massive humanitarian effort that is underway, but it remains critically important for everyone to stand in solidarity with those who continue to suffer in the wake of this catastrophe.

Here is a link to other organizations that continue to raise money and seek donations for earthquake victims.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Earthquake destroys Haitian capital

A truly monumental catastrophe continues to unfold in Haiti in the wake of a 7.0 earthquake that decimated the impoverished Caribbean nation yesterday afternoon.

Haitian officials, aid workers and others have speculated the tremor, which struck roughly 10 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince, killed thousands. This figure will almost certainly increase as the sheer magnitude of this catastrophe continues to emerge.

Sources in the neighboring Dominican Republic told Boy in Bushwick they felt the earthquake. Anthony Montgomery of Monaga said large swaths of Santo Domingo lost power, but damage in the capital appears minimal. A contact in Puerto Plata tweeted the ground shook violently.

A massive relief effort has begun to mobilize, but this clip of a dust cloud rising from Port-au-Prince in the moments after the earthquake struck clearly demonstrates the massive destruction the Haitian capital and the country as a whole has suffered.

Below are links to organizations that are contributing to the Haitian relief effort.

American Red Cross

Batey Relief Alliance

Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City

Rainbow World Fund

William J. Clinton Foundation

Yele Haiti

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

New York City Councilmembers to meet with slain gay Puerto Rican teenager's family

On the eve of a hearing to determine whether Jorge Steven López Mercado's accused killer is competent to stand trial, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced she and other lawmakers from the five boroughs and Chicago will meet with the slain gay teenager's family and activists in Puerto Rico on Tuesday.

Quinn, who announced the trip at a fundraiser for López's family earlier tonight at the Nuyorican Poets Café on the Lower East Side, once again blasted Gov. Luis Fortuño for his continued failure to publicly condemn López's brutal death.

"There are a lot of people who are extremely angry about how the governor has responded to this situation," she said to applause. "There are people in New York, in other cities and in Puerto Rico who are not going to tolerate it. And I assume, though I don't know, that the governor expects that the LGBT community in Puerto Rico might be afraid or nervous or might be... trepidacious about getting involved, but we can do is back that community up and support them."

New York City Councilmembers Melissa Mark-Viverito [D-East Harlem,] Rosie Mendez [D-Lower East Side,] Danny Dromm [D-Jackson Heights] and Jimmy Van Bramer [D-Sunnyside] are among those who will travel to Puerto Rico.

"Never doubt that the support from New York and from the community in New York enhances the struggle in Puerto Rico; we saw this with Vieques and we will do it for justice for Jorge Steven López Mercado."

Quinn further stressed there will be more trips to the island if necessary.

"We hope when we’re there we’ll make it very clear we’ll keep coming back every time we need to," she said.

Senate panel recommends Monserrate's expulsion or censure

A New York State Senate panel has recommended embattled state Sen. Hiram Monserrate's expulsion or censure in connection with assaulting his girlfriend.

Multiple sources told Boy in Bushwick over the weekend the panel would announce its conclusion by the end of this week. And lawmakers--and members of the Democratic caucus in particular--have obviously moved quickly to address what remains a growing liability ahead of the looming budget battle.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sources: New York State Senate could move to expel Monserrate this week

A state Senate committee’s decision to expel embattled state Sen. Hiram Monserrate [D-Jackson Heights] could come this week, a number of sources have said.

The Daily News reported late last month the committee would likely recommend Monserrate’s expulsion. A judge convicted in October the former New York City Councilmember and police officer of misdemeanor assault against girlfriend Karla Giraldo.

Democrats—U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and others—around the state continue to urge Monserrate to step down. The Queens Democratic establishment has lined up behind Assemblymember José Peralta [D-Jackson Heights] ahead of a possible special election next month. And Monserrate continues to face growing calls to step down from advocates of domestic violence victims, LGBT activists upset with his vote last month against marriage for same-sex couples and others.

Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson [D-Brooklyn] created the special committee after Monserrate’s conviction. State Sen. Eric Schneiderman [D-Manhattan] chairs the committee, and state Sens. Diane Savino [D-Staten Island] and Ruth Hassell-Thompson [D-Mount Vernon] are among its members.

Lawmakers remain tight lipped about Monserrate’s future, but it remains clear legislators will move quickly.

"They don't want Monserrate hanging around for the budget so he can screw around again," one source said.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Christie doomed NJ marriage vote

New Jersey activists continue to point the finger at incoming Gov. Chris Christie as the primary reason lawmakers defeated a bill earlier today that would have allowed marriage for same-sex couples.

Garden State Equality and Lambda Legal announced minutes after the state Senate voted 14-20 against the measure they would challenge the civil unions law in court. But GSE's Steven Goldstein was quick to maintain the election results made all the difference.

"We lost for one reason: Jon Corzine," he said. "Jon Corzine lost; Chris Christie won."

Indeed, Christie has repeatedly maintained he would veto any bill that would allow gays and lesbians to marry. And he reportedly pressured Republican lawmakers in both the state Assembly and Senate to oppose the measure--state Sen. Brian Baroni [R-Hamilton] is the only GOP legislator who voted in support of the bill.

"Christie is a politician," another political insider told Boy in Bushwick. "Christie is a professional politician and Corzine was not. And that made all the difference."

Politics is indeed local!

New Jersey lawmakers to vote on marriage bill

Activists remain optimistic about the prospects of marriage for same-sex couples in New Jersey in spite of the fact it appears unlikely a measure that will allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot in the Garden State will pass.

The state Senate is scheduled to vote on the measure later today in Trenton. The bill's sponsors successfully postponed a vote last month in order to garner additional support.

Today's vote comes less than a week after gays and lesbians began to legally marry in New Hampshire, roughly a month after the New York State Senate voted 36-24 against marriage and more than two months after Maine voters approved a referendum that overturned a law that had allowed same-sex couples to marry in the Pine Tree State. It appears likely marriage will not advance in New Jersey, but today's vote will almost certainly have implications for those within the national movement for LGBT rights as they contemplate a new strategy to advance relationship recognition around the country.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Winter in the Northeast

As the majority of the country continues to shiver under an Arctic air mass, perhaps it is appropriate to remind those who live in warmer climes they are indeed fortunate. Here are two videos from Boston and New Hampshire I shot over the weekend.

Snow covered roads greeted Paul and I as we drove through Manchester, New Hampshire, on Jan. 2.

Walking through Boston's South End on Jan. 2 after a quick trip to the supermarket.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The (newly equal) state of marriage in New Hampshire

Less than 48 hours after gays and lesbians began to legally marry in New Hampshire, state Rep. Bob Thompson [D-Manchester] and Michael Jacobsen tied the knot at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Manchester.

House Speaker Terie Norelli [D-Portsmouth] was among the dozens of people who braved blowing snow and increasingly treacherous roads to see Thompson and Jacobsen exchange vows.

"I was tearing up," she said at a reception at the Club Canadian on the city's West Side. "[I thought about] how proud I am to preside over a legislature that did the right thing."

New Hampshire lawmakers approved a bill last spring that allowed gays and lesbians to marry. Governor John Lynch signed it into law in June. And the Granite State is now the fifth state to allow marriage for same-sex couples.

As a native Granite Stater who grew up in the Queen City, I honestly never thought I would see the day a gay couple could legally marry in my hometown. I teared up inside the church last night as Bob and Michael exchanged vows and the Rev. David C. Boyer proudly proclaimed them married "under the authority invested in me by the state of New Hampshire." Their wedding was truly something to cherish. And I am thankful lawmakers in my home state stood up and did the right thing to allow committed and loving couples to enjoy the same recognition others in New Hampshire are able to enjoy through marriage.

The Rev. David C. Boyer presided over the wedding inside the Unitarian Universalist Church in Manchester.

Bob and Michael exchange their vows.

Paul and I inside the church.

The wedding cake.

The newlyweds cut their wedding cake.

Couples from across the Granite State dance in salute of Bob and Michael.

An arguably appropriate message inside Club Canadian.

Some of Bob and Michael's family and friends inside Club Canadian.

State Rep. Patrick Long [D-Manchester] wows wedding guests with some karaoke.

Leaving the Queen City late last night.