For Motherboarders and Beyond -
Like many of us, I have taken to using Facebook for so much communication (moreso than e-mail these days), that at times I have to stop myself. Certain events and moments always bring me back to the Motherboards, and this is one of those moments. Upon my recent return to New York City (many thank you’s to Glamnerd and the Empress for such a dazzling gate!!!), so much of our news was around the suicides and anti-gay violence around the country and, particularly horrifying, right here at home. Attacked INSIDE Stonewall? And again last week - attacked INSIDE Julius? Of course the violence isn’t a new story, but one that grows in scope and coverage daily.
After last winter’s disappointing defeat of New York’s Marriage Equality bill in our state senate, something stirred so deeply within that I just had to go out into the streets and scream. And scream. And scream. Not that I think marriage is such a great institution, but my opinion isn’t what LGBTQ’s want. It’s basic civil rights. So I have since been gifted with this emboldened spirit of activism and civil disobedience in a way I haven’t felt since the late ‘80’s, when I was clear enough in college to join Atlanta’s ACT UP and Queer Nation chapters.
While we watch our lives become a series of political ping pong balls, our children are dying and we continue to be targets of beatings, rapes and murder, not to mention the day-to-day discrimination so deeply embedded in most parts of the country (speaking personally, as I have just taken a tour of over half of the lower 48 this year) Clearly, we are still in the very last seat of the the civil rights bus.
As our community (and well-moneyed, white male organizations like HRC) beg for crumbs of tolerance and inclusion, it came to my attention that a bill is ready and waiting to be introduced that, if fought for and passed, would eliminate the need for so many disparate pieces of legislation such as ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimation Act), DADT, and the repeal of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act - yet another Clintonian boot to our necks). It is called the American Equality Bill. This bill is an incredibly simple, six-page bit of legislation that merely inserts “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” into the language of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the same basic rights given to every other citizen, regardless of race, religious affiliation or gender, can be given to us in one fell swoop. Will it end homophobia and/or transphobia? Of course not. Racism is still alive and well in this country (Tea Party); however, the KKK certainly thinks twice these days before lynching African Americans.
President Barack Obama really should be calling for this legislation on behalf of us, in the same way President John F. Kennedy called for a Civil Rights Act on Obama’s behalf. Obama was just shy of his third birthday when he received this gift; he in no way would be able to count the achievements of his life without it.
Politicians are scared of this simple solution. Advocacy groups such as Empire State Pride Agenda and HRC are also scared of this simple solution. Why? Because millions and millions of dollars have been spent lobbying for the LGBTQ equivalent of “Jim Crow” bits of legislation. It’s mostly ego. The one person who has expressed an interest in introducing the American Equality Bill is our own very queer-friendly ally, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). She has stated that she would support this amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, yet that is as far as she has gone. Over a year ago, she stated: “It’s time to extend every basic right and freedom to every member of America’s LGBT community.” Enter Queer SOS!
A small, ragtag group of activists are doing to Sen. Gillibrand what President Obama asked us to do to him: holding her feet to the fire. Queer SOS! was formulated with the single intention of demanding that Sen. Gillibrand introduce this legislation so that the wheels can at least begin to turn to get this process started. As Election Day is close upon us, and no new legislation can be introduced during the “lame duck” session, we are asking the Senator to, at the very least, go on record promising to introduce the American Equality Bill once the 2011 session begins. To date, these requests are falling on deaf ears. 25 days ago, Queer SOS! began holding a vigil outside the building of Sen. Gillibrand’s campaign office, located at 15 W. 26th Street (including an 8-foot banner featuring her above quote). Alan Bounville and Iana Di Bona, two activists who have relentlessly spent this past year demanding full equality and full rights, have begun to spend nights outside in the past ten days. A 24-hour, seven-day-a-week vigil will continue until we get a response. More and more people are taking notice. Just this week, journalists and bloggers began showing up and asking questions. Most passers-by and neighbors are very supportive. I have been spending a lot of time out there this week, and last night I joined the two of them for an overnight (I’m a veteran outdoorsfaerie - they’ve actually begun to call me the Night Fairy, since that’s usually when I drop by).
Most of their needs are being met. Primarily what would be helpful is for citizens, regardless if you’re a New Yorker, contact Sen. Gillibrand’s office and demand that she (at the very least) go on record promising to introduce the American Equality Bill. Her office number is 212-688-6262. Her staff is starting to feel the heat, as reports have come back to us that they are getting testier and testier on the phone. We have her attention. We must pressure her. She is not a target; she will breeze through this election (anyone catch her in VOGUE?). We all need her in office. We also need to remind her that she works for us. As an elected leader, she must Lead.
Also, I would ask that if you are in the neighborhood, stop by and say hi. While the activist spirit is quite alive, it’s always refreshing to see familiar faces. If you’re a musician or performer, come out and do a number! Poets and writers, come give a public reading! I have to admit that the overnight was a lot more fun than I’d imagined it would be. Not that I’ve never woken up outdoors in this city, but that’s another topic...
Lt. Dan Choi dropped by last night, and spoke volumes about what inspired him to take his fight as far as he’s taken it. He chained himself to the White House gates in protest of DADT earlier this year, and says he was inspired by our Queer Rising Valentine’s Day action, wherein five activists were arrested after having chained themselves to the Marriage Bureau in downtown Manhattan (I got to be the lookout) in protest of the failed Marriage Equality attempt last December. Lt. Choi then took some time to read to us from Saul Aulinsky’s classic philosophical protest book, RULES FOR RADICALS. It was riveting to listen to him.
To learn more, and for Alan’s daily “updates on the vigil” blog, go to www.queersos.com.