Queer SOS! and the American Equality Bill (ongoing)

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.
Original Post
Thanks Chi Chi! Feels good to be home. If anyone is in the neighborhood tonight (i.e., Scooter LaForge's WASTELINE at Nasty Pig, or Justin's RE:GALLI BLOND at The Kitchen - both on West 19th), stop by! QUEER SOS! is having a dance party on the street where the vigil is being held from 7pm - 11pm!
October 26, 2010

President Barack H. Obama
White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500


Dear President Obama,

Thank you for your service to our country these past two years. I recall the night of November 4, 2008 so clearly. Having voted early with my boyfriend in Manhattan, I opted to spend the winter with friends in northwestern New Mexico, and arrived by Amtrak the night before in Gallup, NM. My friends picked me up at the station, and drove me back, an hour by car, to the high mountain desert landscape where I would spend the next three months. I awoke the next day to find two friends had just returned from casting votes for you; neither had ever cared to participate in the electoral system until you came along (one man was in his mid- to late-sixties).

That night, all seven of us huddled in one of the few buildings on the land to watch election results around a laptop; this was the only structure on the land where we could pick up the wi-fi signal. The temperature dipped down into the 20’s, then the teens, and there was no stove to heat this small structure, so we shivered and froze and wrapped ourselves in blankets, and were happy to do so; we were happy to use the limited bandwidth and the stored solar power to watch you win the presidency, in the way you had won our hearts and minds. With the crisp smell of victory in the cold air, we stumbled off to bed. Upon waking, the land was covered in silver and white, the first snow of the winter. We awoke feeling a new vigor for our lives.

You have asked three things of me, Mr. President. The first was my vote. You were rightfully hungry, and I slavishly leaped tall buildings in a single bound to get not just mine, but as many as I could get to feed you. The second thing you asked of me was patience, and that, too, I have given. Finally, I recall that you asked me to hold your feet to the fire. At this moment in your presidency, and in my struggle for civil rights, I am ready to light the figurative match that may just singe your soles.

I would like for you to take a moment, pull back, and view the world through my eyes. In 2008, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people could get married in the state of California; within months, they were told they could not. Just this month, my lesbian, gay and bisexual (transgendered people are still, apparently, unworthy of serving in the military) brothers and sisters were told they could finally serve openly in the military; days later, they were told they could not. We are all still waiting for repeal of President William J. Clinton’s appalling policy of dishonor under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). We are still waiting for repeal of the reprehensible Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), yet another Clintonian boot to our necks. We are still waiting for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). At the federal level, the law of land in America permits employers to fire LGBTQI people from their jobs simply because of who they love or how the align their bodies with their spirits; federal law still allows hospitals to deny access to my husband (that is, if I could marry him), and to make life-altering medical decisions oh his behalf that would affect us and our family.

Our children are killing themselves, Mr. President, because the law of the land is, in fact, one that omits LGBTQI people; the law of the land is one that deems me and my brothers and sisters and our children not worthy of the same dignity and respect as you and your family. Our lives are not valued. As hard-working, productive, tax-paying, loving, compassionate citizens of this country, we are glaringly held up to the world as worth less than every other citizen. This is a barbarous truth; it is a truth that you uphold with your inaction. Your lack of movement to deliver full and equal civil rights actively rallies those who target us with violence. This week’s “Comment” in The New Yorker informs readers, “...hate crimes targeting gays have increased in the past two years.”

I anticipate your rebuttal, Mr. President. I have heard it again and again. DADT will end on your watch; the Matthew Shepard Act; AIDS funding (your repeated linking of AIDS to gay rights feeds the very monsters who target us as diseased - when have you linked AIDS to racism?); your “It Gets Better” video message to bullied teens. These are estimable acts, a number of which that no other sitting President has taken. I will not deny you that. You must understand, however, that we are still waiting for FULL EQUALITY under the law. All of the separate measures are merely political ping pong balls. In essence, they are the equivalent of the “Jim Crow” laws that targeted African Americans as separate, though not equal in the last century. Mr. President, I remain seated far in the back of the civil rights bus.

Just a few weeks prior to your third birthday, you were gifted with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a gift called for by President John F. Kennedy, and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. You were granted rights equal to those who targeted you and your family, equal to those who deemed your life worth less than their own. Did passage of that Act eradicate racism? Of course not. You must agree, however, that today the Ku Klux Klan think twice about lynching African Americans. You grew up to become the first African American President of the United States of America. The gift given you from Presidents Kennedy and Johnson (only after decades that saw thousands and thousands of deaths and incidents of violence) made possible the opportunity for you to reach your fullest potential. I demand you give that same gift to my children. Mr. President, I am commanding you to lead. Let us not forget who works for whom. Now is the time. Pay it forward, Mr. President.

As a citizen of New York City, I am represented in the United States Senate by Kirsten Gillibrand. Senator Gillibrand has voiced support for legislation that would meet this end. Just over a year ago, Senator Gillibrand stated, “It’s time to extend every basic right and freedom to every member of America’s LGBT community.” As our advocate in the Senate, she now has the opportunity to introduce the American Equality Bill (AEB), so that it may wend its way to your desk. AEB is a very simple, six-page piece of legislation that would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (please see www.aebnow.com). In the tradition of the non-violent civil disobedient acts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I and members of the group QUEER SOS! have been holding a vigil outside of Senator Gillibrand’s campaign office at 15 West 26th Street in Manhattan since September 27 of this year. Our vigil has been ongoing for 24 hours a day since October 11th (National Coming Out Day). We are demanding of our Senator that she act on her words by introducing, or at the very least go on record promising to introduce, the American Equality Bill (please see www.queersos.com). Yes, we are willing to sacrifice to bring to an end your “separate and yet not equal” policy, Mr. President.

More importantly at this hour in the fight for LGBTQI civil rights, however, is that you, Mr. President, are the one person whom we have elected to set the moral and behavioral tone of our country. I would have appreciated your video message to bullied teens much more had you stated exactly what you were doing for these suicidal children so that “It Gets Better” for them. You have that opportunity now. I implore you to address the nation and Congress on national television on what steps you are taking to bring full equality and civil rights to all citizens. You can advocate for these children by calling for AEB.

Understand that I appreciate the enormity, the immensity, the complexity and the gravity of the job you embraced upon your Inauguration. You inherited possibly the most disastrous state of the union imaginable. I get that. But get this - I will no longer watch idly as my children die at the hands of tacit encouragement by your inaction. Anything less than full equality under the law supports more homophobia, more transphobia, and more violence. Anything less merely illuminates the fact that you, Mr. President, have virtually never drunk from a separate water cooler.

Compared to the limitless buffet of possibilities available to your beautiful daughters, Sasha and Malia, my queer children, as of now, are starving on mere crumbs. Sexual orientation and gender identity are as unique to one’s humanity as a footprint. I challenge you, Mr. President, to be the man that your daughters probably already think you are. If you truly want health care for all Americans, you will ensure we are all protected equally under the law. Civil rights is health care. Were he alive today, 13-year-old Asher Brown of Houston,Texas could tell you that.

Call for the American Equality Bill now, Mr. President.

Respectfully,



Joseph L. Birdsong
Office of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
15 West 26th Street
Waiting Outside for Civil Rights
New York, NY 10010

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