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Marriage Equality, Homeless Youth and Hate Crimes Dominate 2011 Headlines

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Wednesday Dec 21, 2011
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The passage of a marriage equality bill was by far the biggest story of 2011 for LGBT New Yorkers.

On June 24, two days before Pride, the state Senate passed the measure by a 33-29 margin. Governor Andrew Cuomo almost immediately signed it into law, and same-sex couples began to legally marry in New York on July 24.

"One thing we did well in New York is that everyone put the concerns of competition aside and became one team with one mission," said Brian Silva, interim executive director of Marriage Equality New York. MENY, the Empire State Pride Agenda, the Human Rights Campaign, Log Cabin Republicans and Freedom to Marry spearheaded the effort as part of New Yorkers United for Marriage.

"July 24, 2011, will be viewed as one of the defining civil rights moments in New York State history," said state Sen. Tom Duane (D-Manhattan), who sponsored the bill in the state Senate. "Seeing so many diverse, loving, same-sex couples celebrating their commitment in legally recognized marriage, made the years of hard work absolutely worth it."

Battles over funding for homeless LGBT youth, reform, anti-bullying efforts, more gay elected officials and new community centers for LGBT Brooklynites and gay seniors made additional headlines in 2011.

Homeless Youth Advocates Blast Funding Cuts
Advocates for LGBT homeless youth in March expressed outrage upon learning that funding for drop-in shelter services and street outreach would be slashed in half.

Representatives from the Ali Forney Center and the Bronx Community Pride House demonstrated in Albany on March 15 to try to convince legislators to rescind the proposed cuts. They also gathered in front of Stonewall Inn on June 24 to launch a campaign calling on city and state officials to commit to providing 100 new beds every year until they are no longer needed. And activists once again rallied in Union Square on Oct. 24 to call upon Gov. Andrew Cuomo to provide $3 million annually for shelter beds.

"I get that we need to cut spending, but is this seriously what a civilized society does: cut the funding of kids sleeping on subway grates? That is truly outrageous," said City Councilman Lew Fidler, who joined City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and others who spoke out against the cuts.

GMHC Moves to the West Side
Elected officials, HIV/AIDS service providers and members of the press crowded the seventh floor of Gay Men’s Health Crisis’ dining room on April 29 for the ribbon-cutting ceremony opening their new offices at 446 W. 33rd St. on Manhattan’s far West Side.

"For 30 years, what made a house a home was the people: The staff who meet the people, the clients who come here with various challenges, the individuals who insure that we have resources to make things go smooth," said GMHC CEO Dr. Marjorie Hill, who traced the organization’s history from the $7,000 raised to start the program to an annual budget of $32 million. "This new home gives us the potential and promise to meet the increasing needs of HIV in the 20th century. We want to meet the problems by providing the opportunity for individuals not just to take meds or adhere to their treatment, although that is important, but the opportunity to live more full, more productive, meaningful lives in spite of HIV."

New Yorkers Once Again Respond to Alleged Anti-LGBT Hate Crimes
Chanting, "I am somebody, I demand full equality," and "Stop the bashing," roughly 75 LGBT protestors and their allies marched through the West Village on April 10 to support a 26-year-old gay man who was attacked a few weeks earlier.

In the early morning hours of March 27, Damian Furtch stopped at a McDonald’s on West 4th Street on the way home from his job at the Pink Tea Cup. Sensing some tension from men who mocked his hot-pink shoelaces and cap, he quickly left. The two men followed him, and, in a scene that was caught on surveillance video, punched him repeatedly in the head while screaming anti-gay slurs.

Furtch suffered a broken hose, two black eyes, and required four stitches to close a gash above his eye.

An anonymous tip led to the arrest of homeless 21-year-old Anthony Bray, who admitted he attacked Furtch, but said he was also gay. Bray, whose criminal record includes arrests for drug possession, graffiti and robbery, has been charged with misdemeanor assault with the possibility of a hate crime.

"I think that any crime committed with violence stems from hate," said Furtch. "Whether or not it was driven by homophobia is to be determined by the police, but for me it’s a hate crime, because I had no ill intentions toward the suspects at all."

The attack on Furtch came only a month after the fatal beating of 18-year-old Anthony Collao, a straight Queens teenager who was allegedly beaten to death with an iron pipe by homophobes who thought he was gay . Three 17-year-olds-Nolis Ogando, Luis Tabales and Christopher Lozada-and Alex Velez, 16, face charges of gang assault and manslaughter in the first degree and criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree.

Camila Guzman was found brutally stabbed and murdered in her Harlem apartment on Aug. 1. The transgender woman’s friends and neighbors gathered outside her West 110th Street apartment on Aug. 11 to call upon the New York Police Department and elected officials to bring her killer to justice and to end anti-trans violence. Prosecutors on Aug. 17 charged 25-year-old Equan Southall, who was Guzman’s boyfriend of four months, with murder.

New York Officials Tackle Bullying
A rash of teen suicides attributed to bullying captured world’s attention in 2010. And in its wake emerged the Dignity for All Students Act that protects the state’s public school from harassment and bullying. DASA takes effect in 2012; but the Sikh Coalition, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the New York Civil Liberties Union continue to work to ensure the law actually fulfills its mission.

Also emerging from the dialogue was a survey of city teachers and school staff assessing the New York City Department of Education’s progress in making schools safe against bullying and bias-based harassment. The survey that the New York Civil Liberties Union released in May found that the DOE provides insufficient resources and training to protect students.

"We’re really concerned about training teachers how to recognize low-level bullying, which may be minor things like shoving, and intervening before bullying becomes a miserable situation for the child being targeted or bully facing criminal charges," said Johanna Miller, public policy director for the NYCLU.

The report recommends the DOE receive additional resources to allow it to comply with DASA. The groups also recommended Respect for All week become a mandatory annual event that focuses on teaching an inclusive curriculum.

"NYCLU has been a leading group in the task force to identify the right language and curriculum, but it is up to the school districts to implement this in the right way," said Miller, noting Mayor Michael Bloomberg did not support the city’s anti-bullying bill. He did endorse the state DASA. "I hope now it is something him and the DOE will take seriously, and find the right way to allocate resources and implement training, curriculum development, and report of bullying incidents. They have to comply with the law, so hopefully things will look up in 2012," when the law is implemented."

Quinn was among the elected leaders, educators and youth advocates who attended a cyber-bullying summit at the Times Center in Manhattan in July.

"Bullying is no longer been confined to the classroom or the schoolyard. It has spread to a whole range of digital devices across the Internet to cell phones," said Quinn. "While advances in technology have led to new opportunities for our children, it has also led to new threats for their safety and well-being.

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) offered an amendment to DASA aimed at updating laws to prevent and punish cyber-bullying. While Senate Democrats rejected the added protections the amendment would have provided, Flanagan vowed to support the bill to ensure that some protections for children were enacted.

"It is clear that New York State needs to get up to date with how we approach the growing problem of all forms of bullying including cyber-bullying," said Flanagan.

HHC Adopts New Health Protocols
In an effort to improve access to health care for LGBT New Yorkers, the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation unveiled a new mandatory training program for its 37,000 employees at a press conference at Bellevue Hospital on May 25.

"With the launching of this program, HHC begins their earnest effort to serve the LGBT community in New York," said HHC President Alan Aviles. "Our LGBT cultural competency training is another example of our dedication to health care, to work harder to earn their trust and serve the LGBT community better. We hope it will send a strong message to the LGBT community that they are welcome in HHC facilities, and will be served with dignity and respect."

City Officials Pledge $2 Million for Brooklyn LGBT Center
Brooklyn is home to about 250,000 LGBT residents, and the highest density of same-sex couples after Manhattan. And this year, thanks to a pledged $2 million in capital funding from Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and Quinn, the Brooklyn Community Pride Center began the search for a permanent location. In addition, the BCPC received $30,000 to continue its current outreach and awareness efforts to build support for this center.

"Brooklyn has one of the biggest and most diverse LGBT communities in the United States, including New York City’s largest lesbian population, and it’s only fitting that we have our own Center that addresses the needs of our growing LGBT population and builds on the great work already being done by our Brooklyn LGBT service organizations," Markowitz told EDGE. "I have always been a proud-emphasis on proud -supporter of the Brooklyn Community Pride Center, and I say bravo to the City Council for sharing my belief that this Center will not only provide vital outreach and community services for our LGBT community, but will go a long way in ensuring that Brooklyn truly is a proud home to everyone from everywhere."

Crackdowns on Gay Bars Continue
Numerous gay bars and club owners found themselves fighting their neighbors this year in their attempt to run their businesses. On Christopher Street--Ground Zero for the Gay Liberation Movement--Pieces owner Eric Einstein discovered that his landlord would be gutting the building where his bar had operated since 1993.

He initially found a location on West 8th Street, but faced problems ranging from obtaining a liquor license, to homophobic opposition, to an 11th hour about-face from the landlord of the new location, Jane Goldman. The matter was eventually brought before CB2’s full board, which approved the license by a vote of 33-8. But Einstein’s victory was short-lived. On Aug. 1-just moments before he was to sign his new lease on West 8th Street-Einstein received an email from Goldman that said the deal had been cancelled.

After an exhaustive search in the Village, Einstein located a new spot uptown and much further west on 10th Avenue, and again began the approval process, with an Oct. 11 meeting before Community Board 4. He said he encountered very little of the homophobic sentiment he said he saw from CB2, but owners of Boxers had a very different experience.

CB4 voted against granting a liquor license for a planned Hell’s Kitchen location, saying that the gay sports bar would abut PS 111’s schoolyard.

"The CB4 full board rejected us purely on fact that the school was too close," said co-owner Bob Fluet. After an Oct. 5 CB4 meeting, the board recommended to approve a letter to the State Liquor Board that said they were good operators-but not in this location.

Although Fluet said that the Boxers owners were trying to stay above the fray, he admitted that the rhetoric he had heard was very troubling.

"Homophobia is not always overt; sometimes people don’t realize that their fears of this establishment being located next to a school could be driven by something other than protecting the kids," he said. "But school is well over with before we even open. The idea that they are trying to protect their kids from the horrible fiends located next to the school is very frustrating."

Occupy Wall Street Drag Queens Arrested
Dozens of protesters intent to "Occupy Wall Street" descended on Zuccotti Park near Ground Zero on Sept. 17, a move set to draw attention to the great disparity of wealth between the rich and the poor. Against all odds, the Occupy movement spread across the country and around the world. Police on Oct. 1 arrested more than 700 protesters--including many drag queens and members of the LGBT community--while they were marching across the Brooklyn Bridge. Video footage of the event showed New York Police Department officers pepper-spraying otherwise peaceful protestors, sparking a backlash that would lead up to authorities quashing the movement by force in a series of raids.

Country’s First Center for LGBT Elders to Open in January
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York City Department for the Aging on Oct. 19 awarded Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) a contract to open the nation’s first full-time center for gay seniors in January. The Center will be based in Chelsea, but it will offer a comprehensive array of services to an estimated 300 seniors each day from all five boroughs.

According to SAGE Senior Director of Programming Catherine Thurston, the new facility will offer its participants a variety of unique programming designed to cater to the needs and interests of the LGBT community.

"For elderly people who are also LGBT, going to traditional senior centers can pose a variety of unique challenges," she told the Huffington Post. "Many LGBT elderly say they feel they’ve encountered discrimination; anything from simply feeling excluded to something more overt. ...If you cannot authentically be who you are at this stage of your life, it’s really tragic."

LGBT Elected Officials Gain Traction
Openly gay elected officials continued to win offices throughout the state this year.

Marriage equality activist Michael Sabatino won his bid for Yonkers City Council on Nov. 8.

"My win was very exciting!" said Sabatino, who appeared in the documentary "March On-The Movie" about the 2009 National Equality March in Washington, D.C., with his husband, Robert Voorhies. "But it’s been a very long haul. I am the first out LGBT person elected. People voted for me on the issues important to them as citizens of this city, and were not voting for me based on what my sexual orientation is."

As a member of the Yonkers Human Rights Commission, Sabatino worked with the Board of Education to implement an anti-bullying policy in the school system. He has also been a strong advocate for marriage equality for years, helping Westchester County gain marriage equality recognition as a party in the case Godfrey vs. Spano, that Lambda Legal argued.

In New York City, Quinn has long been rumored to be preparing for a run for mayor. Calling it "the worst-kept secret in City Hall," the New York Times published the rumor that Mayor Michael Bloomberg would endorse her 2013 mayoral campaign.

Although Quinn will almost certainly face Public Advocate Bill de Blasio; Comptroller John C. Liu; former Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr., and other Democratic challengers, none have either the public recognition or an apparent nod from Bloomberg that she does.

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women’s news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she writes about local restaurants in her food blog, http://brooklyniscookin.blogspot.com/

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