Marriage Equality, Homeless Youth and Hate Crimes Dominate 2011 Headlines
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.