Monday, January 31, 2011

Let me introduce myself

Hi everybody, I am one of the new interns at the Pride Agenda and would like to introduce myself before the semester really gets going. My name is Geoff Montes and I’m currently a junior at NYU, majoring in politics, with (hopefully) a double major in urban design. I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC and moved to New York when I started college. Since coming here I have been consistently impressed with the message of the Pride Agenda and I look forward to joining the discussion about equal rights. I have experience working in local government initiatives as well as in consulting and public relations. I am interested in encouraging acceptance and fostering dialogue about LGBT equality across the state.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

News sweep: marriage update

The fight for marriage equality is heating up across the country! New key players are taking a stand, and things look promising for supporters in a number of states.

Iowa Democrats may have lost the House, but they’ve maintained a firm hold on the Senate. Chairman Mike Gronstal previously pledged never to allow any proposals to repeal marriage equality to even make it to a vote, and today Senate Democrats defeated a Republican attempt to suspend the Senate rule that prevents such a vote on marriage from taking place without the approval of Majority Leader Gronstal.

The Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act was introduced in the Maryland State Senate last week; a corresponding bill is expected to be taken up in the House. With the recently enlarged Democratic majority in both state houses, the chances of achieving marriage for same-sex couples in Maryland look very good.

Though New Hampshire Republicans might have the voting power to repeal the 2009 marriage equality law, House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt has asked that the repeal bill be held until 2012. Bettencourt wishes for the state to focus on budget issues this year.

Rhode Island Democrats have introduced marriage equality bills in both chambers, in hopes that their maintained majorities along with the support of the newly elected Governer Lincoln Chafee will finally allow the bill to come to a vote. Unfortunately, Republican Senate President Teresa Pavia Weed remains opposed to marriage equality.

A Quinnipiac University poll released today has shown that 57 percent of New Yorkers support allowing same-sex couples to marry.

The NYC Star Awards

Last night, the Pride Agenda took over the Vlada Lounge to celebrate the amazing contributions of our volunteers. Delicious food and drinks were enjoyed by all, and staff, board, volunteers, and supporters alike all got to mix and mingle to the fabulous beats of DJ Missy B (Pride Agenda’s own Lead Finance Coordinator Missy Bolds)!

The night revolved around honoring five of our incredible volunteers for all they’ve done for the Pride Agenda. Reverend Anna Taylor Sweringen and Gustavo Pedroza were unable to attend, so Lead Organizer Kate McDonough graciously accepted their awards on their behalf. Rev. Taylor Sweringen was instrumental in building broader support among clergy in Queens and Gustavo was a tireless volunteer on key campaigns in Queens.

Special Events Coordinator Joshua Best presented volunteer Thao Le with a Star Award for her wonderful efforts at many fundraising events. Thao has come to be an integral part of the Pride Agenda’s fundraising work, acting as a leader and always having a smile on her face. Thao told us, “It’s great to be recognized for something you love to do.” Thank you, Thao!

Director of Major Gifts Donnie Roberts presented a Star Award to Dusty Mortimer-Maddox, who “never thought you could get an award for licking envelopes!” In reality, Dusty assists the Pride Agenda with a great number office-related tasks that would never get done without her dedication and attention to detail. The Pride Agenda thanks you, Dusty!

Kelly Canzoneri received her Star Award from Director of Downstate Organizing Desma Holcomb. Kelly began working with the Pride in Our Union effort and is now a shop steward at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Kelly has exhibited her amazing and unique talents both in her own work and in her work with the Pride Agenda, and we couldn’t be more grateful!

Each and every volunteer plays a vital role in this organization’s ability to function and in the movement toward LGBT equality. Thank you so much to each of you. We’re looking forward to another great year!

Sign up to volunteer for your chance to get a Star Award of your own this year.

Yet another poll shows NY wants marriage

This morning Quinnipiac University released a poll showing New York State voters support legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry 56 - 37 percent, the highest margin ever for that poll.

A Siena poll released last week found that 57 percent of New Yorkers agreed with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s support for legalization of same-sex marriage, and last summer the New York Times estimated that 58 percent of New Yorkers are in favor of allowing same-sex couples to marry.

Pride Agenda Executive Director Ross Levi had this to say:
“Polls consistently show that allowing same-sex couples to legally marry has majority support in New York State. We look forward to the governor and the legislature working together to carry out the will of the people and pass this legislation, so loving same-sex couples in New York can finally protect each other and their children just like any other family.”

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Angels in America welcomes the Pride Agenda

The cast, crew and award-winning author of the revival of the landmark play ANGELS IN AMERICA: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes welcomed the Pride Agenda for a January 6 performance benefitting the work of the organization. A night at the theater turned out to be a most appropriate start to our year!

Playwright Tony Kushner, a longtime supporter of the Pride Agenda, warmly thanked the audience members before the show for supporting a cause close to his heart.

Afterwards, our executive director, Ross Levi, noted the connections between this historic play and the Empire State Pride Agenda, both created around the same turbulent time in our community’s history. The character Ray Cohn infamously dismisses the movement by declaring “A homosexual is somebody who, in 15 years of trying cannot get a pissant anti-discrimination bill through the City Council.” The Pride Agenda was one of the lead organizations that got a nondiscrimination law passed statewide in a major victory a few years later.

Now celebrating our 20th anniversary, we’re still working to fulfill Pryor Walter’s prophetic vision: “We will be citizens.”

Managing Director of Operations Lynn Faria with Board Member Bill Porter, who plays Belize

Zoe Kazan, who plays Harper, with Board Chair Frank Selvaggi

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ask your senator to support the marriage equality and GENDA bills!

You can help kick off the new legislative session in Albany with marriage equality and GENDA bills that are stronger than ever by asking your state senator to support or co-sponsor both. Communication from constituents like you is essential to changing the hearts and minds of elected officials.

Before marriage equality and GENDA are re-introduced for the new 2011-2012 legislative session, state senators have the opportunity to show their support by becoming co-sponsors of the bills. This is a new opportunity for senators to step up and publicly endorse these bills now that the recent elections have shown how supporting our issues is a winning strategy.

Contact your senator right now. Email them through our action center or call them on the New York State Senate switchboard at 518-455-2800 with the reasons why they should support and even co-sponsor these bills:

"As your constituent, it's important to me that all New Yorkers are treated fairly. Will you support both the bill to allow same-sex couples to get married in this state and the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act?"

Your work to persuade your senator is vital to regaining the momentum towards the broad bipartisan support that will be necessary to actually pass GENDA and marriage equality into law.

Governor Cuomo has already shown a commitment to LGBT equality and justice by calling for marriage equality this year in his State of the State address, by promptly reissuing the executive order prohibiting discrimination against transgender people in state employment, and by appointing Alphonso David -- an African American gay attorney -- to the newly-created position of Deputy Secretary for Civil Rights. We need the New York State Senate to follow his lead. We need you to call your senator early in the legislative session to tell them why they should reconsider their position on legislation providing marriage for same-sex couples and basic transgender civil rights.

Next step: let us know what happened! If your senator's office responds, please contact our Director of Legislative and Political Affairs Brian Coffin at bcoffin AT prideagenda DOT org and tell us what they said.

Pride in the Pulpit Newsletter

On December 2, 2009 I sat in my cubicle and focused on my breathing. “Deep breath in, deep breath out” I repeated over and over again to myself. Our state senate had just voted down the marriage equality bill. The sound of the gavel adjourning the session literally knocked the wind out of me. A few months later I went through the same exercise as I watched GENDA suffer a similar fate in the Judiciary Committee. In the beginning of 2010 it seemed that our movement was doing a similar exercise--pausing to catch its breath in the midst of heartbreak.

However, as the year unfolded, I witnessed an explosion of life as members of the faith community throughout New York State pressed on and continued the hard work of changing hearts and minds for LGBT equality. In Queens, clergy gathered for a transgender advocacy training where they learned more about transgender identity and how to be advocates for GENDA. In Long Island, Pride in the Pulpit members created a marriage equality road show. The road show is a panel presentation in which couples travel throughout the region and talk- family to family-about why marriage equality is important to them. In Buffalo, members of the faith community are creating an initiative to confront a website that sponsors religious hate speech. In Rochester, Pride in the Pulpit members were instrumental in insuring that a high profile interfaith conference included an LGBT track. In New York City, the Pride in the Pulpit Faith Leaders of Color Committee created a forum to address how faith communities of color can engage in dialogue about LGBT equality. Sixty people, from a wide range of backgrounds, attended the event. In June the Dignity for all Students Act was passed. In September, it was signed into law.

These are just a few examples of the amazing work that happened in 2010. Thank you for all that you did--you are the inspiration that breaths life back into me. I can’t wait to witness and be a part of your accomplishments in 2011.

In Peace,

Kate McDonough
Pride in the Pulpit Coordinator

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Our reaction to the incoming administration

Did you see Governor Andrew Cuomo's first State of the State address today? We issued the following statement to media about what we see as promising signs coming from this incoming administration. We'd love to hear what you think, too, if you would like to leave a comment.


Early Actions Show Governor Cuomo's Commitment to
Civil Rights and LGBT Equality

Pride Agenda Executive Director Ross Levi Reacts to State of the State

Albany, NY, January 5, 2011 -- Empire State Pride Agenda Executive Director Ross D. Levi commended Governor Andrew Cuomo for early actions on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues, including the mention of marriage equality in today's State of the State address.

"The Pride Agenda is very pleased that Governor Cuomo in his State of the State address specifically included LGBT New Yorkers in his vision of a great Empire State," Levi said. "He has strongly and repeatedly shown his support for LGBT fairness and equality, and the affirmation today of his commitment to see marriage for loving same-sex couples become law in New York State is another indication of that support. We look forward to working with Governor Cuomo and Lt. Governor Robert Duffy -- and elected officials throughout the state -- to move forward on marriage equality, fighting transgender discrimination and the many other LGBT issues that are supported by a majority of New Yorkers."

Levi noted two other pro-LGBT actions taken by Cuomo in the first days of his administration:

  • Governor Cuomo continued the Executive Order -- first signed by former Governor Paterson in 2009 -- prohibiting discrimination in state employment on the basis of gender identity and expression.
  • Cuomo appointed Alphonso David to the newly-created position of Deputy Secretary for Civil Rights. David was previously New York State's Special Deputy Attorney General for Civil Rights. He also served as Deputy Commissioner at the New York State Division of Human Rights and as a staff attorney at Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund.

"In the first few days of his administration, Governor Cuomo has taken concrete action to prohibit transgender discrimination, created a historic position in his administration to oversee civil rights, appointed a gay, African- American man to fill that position and included marriage equality in his State of the State presentation," Levi said. "These important steps show the Governor's commitment to creating a fair Empire State for all New Yorkers, and at the same time underscore an important political reality: An ever-increasing number of New Yorkers and Americans want fairness and equality for their LGBT family members, friends and neighbors, and expect their elected officials to work to achieve those goals."

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Have a Happy New Year -- You earned it

Reflecting on this past year -- my first as executive director -- I'm inspired by the strength shown by our community. We accomplished a lot in a very challenging year, but only because we had our community -- and that means you -- on our side. You helped us achieve things people said were impossible.

Thanks to you, we saw the passage of the landmark Dignity for All Students Act, during a heartbreaking time when it became all too clear that the needs of LGBT youth in public schools were not being met. Because of your advocacy, Governor Paterson's executive order preventing discrimination based on gender identity and expression in the state's workforce brought New York's transgender community one step closer to full civil rights. We secured resources from our state government for LGBT health and human services all across the state. Finally, our community's voice rang out loud and clear in the recent elections showing both incoming and incumbent politicians that there's a new political calculus: you can't be seen as anti-LGBT and achieve victory in statewide elected office here in New York.

All this happened because of you. You volunteered, you engaged your legislators, you voted and you advocated for our rights. Though there were some disappointments this year, too, our community stuck together and stood by us. You are the reason we can promise to keep doing this work until we win.

And with you by our side as we ring in the New Year, we will continue our path of progress. In his inaugural address earlier today, Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke of the need for New York's citizens to be reengaged in their government. We at the Pride Agenda, and indeed the LGBT community, are already ahead of the curve in this regard; connecting people who believe in equality and justice to government has been and will continue to be a cornerstone of our work.

Welcome, 2011. Today, a new state government comes into office in Albany, and while many pundits focus on the lawmakers, I want to thank you, our activists and supporters. Together we will work harder than ever to cover more ground and build support all over the state, in both parties, among business leaders, people of faith and our union sisters and brothers. You keep making it happen, and I enter the new year filled with optimism about the great things that together we will be able to accomplish toward a more just Empire State.

With heartfelt gratitude,

Ross D. Levi
Executive Director
Empire State Pride Agenda