Wednesday, July 27, 2011

We are building a better New York; Thank you for making it happen.

It’s an amazing and joyous time for New Yorkers! For the first time ever, all loving committed couples are able to get married here in the Empire State. A wedding is about two people making a lifelong commitment to love and care for each other. But this summer of weddings is also a celebration for our community. For the first time in history, our families have access to the same protections and responsibilities that New York gives to all married couples, and that is momentous.

In recognition of the first day that same-sex couples could legally wed in New York State we were on the ground Sunday in Albany, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Queens, Long Island, Manhattan, Rochester and Syracuse. Our staff was distributing “Just Married” sashes at City Clerks’ offices to couples receiving their marriage licenses and getting married. Designed to fulfill the adage “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue,” the blue sashes are keepsakes for couples from this historic day.

Lead Organizer Kate McDonough shared this story from the Manhattan Clerk’s office:

“On Sunday morning I boarded the J train with a box filled with hundreds of ‘Just Married’ sashes. People quietly peeked at my box and some let out a small smile. The scene at the clerk’s office was electric. Outside was like a never-ending wedding march as couples lined up to finally exchange vows. Some couples went as far as to have entire wedding parties, with bridesmaids in matching dresses and small children carrying flowers. It was wonderful to be a part of the day by handing out sashes. Couples snatched them as volunteers ran up and down the line or handed them off to newlyweds exiting the clerk’s office. As I gave sashes to one couple, the man grabbing the sash looked me in the eye and said, ‘16 years together and now we can be “just married;” It’s a great day.’”

Our Transgender Rights Organizer Christopher Argyros reported from Albany:

“Then, finally, the judge came out at midnight into the middle of the room with the first couple to be married. The room hushed while photographers scurried to get the best shots of this historic moment. The vows were fairly standard, but when the judge said those words which we had all heard at weddings past and taken for granted, ‘By the power vested in me by the laws of the State of New York…’ that right then was The Moment –a collective chill ran through the room. I think all of our eyes got a little teary. For me, that was when I fully realized the reality of what had happened: a momentous change in the law and in the progress of our society towards equality, and a historic moment for civil rights.”

Development Director Johanna Osburn congratulated the happy newlyweds in Queens:

“I had the honor of being part of this historic day, greeting and congratulating couples at Queens Borough Hall on Sunday morning as the first couples were married there. The looks on their faces as they walked out of the building, holding a certificate which took thousands of people and so many years to become real, were breathtaking – it was a combination of joy and awe and love, the likes of which I’ve never seen. And the families and friends there to support them may have been even more nervous and excited than the couples, as they recognized just what this day meant. Even a few couples who forgot something to receive their licenses were still smiling as they raced back home to get an ID or paperwork!”

We are now celebrating the result of decades of hard work by the Empire State Pride Agenda and others to open hearts and minds. Thank you for all that you’ve done to advance lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality and justice here in New York State. Marriage is a landmark victory, but there is still work that needs to be done:

  • We need to further transgender civil rights and pass a statewide transgender non-discrimination law to prevent people from being fired from their jobs or denied housing just because of how they express their gender.

  • Our government needs to do its part to address the health and human
    service needs of the LGBT community and protect the most vulnerable members of our community, like LGBT seniors and homeless youth.

  • We have to ensure that the Dignity for all Students Act is implemented effectively and fulfills its promise of making all youth safe from bullying and discrimination within their schools.

  • And we need to defend our marriage victory by standing up for those elected officials who stood by us when they are all up for election in November of 2012. We also need to help maximize the ripple effect of this marriage victory nationwide.

We are building a better New York. Once again, I know I can count on you to help us make it happen.

In solidarity,

Ross D. Levi

Executive Director
Empire State Pride Agenda

PS - If you got married or are getting married, consider registering your wedding with the Pride Agenda. With our Wedding Registry, your guests can give a donation to help defend marriage in New York State, and you can receive your own "Just Married" sash!

Photos (in order) by Anahi DeCanio, Andrea Morales of The New York Times, and Eric Krupke.

“Something Blue”: The story behind our wedding day sashes

By Albany Intern Geoff Corey

In the days and weeks after marriage equality passed, our staff realized that another historic day was upon us. On Sunday, July 24, certain city clerk offices would be opening to celebrate the expansion of marriage rights. The first day only comes once, and our Executive Director, Ross Levi, wanted to have some sort of visual to mark the day, and provide couples with a keepsake to have and keep as a reminder of history. It was our Communications Manager, George Simpson, who first uttered “Something blue.”

A sash is used to recognize achievement. Whether on a graduate, a pageant winner, or even a hardworking member of a company, it is worn with pride by its recipient. Pride has always been a major part of our community, so it seemed natural that on a day marking a great historical achievement, couples would don sashes proclaiming their new status as a married couple.

We immediately got to work designing (in our heads and on paper) what we wanted the sashes to look like. Once we knew, we reached out to printing companies who were friendly to our cause. As it turns out, thick cloth sashes are quite expensive. Especially when ordering 1,500 of them. We instead found out we could make the sashes ourselves if we ordered 3,000 yards of custom printed ribbon. They would still look great and fall within our budget.

We had a company lined up and ready to print when suddenly they called us to say there was a problem. They didn’t have the presses to do the design we wanted. Even if they did, it was going to take at least 10 days to print them. We needed the ribbon in a week so we would have enough time to make them into sashes. We began to get nervous that the project wouldn’t work out. A few different staff members began looking online for other companies, but even if we found one we weren’t guaranteed that they would be able to print and ship them to us in time.

At the very last minute, I researched online and discovered a company that could print them and specialized in rush delivery. We worked through the weekend to make sure we would get the ribbon on time. It was a relief when it arrived four days before the 24th.

It was a relief until it sank in that we needed to cut 9,000 feet of ribbon into 1,500 sashes in a few days. The rolls of ribbon were stacked in our conference room; reminding the staff of how much work we had ahead of us. In Albany, I took on the role of cutting every two yards, and creating piles of incomplete sashes. In between organizing our push to pass GENDA, helping to implement the Dignity for All Students Act, and maintaining an efficient network of LGBT health and human service groups, staff members would come in and pin as many sashes as they could before they had to go back to work. Volunteers helped out too, such as Dusty (pictured right).

The sashes were ready to go on the Friday afternoon before marriage weekend. We sent Jonathan Lang and Brian Coffin to their hometowns of Buffalo and Syracuse, respectively. Alden Bashaw took charge of the events in Rochester. Sheilah Sable, Christopher Argyros, and I stayed in Albany for the midnight weddings. Joanna Solomonsohn took the sashes to Brookhaven, and Kate McDonough, Erica Pelletreau and Ross Levi split up to handle the hundreds of New York City nuptials. Most couples were excited to be donned with a “Just Married!” sash and proudly greeted family, friends and the media wearing them.

It’s great to know that so many loving couples from across the country are now able to legitimize their relationship in the eyes of New York State. The Pride Agenda was happy to be able to share in that celebration, and to provide couples with fun sashes as a gift on their wedding day. Congratulations to all the couples who were just married. The Pride Agenda wishes you well in the future, and hopefully you’ll one day find your “Just Married!” sash in the attic, and be reminded of all the joy of your historic wedding day.

Photos by Pride Agenda Staff and Eric Krupke

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Could a transgender civil rights bill prevent hate violence?

Post by Transgender Rights Organizer Christopher Argyros

I’ve been further considering the Hate Violence Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and HIV-Affected Communities in the United States in 2010 report recently released by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP). This sobering report is the most comprehensive source of information on anti-LGBTQH violence in the United States.

As I said in my previous post, the report and the recent murder of a young trans woman in DC, Lashai Mclean, show that anti-LGBTQH (defined for this report as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and HIV-affected) violence continues to be rampant in the United States, with transgender people and people of color being disproportionately impacted. I am considering how our work here at the Pride Agenda, particularly our legislative campaigning, is a form of anti-violence work. As an attorney and someone committed to measurable, progressive social change, I am often questioning how changes in law actually lead to real, tangible improvement in people’s lives. I am hopeful that a civil rights bill prohibiting discrimination against transgender New Yorkers in the areas of employment, public accommodation, housing and credit will go far to improve lives in our communities, including mitigating the harassment and violence that transgender and gender nonconforming people endure.

First and perhaps most simply, is the broad and sweeping effect of such a bill on the public conscience. A trans civil rights bill will increase public awareness and send a clear message that treating transgender people as second class people is not tolerated under the law and, as the report states, such legislation can “inspire respectful attitudes...”

Second, prohibiting discrimination in the employment setting is critical in lowering violence against trans people. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 74% of trans New Yorkers have experienced harassment or mistreatment on the job, while 20% reported losing a job and 37% reported not being hired because of their gender identity or expression… and these are just the known incidents of discrimination. As a result of this discrimination and other societal barriers, trans people are five times more likely to live in poverty compared to the rest of the population.

For trans people living in poverty and facing incredible obstacles in acquiring legitimate employment due to discrimination, there is often little choice but to engage in sex work for survival; and it is widely documented that trans people are disproportionately engaged in sex work. These circumstances place trans people in elevated risk situations and in settings where violence and abuse is common. Additionally, because prostitution is illegal in New York, it is less likely that victims will report incidents of violence; this nondisclosure allows violence to continue and escalate. According to the report, five out of the 12 trans women who were murdered in 2010 were engaged in sex work at the time of their murder.

Employment is not that only area where a trans civil rights bill could improve trans people’s opportunity and indirectly mitigate violence against trans people. Prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations (that is, all places generally open to the public) will also go far in reducing the levels of violence that trans people experience.

The bill will make it illegal for the employees of such businesses to outwardly discriminate or harass (which is a form of violence) transgender customers, patients, and clients. There are also many less direct examples. Occupying a more vulnerable and less economically stable position in our society, trans people need safe and reliable access to social services. The Discrimination Survey found that an astounding 18% of transgender respondents from New York State had been homeless at one point because of their gender identity or expression. A transgender civil rights bill, properly implemented, would make public accommodations such as domestic violence and homeless shelters more accessible to trans people. As the report detailed, 20% of violent incidents occurred on the street while 35% was committed by a stranger. Providing a safe place for homeless trans people to go, free from discriminatory treatment, is critical. Likewise, ensuring that all social service providers must fulfill basic needs in a non-discriminatory manner may result in more trans people accessing these services and being better equipped to survive and overcome challenging times, without turning to dangerous means.

A bill prohibiting discrimination against trans people would not solve these problems overnight. After passage, there would be much work to do in the application and implementation. But clearly, undoubtedly, a critical component in addressing the problem of discrimination is to make it illegal and punishable. As one trans rights activist recently said to me, “To be able to stand up in the face of discrimination and say, ‘That is illegal,’ would be a very impactful and empowering statement. Right now, we don’t even have that.”

Friday, July 22, 2011

New report underscores how bullying bill will protect trans New Yorkers

Post by Transgender Rights Organizer Christopher Argyros

I am mourning the news that this week we lost yet another member of the trans community to violence. A young transgender woman of color named Lashai was murdered on the street in DC. She was walking with a friend at 4:30 a.m. and after having some words with two men on the street, she was fatally shot in the back. Her friends and family described her as a kind, well-loved person that “always wanted to do the right thing to survive.”

Tragically, Lashai’s murder isn’t an isolated incident. I’ve been reviewing the Hate Violence Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and HIV-Affected Communities in the United States in 2010 report recently released by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. This sobering report is the most comprehensive source of information on anti-LGBTQH (defined for this study as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and HIV-affected) violence in the United States.

The results of the report show that transgender people, particularly trans people of color, experience disproportionately high prevalence and severity of violence in every area that was examined. For example, trans people and people of color are twice as likely to experience hate violence involving assault or discrimination, compared to other LGBQH people. And while trans people were reported to represent 8.6% of the LGBTQ population, 12 out of the 27 documented LGBTQH murders involved victims that were transgender women. This most recent horrifying murder only confirms this trend.

The report and the murder of Lashai are a reminder that deterrence and punishment through hate crimes legislation, while important, is only part of the solution to address violence targeted at transgender and gender nonconforming people. What is so clearly needed is systematic change to address and reduce hate violence. The Dignity for All Students Act, which will take effect July 2012, has the potential to be an important component in that systematic change. Likewise, passage of the proposed Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) would be another significant step in decreasing incidents of violence and promoting holistic positive change for our communities. It is my hope that this duo of enacted and proposed legislation to protect transgender New Yorkers will address many of the root causes of the elevated risk of violence experienced by trans and gender nonconforming people.

The Dignity for All Students Act prohibits harassment and discrimination against students in school, including harassment based on real or perceived gender identity and expression (as well as race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, and sex). It also sets up a framework for promoting a more positive school culture through sensitivity training and classroom curricula on diversity.

Besides obviously protecting students from violence within the school setting, the Dignity Act may also indirectly lower violence against trans and gender nonconforming people outside of schools. A 2009 report by GLSEN showed that 87% of trans high school students had been verbally harassed because of their gender expression, which in turn was found to be related to increased absenteeism, decreased educational aspirations, and lower academic performance. A hostile educational environment has also been linked to higher dropout rates among trans youth. By mandating safer schools, the Dignity Act could serve to decrease these disproportionately high rates of underperformance and dropout. You can see that this would have far-reaching effects: Trans youth would be less likely to turn to drugs, less likely to seek illegitimate forms of employment, less likely to become homeless (all problems that currently effect LGBT youth more commonly than their non-LGBT counterparts), and therefore less likely to wind up in unstable living situations and contexts that entail a higher risk of violence and suicide.

Without a doubt, there is much work to be done to educate the public and raise awareness around trans issues, and the resulting de-stigmatization of trans people will go a long way to lessen the attacks on trans people. The complimenting prong to that is the empowerment of trans individuals with educational opportunity, and all the benefits that flow from a full education, so that trans people are not put on a dangerous course at a young age. With effective implementation, I’m hopeful that the Dignity for All Students Act can work towards this positive, reformative result. All students deserve a fair chance and a safe place to learn and grow.

In my next post, I will address some of the ways that the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act will also serve to protect transgender New Yorkers from violence, through allowing greater opportunities for individual and community empowerment.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Marriage for a lifetime — a gift that’s truly priceless.

A marriage is between two people who make a lifelong commitment to love and care for each other. But this historic moment is also a celebration for our community. For the first time in history, our families are being afforded the same rights and responsibilities as others; and that is momentous.

Many couples who have been together for years don’t need a blender or gravy boat. In lieu of a gift, they are asking friends and family to send them off into wedded bliss with a donation to support equality and justice. Marriage for a lifetime — a gift that’s truly priceless.

You can go to to either register your wedding with the Pride Agenda or give a gift in honor of a couple you know. Donations go toward defending the marriage victory we secured this year so that all marriages can last forever.

One to two business days after registering, you will be listed alphabetically in a drop-down menu at You will also receive an email with sample text to send to your friends and family explaining the gift registry. We then will provide you with a list of every guest who made a special gift in your name so that you can personally thank your friends and family for their support.

Marriage in New York State is a landmark accomplishment, and the result of decades of hard work by the Empire State Pride Agenda and others, but there is still more that needs to be done:

  • In New York State, we need to ensure that no legislator who voted in favor of marriage loses their seat because of that vote. Nationwide, the other side cannot claim one victory unseating a legislator merely for their marriage vote. We won’t allow that to change.

  • Same-sex couples can only get married in six states and the District of Columbia. The Defense of Marriage Act still exists on the federal level, but a bill to repeal it faced a historic debate in Congress just yesterday. We will do our part to guarantee New York provides momentum for the country.

  • Transgender New Yorkers can be fired from their jobs or kicked out of their homes just because of how they express their gender identity. This is wrong and we need a statewide transgender civil rights bill.

With fond wishes on your special day,

-- The Empire State Pride Agenda team

PS - The Marriage Equality Act goes into effect this Sunday, July 24. However, because that is a Sunday, many town and city clerk’s offices may be closed, or have special rules for the occasion. In New York State there is a 24-hour waiting period after a license is issued before a marriage can be solemnized at a wedding. Some jurisdictions will provide judges on hand to waive this requirement. Please check with your local clerk’s office. We also have more information and FAQs on our website, and will be updating it as more details come in.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Register your wedding with the Pride Agenda

Let the weddings begin! By Monday, July 25, all loving, committed same-sex couples will finally be able to get married in New York State. You can honor and celebrate these marriages through a gift that’s priceless: Ensuring marriage equality for a lifetime.

Register your wedding with the Pride Agenda
or give a gift to a happy couple to allow us to defend the marriage victory we secured this year and ensure that our marriages are able to last forever.

There are many reasons to consider the Pride Agenda when deciding where to make your gift registry. Couples who have lived together for years may find they don’t need the typical housewarming gifts that some newlyweds would seek. New couples may feel that helping to defend their marriage from attack is the best gift they could ever receive. Straight couples may know that the fight for their LGBT friends is far from over, and a gift to the Pride Agenda in their name will help ensure that all marriages, and all families, are honored and protected equally by New York State.

With the Empire State Pride Agenda Wedding Registry you can encourage your guests to give a gift in your name for LGBT equality and justice. All they need is the link Or, you can give a gift in honor of any happy couple you know. Let them see that you care by standing up for their marriage.

I can’t believe the day is almost here. Let’s do our part to help marriage last forever.


Ross D. Levi
Executive Director
Empire State Pride Agenda