With Sen. Kennedy, June '11, Albany, NY
Dear Stonewall Democrat or Ally,
2011 has been a year unlike no other. As this year draws to a close, it is so easy to look back and reflect upon the victories which were won, the history which we all had a hand in making. We passed Marriage Equality. We went to the White House. We repealed Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the United Nations in adamant advocacy of the Obama administration for the humanity and civil rights of LGBTQ people the world over. And in 2012, we will go on to do more.
I remember back in January, as we began another year of working for Marriage Equality in New York. The outlook was bleak. While we'd had huge victories like Sen. Tim Kennedy defeating his anti-equality opponents in both the Democratic Primary and General Elections, we lost supporters such as former Sen. Antoine Thompson to a candidate who ran for election opposing equal marriage rights. Our new governor was Andrew Cuomo, but our State Senate was in Republican hands. But none of that was going to deter us or stop us from lobbying and pushing for the legislation that would make equal our state's marriage contract laws.
Months later, in June, after countless car rides back and forth to Albany, multiple lobby bus trips with Buffalo contingents for the Empire State Pride Agenda and Marriage Equality New York lobby and education days, victory came. After gathering literally thousands of letters in support of Marriage from Western New Yorkers and beyond (I remember one woman we stopped outside at the Lady Gaga concert earlier this year, who lived in West Virginia but wanted her sister to have marriage equality here in NY so badly she wrote a letter to her sister's Senator Patrick Gallivan); after Kitty Lambert, Cheryle Rudd, myself and other members endured hate group the National Organization for Marriage in the state legislature's halls as we counter-protested in the days leading up to the vote-- where we were literally cursed at, spat upon and harassed-- after months of waiting, a vote was held. In the Assembly, our champions like Sam Hoyt and Danny O' Donnell delivered a passed bill. In the Senate, a late night vote made Buffalo proud with Sen. Kennedy's vote as promised, and Republican Sen. Mark Grisanti changing his stance with his vote, and joining the ranks of the brave few in the Republican Party who will stand up to the party's discriminatory platforms-- and he stood up for New York families, voting for Marriage Equality.
A historic victory, winning Marriage Equality in New York was the work of so many generations of Stonewall Democrats and WNY LGBTQ civil rights advocates; so enormously well-deserved, far long overdue. Because of the work of each and every one of you, New Yorkers are now free to marry who they love. Sadly, our federal marriage laws remain in need of equality, with the Defense of Marriage Act remaining law. But the act of New York State legislating Marriage Equality, the most populous state yet to do so, we have won one of the most important battles we will along the road to full LGBTQ equality. I thank each and every one of you who helped, came to Albany or a district office to lobby with us, who wrote or signed a letter and all who-- most importantly-- made their voices heard. Without you, we would not have Marriage in New York.
Fresh off the victory in New York, I had the distinct honor of being invited to the White House for President Obama's LGBT Pride Month Celebration. To attend a national gathering of LGBT rights activists, with Kitty Lambert-Rudd, was an incredible thing. Because of the incredible work SDWNY and all our WNY civil rights activists had done, we were recognized and respected by the President who has done more for LGBTQ rights than any other. It was the experience of a life-time to take you all with us to the White House and President Obama, in such a place of American history, and bring attention to LGBTQ rights issues and grassroots activism.
And September brought the desperately long-awaited repeal of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy-- finally, allowing our best and bravest women and men who are lesbian and gay to serve their country the way America deserves: openly, honestly and with complete integrity.
Tragically, with these best of times came the worst. With September came another heartbreak of losing a youth to suicide because of bullying. Every time we lose a youth to this senseless problem is a tragedy hard to comprehend-- and each time it hurts more. In Jamey Rodemeyer's case, the pain was local and so personal; having made a video for the "It Gets Better" campaign himself, Jamey had so many of the strengths needed to overcome the bullying of his peers, society and beyond-- and in the end, it was not enough. Each LGBTQ youth who finds no recourse but to take away the gifts of their owns lives feels, to me, such a personal failure, a failure of society. Because there's nothing that we can do, and so much we, others and society could have done. All we can do, in my opinion, is to continue to live openly and proudly-- advocating for the full equality of our community to become a reality in the world, and live as an example for our youth that it got better for us-- and it will get better for them, too.
Electorally, 2011 brought more of the highest victories and the most heartbreaking losses. In Erie County, SDWNY ally Mark Poloncarz soundly defeated incumbent Republican, anti-LGBTQ county Chris Collins, who had refused to add LGBT persons to the county's Equal Employment Opportunity policy, based on the fact it include non-discrimination of gender identity and expression. SDWNY member Greg Rabb was reelected as Jamestown City Council President, and Erie County Legislator Lynn Marinelli, long-time SDWNY ally member, was also reelected. With sad hearts and bittersweet emotions, we said goodbye to Assemblymember Sam Hoyt, when he accepted a position with Gov. Cuomo's administration this summer. Sam Hoyt's service for his community and particularly to the LGBTQ community was staunch and fierce, and we will forever be grateful for his advocacy, and his essential help in the passage of Marriage Equality. Fortunately, we now have Assemblymember Sean Ryan, also an ally member, who is firmly supportive on all issues of LGBTQ equality.
I would also like to thank outgoing Erie County Legislature Majority Leader Maria Whyte for her distinguished service in the legislature. During her terms as legislator, it was always nothing but an absolute pleasure to work with Legislator Whyte and her staff member Melissa Cummings on a wide-variety of progressive issues, not the least of which was LGBTQ equality. Always, Maria Whyte has been the absolute golden standard of a public servant. Maria's dedication to issues of what is right is unfailing. Always there, always right and always a fighter-- that is Maria Whyte. We congratulate Maria on her close, well and hard-fought campaign for Erie County Clerk-- and look forward to the great things which will come from her public service in years to come.
In closing, 2011 has been a year when so much work for the civil rights movement culminated in amazing victories. But there remains so much work to be done. To have full LGBTQ equality, we must-- as soon as possible-- pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act to allow that no New Yorker be discriminated against because of gender identity or expression. Federally, we must repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and pass a transgender-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, as well as the Uniting American Families Act, to bring equality to our immigration laws. I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for all you do to make Stonewall Democrats what we are-- and for all you will do to continue our good work. Every phone call you make, every door you knock on, every event you attend and every letter you sign brings us a step closer to GENDA, closer to the day when all Americans will be equal under the law. We have come so far, and will go the rest of the distance-- with your help. I thank you for being a Stonewall Democrat.
Yours in equality,
PS: If you have not already done so, you may sign a GENDA support letter on our website, www.SDWNY.org. Thank you!
Jamey Rodemeyer memorial after vigil, September 2011
Kitty and Cheryle Lambert-Rudd become the first same-sex couple to marry in NYS; July 2011.
SDWNY at the White House; June 2011.
Dear Stonewall Democrat or Ally,
I know you don’t need to be reminded, yet again, that this coming Tuesday, Novemeber 8 is the General Election in New York State. Every year, it seems, brings an election more important, more urgent than the last. And that is why I must stress that there is so much again on the line this year, for the future of equality in Western New York.
At the top of our ticket, we could not have two stronger allies positioned to lead Erie County into a better, more equal future. This year, our election could not more perfectly illustrate why we are Democrats, why we work of the people and for the people’s rights. On November 8, we will elect Mark Poloncarz as our County Executive, and end County Executive Chris Collins’ anti-LGBTQ term in office. Chris Collins has failed our cities, our towns, our villages and our county on so many issues such as health care, funding for our thriving artistic economy and the working class. But when Collins was faced with the opportunity to sign into policy an LGBTQ-inclusive Equal Employment Opportunity policy for the county—championed by Legislator Maria Whyte with bi-partisan support from the legislature—Chris Collins failed our community and families, and refused to sign the policy for the resolution included gender identity as a protected status. Thankfully, Mark Poloncarz is running to correct that inequality in the County Executive’s office. A longtime, staunch supporter of LGBTQ rights from marriage equality to gender expression non-discrimination, Mark Poloncarz knows how to stand up for all us and our families in WNY, and treat each resident, constituent and worker with the dignity and resecpt every individual is entitled.
Alongside Mark Poloncarz, this year we have Legislator Maria Whyte running for County Clerk. Throughout her tenure in the legislature Maria Whyte has done many amazing things. Always a voice for the voiceless and those in need, Maria Whyte has been one of the most true, fiercest and pro-active champions the LGBTQ community has in government. When Maria Whyte realized Erie County didn’t have an EEO policy for all people, she decided to do something about. When the County Executive attempted—and in some instances succeeded—in cutting vital funding and services to health care and the arts and culturals—Maria Whyte was there to stand for what is right. When I first met Maria, at a Stonewall Democrats meeting as a candidate running the first time for the legislature, I was stunned by her passion, sense of commitment and inherint knowledge of what is right. And from that moment on, Maria Whyte has made good on that promise. Always, Maria Whyte has been what the Stonewall Democrats of Western New York are all about: advancing the rights, well-being and human dignity of all people. And as our next County Clerk, Maria Whyte will take that accomplishment to the administration of county services, and continue the great work Congresswoman Kathy Hochul started in making the Clerk’s Office a better place for all residents of Erie County.
And how important this election is doesn’t stop in Erie County. In Jamestown, we will reelect City Council President Greg Rabb, the only openly gay elected official in WNY. In the City of Buffalo, we will reelect our champions on the Common Council, Councilmembers David Rivera and Michael LoCurto. And for the Erie County Legislature, our allies and friends will be reelected and elected with Legislator Lynn Marinelli, Jeremy Zellner and Joe Mascia. Each of these candidates is why the Stonewall Democrats of Western New York exist. With each of their elections, we will move one step closer to equal employment protections, gender expression non-discrimination, complete marriage equality and the entirety of LGBTQ civil rights. I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for the work you all do to make Stonewall Democrats what we are today. For each of you who’ve helped us lobby an official or candidate, gather letters, phonebank, canvass or supported our work in some way—I thank you. Because of you, we exist to endorse the best candidates for the LGBTQ community, work to elect them and pass the legislation which will make it better for our community in WNY and beyond. I thank you, and I look forward to the victories we will have with your work, your help and your vote on November 8.
All the best,
Erie County Executive:
Erie County Clerk:
Jamestown City Council:
Councilmember Gregory Rabb
Erie County Legislature, District 11:
Erie County Legislature, District 4:
Erie County Legislature, District 1:
City of Buffalo Common Council, Niagara District:
Councilmember David Rivera
City of Buffalo Common Council, Delaware District:
Councilmember Michael LoCurto
City of Buffalo Common Council, Fillmore District:
Councilmember David Franczyk
Please join us for our 2011 Candidate Reception, featuring our great pro-equality candidates Mark Poloncarz for County Executive and Maria Whyte for County Clerk. This year, we will be introducing our SDWNY Leadership Awards, and featuring them at the event. Join the Stonewall Democrats and our LGBTQ and ally community at Betty's as we celebrate the year we have had, and the victories we will have in November!
Donation/Sponsorship Levels: $20/person & $25/Couple | $35/ Ally Sponsorship | $50 / Advocate SponsorshipBetty's 370 Virginia StBuffalo, NY 142015:3o PM - 7:30 PM
This is your new blog post. Click here and start typing, or drag in elements from the top bar.
With enormous pride, Stonewall Democrats of Western New York announces our endorsement of Maria Whyte for Erie County Clerk. As an Erie County Legislator, Maria Whyte has been one of the most productive, constant and outspoken advocates the LGBTQ community has in WNY government. As County Legislator, Maria Whyte has literally been at the front lines of the fight for civil rights, the working class, urban life and the improvement of government for all.
Throughout her career in public service, Maria Whyte has delivered nothing but the most stellar services for all peoples in the communities she serves. In 2010, it was Maria Whyte who authored and fought for a LGBTQ-inclusive Equal Opportunity Employment policy, which was unanimously passed by the legislature. County Executive Collins refused to sign the resolution into the policy, failing to protect Erie County residents and taxpayers—failing at that which Maria Whyte has always exceled.
“Maria Whyte has tirelessly fought for the people, for our civil rights and against what is wrong,” said SDWNY President Bryan Ball. “She will be a stellar County Clerk, who will use her skills and expertise to help bring people and their government closer—and more usefully—together. Stonewall is proud to support Maria Whyte. We look forward to the campaign ahead, and working together with Maria to elect one of our best advocates and friends as County Clerk.”
It is with tremendous joy that Stonewall Democrats of Western New York celebrates the passage of the Marriage Equality Act by the NYS Legislature. At long last, New York will cease to segregate civil marriage rights based on gender. Families throughout our state today have been validated by our government, and given the civil rights once denied them. When same-gender marriages begin in New York, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and queer (LGBTQ) New Yorkers will have access to the state rights that come with a civil marriage.
We commend our Governor Andrew Cuomo for his soaring leadership on this issue. Gov. Cuomo made good on his promise of bringing marriage equality to our great state, and without his non-partisan leadership, we would not have this great victory today.
I thank—from the bottom of my heart—SDWNY Vice-President of Community Affairs and Outspoken for Equality President Kitty Lambert for her powerhouse leadership on Marriage Equality. For the last several years, Kitty and her partner Cheryl Rudd have worked their lives for this issue. Kitty Lambert has been the voice of the Marriage Equality movement in WNY, and all fair-minded New Yorkers will forever be grateful for her role in Marriage Equality’s passage.
New York State could not have gained this victory for the civil rights movement without the ceaseless work and unfailing dedication of our Stonewall Democrats of Western New York members, allies and incredible community of local, grassroots advocates. It is because of each letter you signed or delivered, each phone call you made, each lobby visit you attended and each neighbor you talked about equality that we now have Marriage Equality in NYS. Thank you to the many SDWNY members and activists who have, throughout the years, worked so passionately for this issue. We thank Carol Speser, community leader and co-founder of SDWNY, for her astounding leadership and advocacy for Marriage Equality. We thank SDWNY Vice-President for Political Affairs Bruce Kogan for his heart and endless drive to work for equality. We thank SDWNY Secretary Thomas Peglowski and Treasurer Ronald Groth. We thank James Bragg, Rita Sanchez, Paul Morgan, Mark Nowak, Jamestown City Council President Gregg Rabb, Ari Moore, Thomas Gleed, Madeline Davis, Wendy Smiley, Andrew Randazzo, Terry Purdue, Edwin Martinez, Douglas Charles, Sean Cooney, Cynthia Appleton, Christopher Sasiadek, Michael James, Gail Wojtowicz, former NYS Sen. Antoine Thompson, Timothy Maggio, Melissa Breckenridge and Jennifer Diagostino, among many, many others.
SDWNY extends a special commendation to NYS Assemblymember Sam Hoyt. Throughout his career in the Assembly, Sam Hoyt has fiercely championed the civil rights of LGBTQ New Yorkers. Always, Sam Hoyt has stood with the LGBTQ community. Marriage Equality is now law in NY because of his great work and advocacy.
We also proudly extend our utmost gratitude to NYS Senator Timothy Kennedy. A pro-equality voice where previously we’d had none, Sen. Kennedy has proven to be among the most-staunch supporters of LGBTQ rights in the state legislature. As Andrew Cuomo did with his own election, Sen. Kennedy has made good on his promise of Marriage Equality, and SDWNY could not be more proud.
We also extend our immense gratitude to Senator Mark Grisanti. With his vote in favor of Marriage Equality, Sen. Grisanti displayed a true profile in courage by standing up for what is right. Throughout our lobbying and working with Sen. Grisanti, he has proven himself to be a man of great wisdom and heart—a Republican willing to listen to the needs of our community, open to learning and, in the end, champion the cause of civil rights. Our state and country would be a much better place if we had more heroic legislators like Sen. Mark Grisanti.
And we thank our WNY pro-equality Democratic legislators who helped pass Marriage Equality with their votes and advocacy—Assemblymembers Crystal People-Stokes and Mark Schroeder.
We thank all our outstanding pro-equality elected officials: Congress members Rep. Higgins, Hochul and Slaughter; Erie County Legislators Majority Leader Maria Whyte and Lynn Marinelli; Buffalo Common Councilmembers David Rivera, Michael LoCurto and Michael Kearns. And we thank the Erie County Democratic Committee for their support—Chairman Len Lenihan, Executive Director Jeremy Zellner and Melissa Bochenski, as well as the Erie County Young Democrats.
It is with this great happiness that we look to the next chapter of our involvement in the civil rights movement: the passage of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act. We remain saddened that our state has not extended protections from discrimination to our transgender sisters and brothers, and has not outlawed discrimination—for employment, for housing—based on an individual’s real or perceived gender identity and expression. We celebrate the victory of Marriage Equality today, and look forward to the day when every single LGBTQ American is afforded all her or his equal, civil rights.
Last night, I attended my second hearing of the Erie County Legislature’s Reapportionment Advisory Committee, to speak out on the map submitted by Committee Chair Adam Perry. The map, which you can view here, is largely seen as a transparent attempt to draw districts favoring Erie County Executive Chris Collins and the legislators who vote with him. County Executive is very much anti-LGBTQ , as he last year refused to incorporate LGBTQ individuals into the County’s Equal Employment Opportunity on the ground it included gender identity and expression—and this redistricting process is a new offense.
The map submitted by Perry blatantly disregards and splices heavily LGBTQ neighborhoods such as Allentown and the Elmwood Village in the City of Buffalo, to the point where each neighbor has its voice drowned out by the rest of the new districts. Though LGBTQ individuals are a very present and vibrant part of communities all over Erie County, such disregard of the areas of our highest populations should not go without notice. I was one of about people who spoke against Perry’s plan, which also uses the same tactic to silence the city’s Hispanic and African American communities.
Immediately after the meeting, the committee voted to send the controversial map and only the controversial map as a recommendation to the legislature.
Here is what I said:
My name is Bryan Ball, president of the Stonewall Democrats of Western New York. We are a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) advocacy group for the advancement and civil rights movement of our community.
I’m here this evening to once again ask the committee, legislature and county draw attention to the needs of the LGBTQ community in Erie County, with the difficult task of reapportionment.
At an earlier meeting of this committee, I urged the committee to take into consideration the representation of the LGBTQ community when drawing the new legislative districts. For while the LGBTQ community is a vibrant, contributing part of communities everywhere in Erie County, keeping in mind the Voting Rights Act, we deserve to have our voice considered in our allegedly representative government.
Simply put, LGBTQ people need their voice respected in government, as we are among the most oppressed minority groups for we are routinely denied by our government basic civil rights such as liberty and the pursuit of happiness—in the form of employment, housing and marital discrimination.
For example, right here in Erie County, LGBTQ persons have been denied employment protections, as County Executive Collins refused to sign off on a resolution—unanimously passed by the legislature last year—which would add LGBTQ people to the County’s Equal Employment Opportunity policy, because the resolution included transgender individuals and gender identity and expression. Not only are transgender individuals denied employment protections here at the local level of government, but they are denied such protections by our state, our country. The reality is that may people live in the fear that comes with not being able to obtain legal protections granted to others but discriminated by gender. When applying for jobs, looking for housing or seeking to protect our families—there is no equal, legal protection for us, which our government has the power to grant.
Therefore, because we are a minority group that is denied such equal treatment under the law, I urge the committee to not weaken what voice we have, in the power that comes from the highest area of our populations, in the legislature.
One of the many aspects very wrong with the map submitted by Committee Chair Adam Perry is its disregard of heavily LGBTQ neighborhoods in the city of buffalo—neighborhoods which, if for nothing else, are strongly connected historical districts with an undeniable sense of community. By slicing these neighborhoods—separating areas such as Allentown and the Elmwood Village, the map not only weakens LGBTQ voices, but weakens Hispanic and African American voices, as well. And districts that could lead to the eventual elimination of any non-white, non-heteronormative, non-male representation is a frightening prospect. Especially when such maps appear to be transparent, partisan attempts to hinder or help individual legislators based on politics that have nothing to do with our communities.
In closing, there are no laws in place to preserve LGBTQ voices in government. There are no laws to protect us all from employment discrimination in our county, state, country. There are no laws which allow me to marry my partner and have us both protected as people of different genders would be allowed to.
There are no laws, and there need to be such laws. And there are no laws in place which would prevent the committee from doing what is right and protecting minority voices.
I thank you for your time and attention to this matter.
Sunday, May 1, 2011
Stonewall Democrats of Western New York are proud to congratulate two of our own Stonewall Democrats on receiving Community Service Recognitions from the Buffalo Brunch, sponsored by Embrace WNY.
As one of the most dynamic and accomplished young activists in WNY, Andrew Randazzo works tirelessly along with Outspoken for Equality, SDWNY and the WNY LGBTQ community to advance the civil rights movement. Among his many accomplishments, Andrew was instrumental in lobbying the State legislature to finally, after a long campaign, pass the Dignity for All Students Act last year. We proudly congratulate Andrew Randazzo on his recognition at this year’s Buffalo Brunch.
As one of the most responsive and productive elected officials in WNY, Maria Whyte has always stood proudly, steadfastly for what is right. A long-time supporter of LGBTQ civil rights, Maria Whyte is the absolute model of a public servant and elected official. In the County Legislature, Maria Whyte has been an integral part of advancing issues such as the County’s Equal Employment Opportunity Policy, domestic partnership legislation and just representation for all the citizens of her district. SDWNY is proud to congratulate Erie County Legislator Maria Whyte on her recognition by Embrace WNY, her tremendous accomplishments, and even brighter future.
(Pictured: SDWNY Co-Founder Carol Speser, having introduced Legislator Whyte on receiving her award.)