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 We repealed Don't Ask, Don't Tell.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!