Equality and justice for all!
This was the message that more than 1,000 activists from across New York brought to Albany on Monday, May 9, for the Empire State Pride Agenda’s annual Equality and Justice Day. The Pride Agenda and their supporters stressed the importance of passing a statewide transgender rights bill-the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act-and ending health disparities for LGBT New Yorkers, but the expected introduction of a marriage equality bill largely dominated the day’s agenda.
Governor Andrew Cuomo was conspicuously absent, but Gov. Bob Duffy stressed to activists gathered inside the Empire State Plaza Convention Center that his administration remains committed to marriage equality.
"It is something he [Cuomo] believes in, it is something he supports, it is something he supports," he said.
Duffy further described a lack of marriage equality in New York as "un-American" and "not what New York State is all about." Ross Levi, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, told EDGE after he spoke to a 1 p.m. rally that drew hundreds to West Capitol Plaza that nobody should question the governor’s commitment to this issue.
"He hasn’t been shy on his stance on marriage equality and LGBT issues," said Levi.
Two Cuomo administration officials with whom EDGE spoke declined to provide a specific timeline for when a marriage equality bill would be formally introduced. State Sen. Tom Duane [D-Manhattan] conceded it would not have passed in the state Senate if senators were to have voted on it on Monday.
"Republican senators are terrified they are going to lose their conservative base and their seat if they vote for marriage-they think that’s the truth," he told activists. "We know differently."
Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos [R-Rockville Centre] announced last fall that he would allow his Republican members to "vote their conscience" on marriage. Four state senators who voted against marriage equality in late 2009 are no longer in office. Levi indicated another four legislators who were opposed to marriage for same-sex couples are now undecided.
"We know we have an incredibly popular governor on our side and we know that 58 percent of New Yorkers want this to happen," he added. "We also know that we have work still to do and so that is the work we will be engaged in in these remaining weeks of session."
State Assemblyman Harry Bronson (D-Rochester) expressed optimism that both marriage equality and GENDA will become law this year. State Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward (R-Willsboro) cited her gay son as she spoke in support of nuptials for same-sex couples at the rally.
"This civil rights issue is truly a family issue," she said.
Duane further urged activists to hold their elected officials accountable on marriage equality, GENDA and other LGBT-specific measures.
"Our goodwill is not going to anyone who does not publicly support our right to marry and the right for every New Yorker to have equal rights, regardless of gender identity and expression," he said. "We have to let them know loud and clear that their silence will not be tolerated. We’re going to demand they publicly stand with us in full, public light and say they support our rights."
Dirk McCall, executive director of the Bronx Community Pride Center, was among the 40 people who traveled to Albany from the Bronx. Like Levi and the elected officials who spoke, he is optimistic that both marriage equality and GENDA will become a reality this year. McCall also echoed Duane’s call for accountability.
"The most important thing for today is to get some of the wavering senators to see that we’re here in numbers and that we’re young and that we look like the state of New York," he told EDGE. "We’re here to meet with them and ask for their support. And next year when they’re up for re-election, we will remember how they voted."
Michael K. Lavers manages the Fire Island News. His work has also appeared in the Village Voice, WNYC, the BBC, the Advocate and other media outlets. And he blogs at Boy in Bushwick [www.boyinbushwick.blogspot.com]