If you happened to be socializing on Allen Street Friday evening, then you may have noticed a crowd of 400 people gathered at Days Park. The members of the crowd were participating in a Take Back The Night rally – the rally was followed by a vigil walk down Allen Street. The number of participants was impressive, but what was really surprising was the number of politicians who came to support the cause – Antoine Thompson, Curtis Haynes, Sam Hoyt, David Rivera, Carol Speser, Mike LoCurto, Tim Kennedy, Damone Smith and Crystal Rodriguez. Rally organizer, Kitty Lambert, was kind enough to field a few questions regarding the political support:
Were you surprised by the turnout?
Truthfully, yes. We HOPED for about a hundred people. We had two different people count from a stationary spot at the beginning of the march and at the end of the march to get an average and we had well over 400 people. But this is an issue that affects ALL of us. Not just the victims, but their families, their friends and the sick feeling of vulnerability that settles in everyone’s stomach, so many, many people from every part of the greater community came out to march and support.
Were you surprised to see so many politicians?
No, we made a great effort to reach out to each of them. We were honored that Councilman Hayes was willing to stand up and speak out on his first day on the job! This man is going to do great work. Everyone of the elected that were there (excluding Tim Kennedy) have stood by and stood up for the LGBT community steadfastly for years now. We were disappointed that the Mayor did not show. That concerns us.
Do you think that, at long last, the message that the LGBT community is sending is being picked up by politicians who may have shied away from the issue previously?
This is a really difficult question. While I spoke at the rally I pointed out that it is an election year and that alone tends to bring out the politicians who SUDDENLY feel the need to kiss the babies of gay and lesbian parents… Yes, I know that that makes me sound cynical, but the reality is that the power of the “pink vote” has just been realized by both the Democratic and the Republican Parties and suddenly snuggling up to us is a great way of courting 10 percent of the vote. Tim Kennedy announced that he supports gay marriage at the rally…. funny, then why didn’t he co-sponsor the legislation calling for domestic partner recognition offered by Erie County Legislator, Majority Leader Maria Whyte? Are all of them sincere? Of course not. That is why we call them hacks. Are some of them sincere? Of course. THEY have been working with our community long before and long after the vote.
Does it take a violent act to send a message to our representatives that the LGBT community is strong and the issues (including gay marriage) can no longer be ignored?
I hope that is not true, but action is always spurred by need. We NEED to address this. The issue of Hate Crime has not been addressed, acknowledged, or even REPORTED for years. In preparing for the rally and the upcoming Community Forum I researched the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s statistics on Hate Crimes in NY…. what a crock of doo! We believe that these assaults are not being prosecuted as hate crimes so that the crimes do not have to be included in the national statistics. The problem with this is that it doesn’t mean that we do not have hate crimes being committed in WNY… just that the City/Police/Sheriff/District Attorney choose to turn a blind eye to them. This in turn gives the impression that they are tolerant to hate crimes… they will only prosecute them as simple assaults. (Case in point; The Bashing of Scott Wright by Joshua Holts where the law enforcement agencies immediately recognized it was a hate crime, but the District Attorney chose to prosecute it as a simple assault). The result is that no one committing these crimes fears the hate crimes enhancement and will take their chances with getting caught after the fact. Additionally, our police officers and sheriffs officers are not being given what they need to do their job. They need better training on HOW to investigate a bias motivated crime. Then they need the District Attorney to have their back when it comes time to prosecute. Then there is the community aspect. WE need to speak out. WE need to step forward. WE need to take responsibility if we witness something… not just turn away and refuse to get involved.
What was it like to have Councilman Haynes there, in full support of the rally, just one day after securing the Ellicott District seat?
Incredible, empowering, inspiring. His comments were so moving. He gets it. He really cares about this district and every single individual that lives in it. I applaud the Council Members for their excellent discernment in choosing the BEST for Ellicott and the BEST for Buffalo. To find a follower is very easy. To find a leader is difficult. To be a leader is awe inspiring.
Equal rights efforts initiated by the likes of Thompson and Hoyt are significant. Many representatives are finally paying attention, though there are still others who refuse to do the right thing when it comes to marriage issues. If society denies equal rights for the LGBT community, then there will always be people who feel justified in actions or inactions that continue to warrant these types of rallies.
To say nothing, to do nothing, to be indifferent when ANY ONE among us is in need of our protection is the greatest shame. You are absolutely right, the continued denial of our rights by legislators and leaders sends the message that we can and should be abused because we are unacceptable, sinful, bad, or wrong. For a Senator to vote NO on marriage, as was the case with Senators Stachowski, Volker, Ranzenhofer, Maziarz, Young and Robach, essentially says “I choose to discriminate against this family because I do not like them, I do not like who they are or what they do. You don’t have to like them either.” The action by these Senators is primarily one of passive abuse coerced by campaign dollars from groups and organizations who fund them and their campaigns. But legislated bigotry and discrimination breed hate and violence.
We all must refuse to vote these individuals into office and aggressively vote them OUT. Additionally, the Senators who insist that “their constituency doesn’t support this issue” are oddly out of touch with their constituency. Or, they don’t realize that they share the SAME constituents as their Assembly counterparts…. only a small number of WNY Assemblymembers voted against marriage in last session AND NOT ONE OF THEM WAS VOTED OUT OF OFFICE! The lack of reality these Senators exhibit is troubling. Does Senator Maziarz (who set up a “Vote On Marriage” website that listed 86% of his voters as supporting marriage the morning of the vote on the Senate floor in December) think that his constituents don’t support this issue) think his constituents are located in New Jersey? Or is it that the BIG campaign funds don’t come from them so he doesn’t count them?
Senator Stachowski personally told me that he would not support anything with the word ‘marriage’ in it because. He said, “I have a problem with the word marriage, but I believe you should get all the same protections that married people get.” I asked him how he could be uncomfortable with the word ‘Marriage’ but not with the word ‘Discrimination’? He told me that was not what he said. I explained to the Senator that that is EXACTLY what he is saying. It is the same concept as telling me that he approved of me getting the same drink of water from the Buffalo City Water System that he did… it comes through the same pipes…. but then, when it gets down to the fountain, I can not drink at the same fountain… I can certainly have the same water,
just not from the same place he gets it. I asked him how many Buffalonians would tolerate that? Ahhh… But he also referred to us as “you people”. I stifled a giggle.
But seriously, this is why I have such great respect for Assemblyman Hoyt and Senator Thompson. But they are just two of many. Look at Stachowski’s counterpart, Assemblyman Mark Schroeder, a devout Roman Catholic who understands that what we are asking for is a right to CIVIL marriage. Our churches will take care of the rest… we don’t need to invade their churches, we have our own… but then there is no obligation to be married in a church for it to be legal.
Where does the message go from here?
Now, we really get to work. This Friday, January 22nd, 7pm at the Church of the Ascension (Linwood and North) we are inviting the Mayor, Councilmembers, the District Attorney, the Commissioner of Police, Erie County Sheriff, Erie County Legislators. Assemblyman Hoyt and Senator Thompson to participate in a community forum where we will put forth our requests in the form of a specific plan for change. We will push until change is made. We will not accept any further patronization. We will not accept that we deserve to be fearful or suffer abuse. You got our vote… now represent us like it is your job… because it is.
Can you provide us with the names of our representatives that vote ‘NO’ on the issues that matter?
Yes, of course. Next week, I believe on January 29th, there is suppose to be a vote in the Buffalo City Council to establish a Domestic Partner Registry and to recognize Domestic Partners in the City of Buffalo and offer benefits to City Employees. This should be very interesting, as we had all but one ‘yes’ vote on the last go around and that ‘no’ vote came from Brian Davis who has since been replaced by Councilman Curtis Hayes.
How can people get involved with helping to ensure that these politicians come around and do the right thing? Is there more than just voting for their opponents?
Yes. Join OUTspoken For Equality (email me at firstname.lastname@example.org), Reach out to your legislators… remember they work for you… write letters, make phone calls, send emails, Register AND Vote (which is a topic I could go on on about for 20 minutes… most people don’t really understand how important their registration is and how the system works), TALK about the issue; talk about it to your family, to your friends, to co-workers, to total strangers. Come with us and lobby the legislators that work for you. You don’t have to be gay to believe in our Constitution or in the right of every American to be protected by it. You just have to be proud to stand up for it.
*United We Stand will be held on Wednesday, January 20, 2010 from 7 to 9PM at
Asbury Hall @ Babeville, 341 Delaware Avenue, Buffalo, NY 14202. The
Buffalo Gay Men’s Chorus will perform.