Lambda Line: December 2004

No Time to Quit

The re-election of George Bush, Republican gains in both houses of Congress, and the passage of antisame sex marriage amendments in 11 states were a tremendous setback for our community and progressive Americans of all stripes. But the worst thing we can do now is throw up our hands. We’ve not only got to fight the Bush agenda and convince our fellow Americans of our right to equality, but we also have to keep the Democratic Party from giving up its principles and straying to the right, which is a genuine risk.

Despite the work ahead, L.I.D. remains undeterred. It’s more important than ever that we continue to organize and educate Brooklyn voters and hold our elected officials accountable. Our five Democratic members of the House of Representatives and Senators Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton provide great representation, but we must keep encouraging them to stand firm against the regressive initiatives of the Republicans, and the fears of some of their Democratic colleagues. Moreover, we face critical municipal elections in 2005 and statewide as well as Congressional races in 2006. We urge you to renew your membership and stay involved in the effort.

We will be kicking off a new year of political activism with our Annual Meeting at 7:00pm on January 27, 2005 at Camp Friendship, 339 8th Street (between 5th and 6th Aves), Park Slope. On the agenda, in addition to our election of 2005 officers and executive board members, and a vote on amendments to the LID constitution: Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, will speak about next steps for achieving same sex marriage and sign copies of his book. We’ll send a reminder before then, but please save the date and join L.I.D. in fighting for our community through the political process.

The Good News in New York

As bad as November 2nd was for the nation, Democrats did have some important victories here in New York State. The party extended its majority in the State Assembly by one to 104-46 and, most significantly, picked up at least three and possibly four seats in the State Senate, which has long been in a Republican stranglehold. The Republican majority, which was 38-24 at the beginning of the year, has shrunk to 35-27, with one seat still undetermined.

The Democrats who won State Senate seats formerly held by Republicans are Jeffrey Klein, District 34 (Bronx/Westchester), Jose Serrano, District 28 (East Harlem and Bronx) and Dave Velesky, District 49 (Syracuse). In the one seat still in play at press time, Republican Nicholas Spano, District 35 (Westchester) is leading Democrat Andrea Stewart-Cousins by 102 votes out of 115,604 cast, with 920 disputed ballots still unopened.

Lesbian-Baiting Can’t Stop Savino

Among other Democratic State Senators-elect is L.I.D.’s endorsed candidate Diane Savino from the 23rd District (Coney Island, Bensonhurst, Borough Park, Sunset Park and the North Shore of Staten Island). Savino, who will succeed retiring Democrat Seymour Lachman, handily defeated Republican Alfred Curtis 63%-37%, but she had to overcome some last-ditch lesbian-baiting to do so.

The weekend before the election, a “coming out” letter on what appeared to be Savino’s personal stationery was distributed to thousands of voters in the more conservative parts of the district. The forged letter read in part, “In order to be worthy of your support, I think it is important that I reveal some personal information that until today I have been reluctant to disclose. I am a Lesbian American.” Savino, who is not a lesbian, but is supportive of LGBT rights, believes Curtis, or a member of his campaign, wrote the letter. Her supporters say they saw Curtis with his volunteers as they handed out the letter in Borough Park. Curtis denies he or his campaign had anything to do with it. Because the Brooklyn and Staten Island D.A.s each endorsed their respective parties’ nominees in the race, the matter will be referred to a special prosecutor for investigation.

Unfortunately, this despicable act of lesbian-baiting is nothing new in Brooklyn. Over the years, the campaigns of Charles Hynes, Joan Millman, Anthony Weiner and Joanne Seminara have been the targets of similar homophobic attacks. This is all the more reason L.I.D. needs to continue to be highly visible and work within the Democratic party here in our borough.

Spritzers with Spitzer

As many of you know, The Coalition of NYC LGBT Clubs and Democratic National Committee member Emily Giske teamed up to host a meet and greet with NYS Attorney General Eliot Spitzer on November 18. Nearly 200 people – including many L.I.D. members – turned out to eat, drink, talk with and ask questions of Spitzer, who is the leading Democratic contender for governor in 2006. In the question and answer period, Spitzer reiterated his support for same-sex marriage. He explained that his defense last spring of the state’s marriage law reflects not his personal beliefs but his obligation as A.G. to uphold the law as it is currently written.

Spitzer also attended a smaller meeting beforehand with leaders of the city’s LGBT Democratic clubs. The response at both events was overwhelmingly positive. L.I.D. President Dan Tietz was quoted in Gay City News saying, “[Spitzer] is great in so many regards, beyond just the narrow LGBT front...He has taken the role of attorney general and made the most of it.” While there are still some issues, like the Gender Non-Discrimination Act, which Spitzer has yet to embrace (he thinks the existing law is sufficient), it is encouraging that one of our state’s most prominent and promising Democrats is seeking input and support from our community.

Bloomberg Seeks to Bottle Up Equal Benefits Law

It wasn’t enough that Mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoed the Equal Benefits Bill, which would require contractors who do at least $100,000 worth of business with the city to provide employees’ domestic partners the same benefits offered married spouses. Now he’s refusing to implement the law and fighting it in court. After the City Council overwhelmingly overrode the Mayor’s veto last June, it looked like this battle was over. But the Mayor – often a sore loser – refused to enforce the Equal Benefits Law once it took effect on October 26th. On November 8th, NYS Supreme Court Judge Faviola Soto ruled that the City must enforce the law, so it is currently in effect, but the city has said it will appeal the ruling. Bloomberg argues that the law would cost the city money by prohibiting it from choosing firms with the lowest prices, a fear that never panned out in San Francisco when that city passed a similar law. L.I.D. will be reminding the LGBT community of Bloomberg’s obstructionism in next year’s mayoral election.

Hevesi Leads, Bloomberg Follows

State Comptroller Alan Hevesi determined in October that the New York State and Local Retirement System will treat Canadian marriages of same-sex couples the same as any other marriage for purposes of retirement benefits and obligations. This historic decision makes the retirement system the first state program in New York to respect all marriages equally.

Hevesi, whose office has jurisdiction over the retirement system, is a longtime supporter of the LGBT community. His decision, however, was based strictly on the current law and “the principle of comity,” which, he noted, “has been legal practice pursuant to New York Court of Appeals rulings for many years.” Hevesi’s interpretation of the law set a precedent for every other government entity in the state.

In fact, just over a month later, Mayor Bloomberg announced that he would seek to have the city’s five pension systems recognize same-sex marriages of city employees performed in Massachusetts and Canada, as well as Vermont civil unions. “All of our city employees deserve to be treated equally, regardless of their sexual orientation,” he said. While his continued opposition to the Equal Benefits Bill belies that sentiment, Bloomberg’s decision to follow Hevesi’s lead and extend pension benefits to city workers in same-sex couples is a major step forward for our community.

Hill to Head GMHC Women’s Institute

Longtime L.I.D. member and frequent Lunch with Lambda emcee Dr. Marjorie J. Hill, Ph.D., has been named director of Gay Men’s Health Crisis’ newly launched Women’s Institute. Dr. Hill has had a distinguished career in government service and is a respected HIV/AIDS advocate. Before joining GMHC, Dr. Hill was Assistant Commissioner for HIV/AIDS Services at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Among her prior posts was director of the Mayor's office for the Lesbian and Gay Community under David Dinkins. GMHC created the Women’s Institute to focus increased attention on women living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. “Women are an underserved and all too frequently invisible population when it comes to HIV and AIDS,” said Dr. Hill in a press release. “I eagerly embrace this opportunity to lead the Women's Institute and to collectively navigate the myriad of challenges that women face in achieving healthy, productive and autonomous lives for themselves and their families.”L.I.D. wishes Marjorie the best of luck and great success in her new position.

Toys “R” Us Loses Again on Brooklyn Trans Harassment

Three transgender women harassed inside the Bay Parkway Toys “R” Us won another victory last month when the state’s top court ruled Toys “R” Us must pay their legal fees. In June 2002, Brooklyn residents Donna McGrath, Tanya Jinks and Tara Lopez won what their lawyer called a “moral victory” when a jury awarded each a mere $1 in damages for anti-transgender harassment by store employees at the Bay Parkway Toys “R” Us in December 2000. Later in 2002 a federal court judge found that Toys “R” Us must pay lawyers for the plaintiffs’ nearly $200,000 in legal fees. Toys “R” Us appealed, questioning whether New York law permits legal fees to be mandated in cases where only nominal damages are awarded. On November 23rd of this year the state’s top court ruled 5-2 that the fees were justified because the case served “a significant public purpose” by clarifying the rights of transgender people to be protected from discrimination. In April 2002, a bill that explicitly added coverage for transgender people to the City’s anti-discrimination law passed the City Council, but because the Toys “R” Us incident occurred more than 18 months earlier, the jury decision was an important interpretation of an unclear statute.

Join Us

LID is your local Brooklyn boroughwide club to help stop the George W. Bush, Karl Rove and the Republican radical right from rolling back the civil liberties of LGBT Americans. If you’re not already a member, now is the time to become one. We need your support. Please be as generous as you can and join us.

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