Posts Tagged With: marriage equality

Flowers and Things


It has been a week since the passage of Marriage Equality in New York and not much has changed. A Marriage Equality Bill failed in Rhode Island, but they settled for Civil Unions with some added benefits. In New York, wedding vendors are preparing for more business, city clerks are preparing new marriage registration and license forms.

Certain religious organizations are welcoming same-sex couples in their churches for wedding ceremonies while others are still politicizing and preaching about their god destroying the world as a result. We had some nice weather this week, except for a storm that resulted in a bible camp employee being struck by lightning. Coincidental? Carl Strock, columnist for The Daily Gazette referred to it as a case of Devine Providence!

The local bloggers are still sanctimoniously attacking the locals as a means of entertainment and to increase their blog hits.

In the end nothing much has changed except that on July 24, 2011, same-sex couples will start getting married.

In anticipation of all the nuptials and in memory of the Hatzenbuhler flower shop, I have posted some local flower photos taken with the iPhone 4, while walking my cat Spike.

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Categories: Amsterdam, Law, Photography, Politics | Tags: , , , , , ,

The Tonko Letter


Today I received a response from Congressman Paul D. Tonko supporting Marriage Equality and LGBT rights.

The original response can be downloaded here: Tonko Letter

June 23, 2011

Dear Mr. Skrocki,

Thank you for contacting me with your support for same-sex marriage. Your correspondence is highly valuable, and I appreciate your sentiments.

Currently, same-sex marriages may be performed in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, and the District of Columbia. New York, Rhode Island and Maryland have laws recognizing same-sex marriages legally performed elsewhere. I believe marriage is a civil right and it is wrong to deny gay and lesbian couples this right. A marriage conveys hundreds of legal rights and privileges that unmarried couples cannot exercise, from inheritance to hospital visitation. Denying same-sex couples these rights is equivalent to not guaranteeing them equal protection under the law.

While marriage is an issue left to the states to decide, I hope that every state will one day provide same-sex couples with full marriage rights. Every individual should have the right to marry whomever he or she loves and to have that marriage officially recognized. It is important to recognize that this is not a religious issue; a marriage is a contract in the eyes of the law, and it is not right to deny same-sex couples the right to enter into these contracts. As you may know, the Respect for Marriage Act would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and ensure respect for state regulation of marriage. You will be happy to know that I am an original cosponsor of this important piece of legislation. I remain a strong advocate for recognizing the right of same-sex couples to marry and have also cosponsored legislation to recognize committed same-sex partnerships similarly to marriage for immigration purposes.

In late February 2011, the Obama Administration announced that it no longer deems the Defense of Marriage Act constitutional and is directing the Justice Department to stop defending the law in federal court. This decision follows two lawsuits filed in November 2010 by individuals who claim the Defense of Marriage Act discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation by denying them various federal benefits.

In addition to the fight for marriage rights, we must work together to wipe out discrimination of all kinds based on sexual orientation and gender identity. For this reason, I am a strong supporter of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which establishes a comprehensive Federal prohibition of employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. By extending the existing federal ban on discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age and disability to also cover sexual orientation and gender identity, we ensure that American businesses hire and retain the very best and brightest employees to keep our economy strong and competitive on a global scale. I have also supported legislation to repeal the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and to expand hate crimes legislation to cover crimes motivated by sexual orientation or gender identity.

These and other pieces of LGBT legislation make a strong statement affirming American values of justice and personal freedom. Please be assured that I will continue to fight on behalf of our LGBT community for equal treatment under the law.

For up-to-date news and information about our district, please visit my website at http://tonko.house.gov and sign up for my E-Newsletter. Additionally, please consider using my social media tools: http://www.facebook.com/reppaultonko, http://twitter.com/paultonko,and http://www.youtube.com/reppaultonko.

Sincerely,
Paul D. Tonko
MEMBER OF CONGRESS

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Bullying


Ken Zalewski, Troy City Councilman and his partner Mike Oliver. -photo by Marty Rouse, Human Rights Campaign

For the past few weeks I watched the battle for Marriage Equality in New York transform from an educated discussion on the real issue, to an all out assault on the gay population. It seems the further one gets from a metropolitan city, the more bigoted the local populace’s opinion becomes. This was never more clear to me than when I lobbied Amsterdam’s Common Council to produce a consent resolution supporting Marriage Equality as the City of Troy had done. Ken Zalewski, Troy City Councilman District 5 was successful in getting the City of Troy to send a resolution in support of Marriage Equality to the NYS Legislature. When I unsuccessfully attempted the same, I got the support of Alderman Bill Wills but the resolution never made it to a vote. The rest of the Council was not willing to support the measure or Amsterdam’s gay population, out of fear and political repercussions. Three members of The Family Bible Church came to the City Council meeting and spoke, denouncing not only Marriage Equality, but the entire gay population in the name of their god. This type of bigotry by a religious organization induces hate and fear, the cause of bullying in our schools. Hearing this religious organization’s hate speech brought back memories from my childhood when I was the victim of bullying and I had to leave the Council Chamber. Kids learn this behavior from their parents and carry it on to the next generation. The increasing number of suicides in teens and young adults has been directly associated with bullying.

In response to this crisis, the It Gets Better campaign started using video to send a positive message to vulnerable Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered teens. Here are a couple of examples:

I realize change cannot occur overnight. It took years of set up this deep-rooted bigotry in the general population and it will take time to undo. The New York State Legislature passed a plan for the State Education System to address this issue through our public schools by introducing curriculum that both educates and protects students from bullying. The language includes age specific education about sexual orientation and gender identity among others. Passed last year, the Dignity for All Students Law goes into Effect July 1, 2012.

EDN/ Title 1/ Article 2/ Dignity for All Students

* § 10. Legislative intent. The legislature finds that students’ ability to learn and to meet high academic standards, and a school’s ability to educate its students, are compromised by incidents of discrimination or harassment including bullying, taunting or intimidation. It is hereby declared to be the policy of the state to afford all students in public schools an environment free of discrimination and harassment. The purpose of this article is to foster civility in public schools and to prevent and prohibit conduct which is inconsistent with a school’s educational mission.
NB Effective July 1, 2012

* § 11. Definitions. For the purposes of this article, the following terms shall have the following meanings:
1.”School property” shall mean in or within any building, structure, athletic playing field, playground, parking lot, or land contained within the real property boundary line of a public elementary or secondary school; or in or on a school bus, as defined in section one hundred forty-two of the vehicle and traffic law.
2.”School function” shall mean a school-sponsored extra-curricular event or activity.
3.”Disability” shall mean disability as defined in subdivision twenty-one of section two hundred ninety-two of the executive law.
4.”Employee” shall mean employee as defined in subdivision three of section eleven hundred twenty-five of this title.
5.”Sexual orientation” shall mean actual or perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality.
6. “Gender” shall mean actual or perceived sex and shall include a person’s gender identity or expression.
7.”Harassment” shall mean the creation of a hostile environment by conduct or by verbal threats, intimidation or abuse that has or would have the effect of unreasonably and substantially interfering with a student’s educational performance, opportunities or benefits, or mental, emotional or physical well-being; or conduct, verbal threats,intimidation or abuse that reasonably causes or would reasonably be expected to cause a student to fear for his or her physical safety; such conduct, verbal threats, intimidation or abuse includes but is not limited to conduct, verbal threats,intimidation or abuse based on a person’s actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender or sex.
NB Effective July 1, 2012

§ 12. Discrimination and harassment prohibited.
1. No student shall be subjected to harassment by employees or students on school property or at a school function; nor shall any student be subjected to discrimination based on a person’s actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or sex by school employees or students on school property or at a school function. Nothing in this subdivision shall be construed to prohibit a denial of admission into, or exclusion from, a course of instruction based on a person’s gender that would be permissible under section thirty-two hundred one-a or paragraph (a) of subdivision two of section twenty-eight hundred fifty-four of this chapter and title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (20 U.S.C. section 1681, et. seq.), or to prohibit, as discrimination based on disability, actions that would be permissible under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
2. An age-appropriate version of the policy outlined in subdivision one of this section, written in plain-language, shall be included in the code of conduct adopted by boards of education and the trustees or sole trustee pursuant to section twenty-eight hundred one of this chapter and a summary of such policy shall be included in any summaries required by such section twenty-eight hundred one.
NB Effective July 1, 2012

* §13. Policies and guidelines. The board of education and the trustees or sole trustee of every school district shall create policies and guidelines that shall include, but not be limited to:
1. Policies intended to create a school environment that is free from discrimination or harassment;
2. Guidelines to be used in school training programs to discourage the development of discrimination or harassment and that are designed:
a. to raise the awareness and sensitivity of school employees to potential discrimination or harassment, and
b. to enable employees to prevent and respond to discrimination or harassment; and
3. Guidelines relating to the development of nondiscriminatory instructional and counseling methods, and requiring that at least one staff member at every school be thoroughly trained to handle human relations in the areas of race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender, and sex.
NB Effective July 1, 2012

* § 14.Commissioner’s responsibilities. The commissioner shall:
1. Provide direction, which may include development of model policies and, to the extent possible, direct services, to school districts related to preventing discrimination and harassment and to fostering an environment in every school where all children can learn free of manifestations of bias;
2. Provide grants, from funds appropriated for such purpose, to local school districts to assist them in implementing the guidelines set forth in this section; and
3. Promulgate regulations to assist school districts in implementing this article including, but not limited to, regulations to assist school districts in developing measured, balanced, and age-appropriate responses to violations of this policy, with remedies and procedures focusing on intervention and education.
NB Effective July 1, 2012

* § 15. Reporting by commissioner. The commissioner shall create a procedure under which material incidents of discrimination and harassment on school grounds or at a school function are reported to the department at least on an annual basis. Such procedure shall provide that such reports shall, wherever possible, also delineate the specific nature of such incidents of discrimination or harassment, provided that the commissioner may comply with the requirements of this section through use of the existing uniform violent incident reporting system. In addition the department may conduct research or undertake studies to determine compliance throughout the state with the provisions of this article.
NB Effective July 1, 2012

§ 16. Protection of people who report discrimination or harassment. Any person having reasonable cause to suspect that a student has been subjected to discrimination or harassment by an employee or student, on school grounds or at a school function, who, acting reasonably and in good faith, either reports such information to school officials, to the commissioner, or to law enforcement authorities or otherwise initiates, testifies, participates or assists in any formal or informal proceedings under this article, shall have immunity from any civil liability that may arise from the making of such report or from initiating, testifying, participating or assisting in such formal or informal proceedings, and no school district or employee shall take, request or cause a retaliatory action against any such person who, acting reasonably and in good faith, either makes such a report or initiates, testifies, participates or assists in such formal or informal proceedings.
NB Effective July 1, 2012

* § 17. Application. Nothing in this article shall:
1.  Apply to private, religious or denominational educational institutions; or                                                                                                                                         2. Preclude or limit any right or cause of action provided under any local, state or federal ordinance, law or regulation including but not limited to any remedies or rights available under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Law of 1964, section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 or the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

NB Effective July 1, 2012

* § 18. Severability and construction. The provisions of this article shall be severable, and if any court of competent jurisdiction declares any phrase, clause, sentence or provision of this article to be invalid, or its applicability to any government agency, person or circumstance is declared invalid, the remainder of this article and its relevant applicability shall not be affected. The provisions of this article shall be liberally construed to give effect to the purposes thereof.
* NB Effective July 1, 2012

I met a newcomer to Amsterdam who recently bought a house here. He happens to be gay and wondered where all the gay people were. Moving from a larger downstate City, he was experiencing some culture shock!  I had to tell him they are here in numbers but most are closeted. They are teachers and doctors, lawyers and politicians as well as business owners who are afraid to come out of the closet because there is no support in Amsterdam. When President Obama proclaimed June of 2011 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Pride Month our City did not respond. Even my hometown of Hudson with a population of less than seven thousand, had a Family Pride Weekend, celebrating with an inclusive parade and cruise on the Hudson River for gay and straight families.

City of Hudson's Family Pride Celebration. -photo by Tom Froese

The Dignity for All Students Act can not come soon enough!

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I Ain’t Afraid


I dedicate this post to the New York State Senate and the Pastor of the Family Bible Church at 449 Thayer Road, Amsterdam, NY 12010.

I Ain’t Afraid

A song by Holly Near

Chorus
I ain’t afraid of your Yahweh
I ain’t afraid of your Allah
I ain’t afraid of your Jesus
I’m afraid of what you do in the name of your god

I ain’t afraid of your churches
I ain’t afraid of your temples
I ain’t afraid of your praying
I’m afraid of what you do in the name of your god

Verse
Rise up to your higher power
Free up from fear, it will devour you
Watch out for the ego of the hour
The ones who say they know it
Are the ones who will impose it on you

Chorus

Verse
Rise up, and see a higher story
Free up from the gods of war and glory
Watch out for the threats of purgatory
The spirit of the wind wont make a killing off of sin and satan

I aint afraid of your Bible
I aint afraid of your Torah
I aint afraid of your Koran
Dont let the letter of the law
Obscure the spirit of your love it’s killing us

I aint afraid of your money
I aint afraid of your borders
I aint afraid of your choices

I aint afraid of your Sunday
I aint afraid of your Sabbath
I aint afraid of your teachers

I aint afraid of your dances
I aint afraid of your music
I aint afraid of your children
I’m afraid of what you do in the name of your god

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Looking Back With Pride


It was June 25, 1989, on Christopher Street in New York City, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots that served as a catalyst in the battle for equality.  It is hard to believe that it has been twenty-two years since I attended that gay pride celebration and it was difficult to get me to attend back then. I was never one to wear my heart on my sleeve and didn’t feel I had much in common with the type of people who went to those events. My partner Ken Yeso presented the trip as a photo opportunity, knowing the exact button to push to get me to do anything.  Arriving in New York among thousands of people there to celebrate one unifying event, a light bulb went off in my head. I finally “got it”; this wasn’t about me, it was about the fight for equality! That was what we all had in common. All the silliness and camp, cross-dressing and gender bending were just expressions of people brave enough to be who they were born to be but none of that mattered here, we were one.

I am publishing here for the first time, a set of photos taken June 25, 1989, on Christopher Street in New York during the Pride Celebration themed We Remember, the 20th Anniversary of Stonewall.  These photos are presented with no excuses or apologies.

Categories: Media, Photography, Politics | Tags: , , , , , ,

Marriage Equality in New York State


I have debated whether to post this topic on my blog, finally deciding it was much too important of an issue to remain silent about. For those few that may not have known, I am gay. Normally I feel no need to advertise this aspect of my life because it does not totally define who I am as a person, but once stated is often the only aspect people will take from the conversation. I mention it now because I am affected by the outcome of the Marriage Equality proposition in New York State.

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo urges everyone to contact their State Legislators and tell them to vote YES on marriage equality.

This is the inspirational speech that helped pass the City of Troy’s resolution supporting Marriage Equality

I did as the Governor requested, contacting both Assemblyman George Amedore and Senator Hugh Farley. I received no response from the Senator and the following from the Assemblyman:

May 26, 2011

Dear Gerald,

Thank you for your correspondence regarding the current directive for gay marriage. As your representative, it is important to hear from constituents I represent, as their correspondence helps me make more informed decisions.

As you know, the bill A.7600 would change the definition of “marriage” in New York State and thereby authorize same-sex marriage. Altering the definition of marriage would open access to civil benefits and protections previously unafforded to same-sex couples. As legislators continue to discuss the issue in Albany, I will be sure to share your concerns with my colleagues in the Assembly.

Thank you again for your correspondence. If I can ever be of assistance to you in the future, or if you would like to discuss this matter further, please do not hesitate to contact my office.

Sincerely,

George Amedore
Member of Assembly
105th Assembly District

On June 2, 2011 the Troy City Council passed a resolution urging the legalization of Marriage Equality to our State Legislators with the unanimous vote of 9-0. The resolution was introduced by Troy City Councilman Ken Zalewski who has taken the initiative to make a difference for the gay community.

Would the Amsterdam City Council do the same?

The United Federation of Teachers also support Marriage Equality in New York.

“Our union prides itself on a diverse membership and as a champion of equality we believe that it is time for all New Yorkers to be treated equally,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “This is a civil rights issue and we are calling on New York State’s Legislature to pass marriage equality legislation and give all New Yorkers the right to marry the person they love.”

As Governor Cuomo stated, this is NOT a religious issue, it is a Civil Rights issue. Gay couples are denied over 700 State rights and 1000 Federal rights enjoyed by married couples. Currently Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and the District of Columbia have made Marriage Equality a reality in the United States.  My personal experience tells me that discrimination still thrives in this Country despite noble efforts to eradicate it.

Billboard on 787 in Albany, NY paid for by Bombers Burritos.

For more information contact the organization Freedom to Marry or the Human Rights Campaign.

Update #1:

Today I received  the following response from 4th Ward Alderman and Mayoral candidate William D. Wills:

Gerry,

With all the problems that the local level has to deal with mainly because our State leaders don’t, I always thought in the past that issues like these should be dealt with on the State level.   However, I also always thought that this particular issue should not even be one.   Whatever someone in their private lives feels is good for them should be their private matter and decision as long as it does not affect the lives and
safety of the public at large.   This issue of marriage equality surely does not pose a threat to us.

Maybe if enough local level governments pass these type of
resolutions then the State’s Legislature will act on it.   It doesn’t mean that you support gay rights but it does mean you support equality when it comes to people making decisions that may be different than the rest of us again not affecting our lives and safety.

I will venture to say that even the strongest opponent of gay
marriages has a family member or friend that is gay.   Personally the word gay is offensive to me and should be to those labeled as such.   It has assumed a bad connotation.

I can remember when physically and mentally challenged individuals were looked downed up, hidden from the general public, and never thought could be productive members of our community.   Organizations like Liberty and Lexington have changed that.   What’s the difference with someone who may like the same sex as opposed to the opposite sex?   Those that oppose marriage equality do so because I believe that they are not secure in their own beliefs and feelings.

Gerry, please forward to us a copy of the resolution that the City of Troy passed for our consideration.   We could make this an interesting side issue of this year’s campaign.

The only thing I admire of our past Vice President Dick Cheney was the love he has for his gay daughter Mary and the fact that he does not deny her existence or his love for her.   The former vice president has long offered his daughter his unrelenting love and support, and very recently came out in favor of gay marriage, saying, “I think that freedom means freedom for everyone.” I think that this underscores that a strong
conservative argument can be made in favor marriage equality.  I further think it underscores my bafflement that anyone would dare cross Cheney in this regard, because, remember what happened to his hunting buddy.

Loving someone for what they are, now that’s what equality is all about.

Alderman Wills

I appreciate any responses I receive from my elected officials and Alderman Wills has been very forthcoming with responding to my requests and inquiries.

The main point is that we need this change now.

Update #2:

Information received from Troy City Councilman Ken Zalewski:

Mr. Skrocki,

Thank you for you interest in the Resolution in Support of Marriage Equality that the Troy City Council passed unanimously at our June 2 monthly meeting.
I appreciate the sentiments that Alderman Wills offers below, especially the quip about not crossing Dick Cheney.  🙂
The full text of the resolution (as a PDF) can be found here:
In addition, the full broadcast of our Council meeting is available online at:
The public speaking portion is at the beginning (where a Reverend and a Rabbi both spoke out in support of the resolution), and the actual vote is at the end.
I hope you are able to take this up and get it passed.  It makes a strong statement about your community, and ultimately, it is simply the right thing to do.
We are on the right side of history.
            -kz

Ken Zalewski
Councilman, District 5

Update#3:

Tuesday, June 7, 2011 the City of Amsterdam will introduce a resolution in support of Marriage Equality and urging our State Legislators to pass  Marriage Equality Legislation.

Mayor Ann Thane:

I would hope that the Council would support this resolution. A.

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