As his final day in office winds to a close for Governor David Paterson, LGBT New Yorkers should offer him our thanks for being the most relentlessly and loudly pro-gay governor in state and arguably, national history. Our state movement’s two most important pieces of legislation, GENDA and marriage equality, remain unattained, but that, of course, is due to our clown car of a state Senate and is no fault of the governor’s.
Paterson, to his everlasting credit and over the loud protests of bigots, issued an executive order protecting state employees in New York from discrimination based on gender identity and expression. In May 2008, he directed state agencies to recognize out of state same-sex marriages, a move countered by numerous (and unsuccessful) lawsuits. And if there was a marriage equality rally or an angry protest, we usually showed up to find Governor Paterson at the podium or on a bullhorn. Probably my most memorable moment of Paterson’s tenure was watching him stand in a pouring rain in Washington Square to deliver an impassioned speech against the bullying and abuse of LGBT youth.
And let’s not forget Gov. Paterson’s unexpected selection of an obscure upstate legislator with wobbly bona fides to fill the formidable shoes of then Sen. Hillary Clinton. Many questioned that move at the time (myself included), but Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has surprised us all and turned into a powerful and effective advocate for LGBT New Yorkers. Sen. Gillibrand may turn out to be Paterson’s most enduring legacy for the good of our movement.
We’ve had the occasional disagreement with Gov. Paterson, in particular the continuing exclusion of indigent HIV patients from the state’s rent relief program for the seriously ill. But even that bad decision grew out of the state’s financial morass and not from animus. Today, let’s thank Governor David Paterson for his support of the LGBT community and hope that one day soon, we’ll again see thousands of New Yorkers happily marching in the NYC Pride Parade wearing stickers proclaiming “We Luv Our Guv!”
The Debbie Simmons Community Service Award is given each year to “an individual who has demonstrated integrity and leadership in their business endeavors while supporting and promoting the fight for LGBT equality.”
In addition to being a founding member of HRC’s Orlando Steering Committee, Jennifer has been a tireless advocate for LGBT rights in Orlando through her organizing efforts fighting against anti-marriage opponents in the state and her support for fair minded local, state and federal candidates. Jennifer’s spirit, energy, sense of humor, and smile have opened minds and hearts in Orlando and beyond.
The HRC family is so proud of Jennifer for this well-deserved recognition.
Today the Illinois Senate on passed a civil unions bill by a 32-24 vote. The vote comes just days after the House passed the same bill 61-52. The bill now goes to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, who has been a vocal supporter of the bill and is expected to sign the it into law
The bill, introduced by Rep. Greg Harris and passed by both the House and Senate, would permit both same-sex and opposite-sex couples to enter into civil unions and receive the same benefits, protections, and responsibilities under Illinois law that are granted to spouses. The bill, however, does not provide for same-sex marriages.
In addition to Illinois, ten states plus Washington, D.C. offer state-level relationship recognition for gay and lesbian couples. Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington D.C. provide committee LGBT couples the freedom to marry. New York and Maryland recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages. Five other states—California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington —provide same-sex couples with civil unions or domestic partnerships.
It is important to recognize that despite victories such as this, same-sex couples do not receive federal rights and benefits in any state. For an electronic map showing where marriage equality stands in the states, please visit: www.HRC.org/State_Laws
As the CFO of a state agency in Connecticut for many years, I attended monthly meetings of the State Bond Commission where I would present and explain projects needing funds to a panel including the Governor, the Attorney General, the State Treasurer and Nancy Wyman, the State Comptroller, or her openly gay Deputy, Mark Ojakian. I developed a respect for these two dedicated public servants who delivered many years of efficient financial management and who made diversity and safety for LGBT people in the workplace look natural and easy.
Now, Nancy Wyman is in the final week of her campaign to become Connecticut’s Lieutenant Governor as the running mate of Dan Malloy, the Democratic candidate for Connecticut Governor. I was delighted that she agreed to answer a few questions for the readers of JoeMyGod.
Has same-sex marriage changed Connecticut?
Same sex marriage has been legal in Connecticut for two years with no bad effects. And, because it is legal in Connecticut we have enjoyed an influx of visitors from other states coming here for celebrations. This has had a significant and positive economic impact on Connecticut. Some people in other states that are still debating same-sex marriage fear its repercussions. Any message for them?
I just have no idea what they are afraid of. It just makes sense to not stand in the way of letting people love and live as they prefer. Have you always been supportive of the concept of same-sex marriage and LGBT rights in general?
I’m proud to say that Dan Malloy and I were among the very earliest supporters of first civil unions and then same-sex marriage in Connecticut. Both of us didn’t need any convincing. We both testified in favor of civil unions and for same-sex marriage while many others hesitated. It’s how we believe things should be. I never dreamed I would officiate at a same-sex marriage but I have, and it’s wonderful.
As a straight married wife and mother, why were you always such a strong advocate for LGBT rights?
It might be due in part to the way I was brought up by my parents. Everyone was welcome in our home. I learned the importance of taking time to get to know people. Once you know somebody, you respect and value them. It might be due in part to the fact that my husband was passed over for promotions in a large Connecticut insurance company because he is Jewish. We had to fight for our rights just as you had to fight for your right to be out and comfortable as a state employee. I’ve been very happy to see the state government workplace improve over the years for LGBT employees. I’ve been lucky to have Mark Ojakian who was the highest ranking out state employee as my Deputy. I’m proud of Kevin Lembo who is also an out gay man and was in my agency and is now running for my previous position as State Comptroller.
We still need to do more outreach to young LGBT people who get bullied. We are just now realizing how extensive and serious a problem this is. It’s shocking and sad and we have much work to do to change this.
Any final message for the readers of JoeMyGod?
Yes. Please vote. No matter what state you live in.
In states with a 50% or more chance of flipping their governorships, elections prognosticator Nate Silver predicts that the vast majority of the changes will be in the GOP’s favor. (Although Florida’s race is still a statistical tie, it is listed at the top because current governor Charlie “Closet Case” Crist is technically an independent.)
Massachusetts State Senator Richard Tisei, the running mate for that state's Republican candidate Charlie Baker, could become the first openly gay lieutenant governor.
GOP Politics evaluates the Tisei and Baker: "The GOP ticket is led by Charlie Baker, a fiscal conservative who supports marriage equality, and State Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei, an openly gay candidate for lieutenant governor. Not only is the GOP ticket in Massachusetts the most LGBT-friendly the Republican Party has ever fielded, but in this liberal bastion they’ve provided the Republican Governor’s Association (RGA) with a real pick-up opportunity."
Also, the Victory Fund has stated their support for the state senator: "Tisei has earned the respect of his colleagues and stands an excellent chance of becoming the party’s nominee for Lieutenant Governor if he can beat back the forces of intolerance on the extreme right wing of his party. A group has emerged that’s urging Republican voters to reject Tisei because of his strong support for marriage equality, his support of teachers and because of his pro-choice stand."
Tisei himself noted that he has the potential to make history when speaking to the Martha's Vineyard Times last month: "People judge you on your performance," and not completely hiding his pride, added, "To tell you the truth, if I'm elected, I'll be the first gay office holder statewide, and the highest ranking in the country —unusual for a Republican."
You may remember that while Baker supports gay marriage, he and Tisei disagree on a Massachusetts transgender anti-discrimination bill.
Polling averages are calling the Whitman-Brown race a toss-up at the moment. This despite Whitman’s campaign expenditures in the tens of millions and Brown’s in the tens of dollars. Obviously this race may be the most important for LGBT folks nationwide, should Whitman prevail and be allowed to defend Proposition 8.
Today, New York Governor David Paterson signed into law the “Dignity for All Students Act.” The act is a broad safe schools law that requires schools to adopt policies to address harassment and discrimination against students, to educate teachers and students on harassment and bullying and provides reporting requirements. Particularly notable is that the bill enumerates, or lists, classifications for protection including the basis of real or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender – defined to include gender identity and expression- and sex.
Enumerated laws have been shown to provide better actual protections to students and to make students feel safer in school. GLSEN’s 2007 National School Climate Survey found that 9 out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment in school. By highlighting categories of vulnerable students, states send a strong message that all students are valuable and alerts students that they can seek help from teachers and the administration if they face harassment or discrimination.
The “Dignity for All Students Act,” passed by overwhelming majorities in both the Assembly and Senate, also marks the first time the New York Senate has passed legislation explicitly protecting trans people. The step bodes well for passage of the New York “Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act” which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression in employment, housing, credit and public accommodations.
Currently, 14 states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination, harassment, and/ or bullying against students based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Only 12 states and the District of Columbia prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Last week, the Atlanta Police Department moved another step toward strengthening its relationship with the LGBT community in the city. The department recently named the nine members of the local LGBT community to sit on a new advisory board for the department’s recently assigned LGBT liaison. The intent of the board is to team with the police to identify and resolve issues between the department and the community.
HRC was excited to learn that Molly Simmons, an outstanding volunteer that sits on our Board of Governors, was among those chosen to sit on the 9-member board. Molly’s experience as a former police officer and as an established leader in our community will be a great asset to the board and we know that she will continue to be a positive force for the LGBT community in Atlanta.
You can read more about the LGBT liaison or the advisory board here and here.