On June 3, at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Community Center on West 13th Street, Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields hosted her annual salute to Manhattan’s queer community. In her opening statement, Fields spoke of her commitment to issues that have figured prominently for the LGBT community over the last year, most notably the movement to achieve marriage equality in New York for gays and lesbians, as well as increased funding for AIDS services to combat a growing rise of infections in young men, most of whom are black and Latino. Fields also mentioned her support of the Dignity for All Students Act, legislation in Albany that seeks to endure a safe learning environment for gay and lesbian students. The bill has passed in the Assembly, but the Republican-led Senate refuses to expedite its consideration.
Fields, a Democrat, is in favor of the Marriage Equality Act, another bill pending in the Legislature that would legalize marriage for same-sex couples. Fields said that such relationships are as important as those between “a man and woman.”
Richard Burns, the long-term executive director of the LGBT Community Center, said that Fields proved instrumental in securing public funds to assist in the recent renovation of the Center, a 19th century former schoolhouse. “I was impressed before the reconstruction at the services and the numbers of people served by the Center,” said Fields. “That I am an African American heterosexual who would only serve the same constituency as borough president is not the function of government or leadership.”
Fields conferred awards on a lesbian, a gay man and a same-sex marriage group for their leadership over the past year.
Ms. Bobbie Sackman is a public policy director at the Council of Senior Centers and Services of New York, a non-profit advocacy group. Sackman has collaborated with city officials and health professionals to provide outreach services to LGBT seniors, whose particular needs and issues have long gone underserved by traditional geriatric organizations. Sackman announced that Seniors in a Gay Environment, a group with a large and growing membership, is holding its national convention on June 18. In concluding her remarks, Sackman said, in a call to activism, “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room.”
Mr. Florent Morellet is the restaurateur of a popular establishment that bears his first name and is affectionately known as the “Mayor of the Meat Market” for his efforts to ensure historic preservation status for the triangle of streets known as the Gansevoort Market. More recently, Morellet has helped organized a New York chapter in the right-to-die movement which is made up of people who support euthanasia for terminally-ill patients, including those suffering from the final stages of AIDS. Introduced by Fields as “this great Manhattan knight,” the crowd offered Morellet a rousing ovation.
“At Florent,” said Morellet, “we not only serve food and dinner, we serve politics.” He recounted that when the “AIDS bomb dropped in 1985,” he realized his restaurant was a ready-made bully pulpit to lobby elected officials to provide AIDS services. Over the years, Morellet has organized bus caravans to national marches in Washington and Albany. “And we marched in style to Washington, D.C.—with paté, wine and cheese,” he quipped. Morellet equated the rights of terminally-ill patients to end their lives with the right that guarantees a woman access to an abortion. “It is the right to control your body, to be gay,” said Morellet. “It is the same philosophy as well as the same struggle against the church and state.”
Keith Boykin and Alexander Robinson accepted an award on behalf of the National Black Justice Coalition, a national same-sex marriage group that was founded last year. Up until then, no governing board of any of the nation’s same-sex marriage groups included an African American leader. Since then, the Coalition has embarked on increasing its membership and has instituted an education campaign to help combat efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution to prohibit gays and lesbians from marrying.