At a luncheon this past Saturday at Aunt Suzie’s, a Fifth Avenue Park Slope eatery, the Lambda Independent Democrats (LID), Brooklyn’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered political club, celebrated its 26th anniversary and honored U.S. Rep. Nydia Velásquez, the grassroots group Marriage Equality New York, and the Rev. Liz Alexander, a neighborhood lesbian minister committed to prisoners’ rights.
As is typical for such LID events, a host of Brooklyn political leaders, from state legislators to city councilmembers, and Democratic district leaders to judicial candidates were on hand to court the influential club’s favor. U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner of Brooklyn attended to offer his congratulations to his colleague Velásquez, as did city Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum. Fernando Ferrer, the former Bronx borough president, who ran a strong, but losing race for the Democratic mayoral nomination in 2001 and is widely expected to run again next year, presented Velásquez with her award.
“When the phrase ‘tribune of the people’ was coined, they must have had Nydia Velásquez in mind,” Ferrer said of the six-term House member who represents portions of Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan, and was the first Puerto Rican woman elected to Congress. “At times like this, the key question is ‘Who will be in the foxhole with you?’”
Velásquez, describing the sense of justice she learned from her father, a sugar cane worker in Puerto Rico, spoke out against the Patriot Act, which she was in a small minority in opposing from the start.
“I was shaking,” she recalled of Congress’ initial consideration of the post-9/11 legislation. “I knew how I would need to vote, but I did not know how the people of New York would react. Someone said to me, ‘Nydia why do you have to face that New York Post call tomorrow.’”
Addressing the ongoing war in Iraq, Velásquez expressed concern about “the harm inflicted on the image of the U.S. in the international community.”
She said that the meaning of the upcoming presidential election can be summarized in two words: “Supreme Court.”
Assemblymember James Brennan, a Park Slope Democrat, gave the award to Alexander, who is pastor of the Slope’s Church of Gethsemane, where she runs a social services outreach for prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families. Brennan noted that Alexander is a recent cancer survivor and that as an out lesbian minister faces possible sanction from the Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A. with which her congregation is affiliated.
Addressing how she was drawn to work with prisoners, Alexander quoted the late lesbian poet Audre Lorde: “There is no hierarchy of oppression.”
Connie Ress, a founder in 1996 of Marriage Equality New York and executive director of Marriage Equality USA, and David Thompson, a co-chair of the local group, accepted an award from Joseph Tanzi, an LID board member.
Weiner, in his remarks, noted that he and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat representing Brooklyn and Manhattan, were committed on the House Judiciary Committee to blocking any federal constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage.
David Yassky, a Park Slope city councilmember, said the Equal Benefits Bill, a measure sponsored by out Manhattan lesbian Christine Quinn that would require city contractors to offer their employees domestic partnership benefits, may face problems even if passed as expected next week.
“We should expect a [mayoral] veto and plan for a veto, so we have to press for 37 votes,” he said.
Quinn has repeatedly said she has a veto-proof majority to overcome the opposition of Mayoral Michael Bloomberg.