LGBTQ people have protested and celebrated outside the Stonewall since the Rebellion in 1969. But on Saturday, February 4, in sub-freezing temperatures, thousands filled the streets of Stonewall Place to condemn President Donald Trump’s ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority nations — standing up for Muslims within and outside the community who have been singled out for persecution by the new administration.
“LGBTQ people have been fighting oppression for time immemorial,” said out gay Chelsea City Councilmember Corey Johnson, one of the lead organizers of the protest endorsed by more than 60 groups and scores of elected officials, “so when we see an administration come after vulnerable communities, we feel it deeply and personally. We are declaring with one voice that we are in this together.”
Jamila Hammami, executive director of the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, said, “I am not a single-issue person. We are under surveillance. We worry about bombings. We worry about Islamaphobia in our own community.”
But on this frigid afternoon, there was solidarity with causes from justice for Palestinians to the plight of Syrian refugees. Debbie Almontaser, president of the board of the Muslim Community Network, said, “We need to show up everywhere. We cannot do it without you, and you cannot do it without us.”
“They don’t know us,” former Council Speaker Chris Quinn said of the new Washington regime. “We never leave a brother or sister behind.”
Ishalaa Ortega of Immigration Equality, a transgender woman of color from Mexico, talked about how her life was at risk in her country of birth because of her gender identity and how reading about the Stonewall Rebellion at the age of 12 gave her hope.
“Until January 20, the world called this the country of freedom,” she said. “The asylum process was a painful journey. But we are here to stay!”
Actor Cynthia Nixon ridiculed reports that Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner were somehow protecting LGBTQ rights in the White House.
“They couldn’t even get the president to mention Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day,” she said, in discussing news reports that the president’s son-in-law, a top White House advisor, and daughter played a behind-the-scenes role in keeping him from rescinding a 2014 executive order from President Barack Obama requiring contractors doing business with the federal government to provide sexual orientation and gender identity employee nondiscrimination protections.
Though Trump for now is allowing that order to stand, he and the Republicans are eliminating the office in the Department of Labor that enforces it, and there is widespread anticipation that a “religious freedom” order allowing anti-LGBTQ discrimination by federal employees and contractors citing their religious beliefs is forthcoming. Legislative efforts championed by congressional Republicans would go even further, allowing broad religious opt-outs from nondiscrimination laws throughout society.
Rachel Tiven, executive director of Lambda Legal, said, “Lambda is preparing to sue” the moment an anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” order is issued or the anti-LGBTQ First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) is enacted by Congress.
The crowd was filled with veteran activists and some first-time protesters. Three young men stood at the front of the barricades by the stage for more than three hours, having left their homes without their hats.
Ryker Allen, 19, said, “I have to be here. I’m Mexican and queer. I’m here for my immigrant mother who came here illegally.”
J.D. Moran, 24, of Brooklyn, said, “I want to be a body and a voice and show my love for all communities who are hurting.”
Ryan Duffin, 22, an immigrant from Canada, said, “I don’t know what is coming next. I have the privilege of white skin. I want to be here for all of my friends who are from places like Iran and Libya.”
Sam, 43, said, “I got married in 2014. We need to preserve the progress we’ve made. Trump was groomed by the most evil person on the planet, Roy Cohn.”
Joe Ameen, 33, of Bayonne, New Jersey, said, “There’s a new reality. But we have to march to make it clear to the establishment we are not going backwards.”
Ameen’s fiancé, Alexander Esau, 26, said, “As a black gay man, I have very few liberties I can claim and very few I can afford to lose under this presidency.”
Keri Willis, 33, a city public school teacher from North Massapequa on Long Island, said she has gay and immigrant students.
“Things are changing so fast,” she said. “Someone has to speak up for them.”
Jay Russell of Washington Heights has joined an LGBTQ neighborhood group called Outwood for residents of upper Manhattan. A veteran of ACT UP, he said, “I’m feeling frustrated and sad and like the world is turned upside down and every day is worse than before. I wanted to be with people who felt similarly.”
Chad Miller, also with Outwood, said the social group is taking on advocacy efforts now as well.
Jordan Schaps, 68, who lives on Perry Street, just blocks from the Stonewall, said, “We’ve got to get moving.”
Schaps said he has greatly increased his donation to the American Civil Liberties Union. A former longtime photo editor at New York magazine, he said, “I’ve got five friends getting together” to see what actions they can take as leaders in the photography field. “Protesting on Facebook is not enough,” Schaps added.
Political leaders were out in force, including City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Letitia James, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito of East Harlem, out gay Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens, and, representing the mayor, out lesbian Human Rights Commissioner Carmelyn Malalis.
Governor Andrew Cuomo’s out gay counsel, Alphonso David, said, “The governor will stand by you shoulder-to-shoulder to make sure every individual right is protected.”
Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul said, “We’re taking America back,” and was emphatic about not returning to the days of back-alley abortions.
But while the governor is for these things, he is unwilling to take New York State’s Senate back from Republican leadership enabled by rogue Democrats despite the fact that a Democratic majority was once again elected to the State Senate this past November. The defection of Senator Simcha Felder of Brooklyn keeps Republicans in the leadership and separate deals with the growing Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), led by Bronx Senator Jeff Klein, gives that faction leadership perks while freezing the majority of Democratic senators out.
With Republicans controlling the State Senate agenda, attempts by the Democratic-led Assembly to codify certain reproductive rights and transgender rights and to enact Chelsea Democratic Assemblymember Dick Gottfried’s universal health insurance bill — things that would cushion the blow of Republican assaults from Washington — have gone nowhere.
The Trump ascendancy puts added pressure on the disloyal Democrats as new IDC member José Peralta of Queens found out when he was protested by his constituents at a town hall meeting this past week. Out gay Councilmember Danny Dromm of Queens said he was “extremely disappointed” in Peralta.
“He should step down immediately,” the councilmember said.
While city and state officials are making promises of never going back, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said she is not confident that all of the proposed Republican cuts in Washington can be made up by New York.
“We receive $8 billion in food stamps here,” she said, adding that she is also alarmed about massive federal cuts to affordable housing monies that have gone to the New York City Housing Authority and into Section 8 funding.
“We should have affordable health care for everyone,” Marjorie Hill, the former CEO of Gay Men’s Health Crisis and now head of the Joseph Addabbo Family Health Center in Far Rockaway, told Gay City News. “We cannot have government turn back the clock.”
Before taking the stage, the US Senate’s minority leader, Chuck Schumer, told Gay City News, “The people are so aroused, the administration is becoming afraid.”
He said he believes the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act will fail and that Betsy DeVos will be not be confirmed as secretary of education.
Schumer was met with cheers as well as some vigorous boos from activists outraged at his votes confirming some of Trump’s nominees. He gamely led the crowd in a chant of “Dump Trump” and said, “I stand with you. We are going to make sure the Supreme Court does not turn the clock back.”
There have been several large protests outside his Prospect Park West home in Park Slope, including by the Rise & Resist LGBTQ group. How does that make him feel?
“Good,” he said. “The energy is good.” Schumer claimed not to be concerned about “a few brickbats.”
Schumer’s mixed reception is an indication that the resistance to Trump is being driven and led by grassroots activists and not the politicians, as demonstrated at the massive Women’s Marches in New York, Washington, and around the world the day after the inauguration and by the flood of protesters at US airports immediately after Trump issued his anti-Muslim executive order.
“You are the conscience of this nation,” author, journalist, and activist William Rivers Pitt wrote on truth-out.org this weekend. “You are the flour and the yeast and the heat and the rising bread. You stand between what I see at night and what I know at dawn. You’re it, you’re everything. The Democrats won’t save us, nor will the Greens or the libertarians, and like Diogenes I despair of finding an honest Republican in the daylight. Instead, I found you, and you found each other, and this cannot stop.”
Cynthia Nixon urged the crowd to carefully preserve their energies for a fight likely to last at least four years.
“We cannot be here 24 hours a day,” she said. “Our rage will consume us. We are in this for the long haul. Take care of yourself because you are our most valuable resource. We have to keep coming out.”