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History Still Very Much Resonates Today

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Having recently seen “Angels in America” on Broadway made me recall my own brushes with Roy Cohn — a notoriously evil character in Tony Kushner’s magnificent play and, of course, in real life. In the late 1970s, Roy was having dinner with a young gay guy at the gay Uncle Charlie’s Restaurant on Third Avenue in the high 30’s. I was at the table across from Cohn with Doug Ireland, the late famed gay activist and Gay City News contributor. I asked Cohn if he supported our Gay Rights Bill, and he said no because he didn’t think gays should be schoolteachers. I replied that I knew one homosexual lawyer who shouldn’t be allowed to practice law. That ended that discussion.

The owner of Uncle Charlie’s Restaurant was the equally notorious Lou Katz, who later fled the country after the brutal stabbing death of 37-year-old Michael Moriarty who had developed a relationship with Katz’s 20-year-old former lover. Katz was then 58 years old and the year was 1986. Katz was convicted in absentia of first-degree manslaughter, and in 2002 was apprehended in Panama where he had been living under an assumed identity. Katz was brought back to the States and arrested. Last heard from, he was housed at the Green Haven Correctional Facility in upstate Stormville.

Twenty of us went as a group to see Angels in America, including Councilmembers Ritchie Torres, Rafael Espinal, and Carlos Menchaca, State Supreme Court Judge Doris Ling-Cohan, who issued the famous 2005 decision recognizing the right of same-sex couples to marry in New York (overturned a year later by the Court of Appeals), and former State Supreme Court Judge Emily Jane Goodman, who in 1970 represented the Gay Activist Alliance pro bono and was the first lawyer to get us law-breaking sodomites out of jail.

The Reverend Al Sharpton is opening a Civil Rights Museum in Harlem — a roughly $100 million project. Keeping his deep commitment to the LGBTQ community, I have been chosen to be one of the three trustees of the museum, which will tell the story of the fight for civil rights, including from a black, Latino and LGBTQ perspective. I consider being named to the board a great honor and will work hard to keep our histories alive.

But there is also trouble in West Harlem and no one is doing anything about it. The Democratic Party selected flamboyant Pastor Al Taylor as the new assemblymember to fill the vacancy left last year by Denny Farrell’s retirement. Taylor is head of the Infinity Mennonite Church in Harlem and won’t perform same-sex weddings, justifying his bigotry as Republicans do: by hiding behind religion. Taylor is not much different from Jack Phillips, the baker and owner of the Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. Taylor is now running in the September primary for a full term with establishment support. His name appears on campaign literature of elected officials and candidates who are friends of our community. West Harlem Democratic clubs support Taylor and welcome his presence at their events. Any club that espouses support for the LGBTQ community must disavow Taylor. Activists must continue to expose Taylor for what he is: a bigot.

Civil Court Judge J. Machelle Sweeting, also hailing from Harlem and elected last year, recently issued a mean-spirited and unnecessary decision denying a young boy the right to attend his aunt’s same-sex wedding. The mother was left to figure out a last moment resolution with the boy’s increasingly antagonistic father that allowed the youth to attend. However, this decision caused unnecessary hardship and stress and raises underlying concerns about this judge presiding over future cases important to our community. I wonder what Sweeting will say about this case when she runs for State Supreme Court?

I have polled many of the past officers of the Gay Activists Alliance about gaycotting next year’s parade marking the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. Each year, our numbers dwindle but our commitment to activism remains alive, and we have all agreed to not march. We are planning a statement and will be reaching out to others.

We never wanted a parade to begin with. The annual commemoration of Stonewall began as a march demanding equal rights and sexual liberation. It was later hijacked by Heritage of Pride and has turned into an advertisement for the likes of Citibank and self-promoting politicians. In the days of Donald Trump, do we really want to see our elected officials dancing down the street as though our lives are not on the line? Do we need to share the street with members of the police department whose fraternal organization serves solely for self-promotion while the NYPD arrests us for smoking joints?

I have suggested to the mayor’s office that it withhold the permit from Heritage of Pride and give it back to the people. Why isn’t the City Council demanding this also? Cancel the parade and let us march for our rights without corporate intrusion and reactionary forces infiltrating our movement.

Updated 6:24 pm, August 26, 2018
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