Speaker Christine Quinn packed the City Council chamber Tuesday evening for the LGBT Pride event she co-hosted with Councilwoman Rosie Mendez—“the Council’s other lesbian,” as the newcomer legislator noted. They commemorated the 20th anniversary of the passage of the city’s gay and lesbian rights law that came only after a raucous hearing in that very chamber.
Quinn predicted big things for the community over the next 20 years, and basked in pride—to the point of bursting—over the Council being led by the first woman and first out gay or lesbian person in history.
“I would not have the honor of being speaker were it not for the work of the LGBT community,” Quinn said. “There is so much to celebrate and so much left to do.”
Quinn shared the story of how union leaders recently came to her for support on a bill that would give benefits to the spouses of union members but did not mention domestic partners. “What were you thinking?” she asked them. “I am not going to vote for a bill that is going to treat my family differently.”
Quinn said they yelled at each other in public and worked out their differences quietly in private. “Usually it’s the other way around.” Her members shared her indignation and the bill was changed.
Quinn honored the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights, the group that led the fight for the gay rights bill from 1977 to ’86. Dr. Joyce Hunter, a former spokeswoman for the 50-group coalition, paid tribute to everyone who was involved in that 15-year struggle and asked all, this reporter included, to stand up. There was only about 20 on hand out of the hundreds at the celebration, including Ethan Geto who was part of the Gay Activists Alliance that conceived it in 1971, Ed Koch who was mayor at the time, and Robert Morgenthau who was then and remains Manhattan district attorney.
Several councilmembers who were in the 21-14 majority that passed the bill attended from districts as diverse as Miriam Friedlander’s East Village to Sal Albanese’s Bensonhurst. Clips from “Rights and Reactions,” a documentary about the bill’s passage by Jane Lippman and the late Phil Zwickler, were shown, as a reminder not just of how hard the fight for basic rights was but also how many soldiers in those battles are gone, including Betty Santoro, another Coalition leader, who died in January and was honored at the event. The film will be shown on Channel 13 on Friday, June 23 at 10:30 p.m.
Quinn also honored out gay former Councilman Philip Reed, hailing him as “undaunted by what anyone thinks of him.” Reed, who acknowledged enjoying being out of public life at the moment, said, “There is a myth about this being a liberal city,” noting a raft of legislation that hasn’t been passed to advance women’s rights, health care, education, and LGBT rights. “We all have work to do,” he said.
Gary Parker, the co-president of Lambda Independent Democrats and co-founder of Greater Voices that unites all the LGBT clubs in the city, was honored. “I’m the best example of what two lesbian mothers can create,” he said, going on to praise his lesbian sister’s hope that his baby niece will make it three generations of lesbians. “If she turns out to be straight, I’ll support her,” he promised.
It was a stirring event, emceed by actor André De Shields with Judy Gold for comic relief and the Lavender Light Gospel Choir for entertainment. Countering the idea that God is on the other side, three invocations were delivered—by Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, Bishop Zachary Jones, and Reverend Pat Bumgardner who recited the chant of the drag queen “Stonewall girls” at the 1969 rebellion and reminded the crowd of the need to “talk about things genital” such as condoms if the AIDS crisis is ever to end.
Former Councilwoman Friedlander, 92 and as feisty as ever, sounded a combative note in the spirit of Stonewall after the ceremony. “The Bush destruction of civil rights will be stopped by movements like this one,” she proclaimed.—Andy Humm