Queering Rising Takes the Sixth

BY PAUL SCHINDLER | In the first of what it says will be a series of acts of civil disobedience aimed at advancing the cause of marriage equality in New York State, nine members affiliated with the direct action group Queer Rising blocked traffic on Sixth Avenue at 42nd Street for just under ten minutes during morning rush hour on March 1. Eight of the nine were arrested by police who were there in significant numbers even before the action started.

A larger group of roughly two dozen Queer Rising members gathered at Grand Central Terminal in advance of the action and marched to the site of the protest, organized to highlight the group’s demand that Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has consistently voiced his support for marriage equality, include the measure in his executive budget currently being negotiated with the Legislature in advance of an April 1 deadline.

Natasha Dillon, a spokeswoman for the group, noted the frequency with which budget negotiations drag on well past the deadline and the fact that the Legislature typically tries to wrap up the bulk of its business for the year by June 30.

A marriage equality bill has passed the heavily Democratic Assembly three times since 2007, but was defeated in the Senate in late 2009, by a 38-24 vote, when Democrats held a narrow edge in that chamber and eight of their members sided with every Republican in voting no. The GOP now holds a 32-30 majority in the Senate, but the Republican majority leader, Dean Skelos of Long Island, has pledged to take the matter up with his conference, saying he expects them to okay another floor debate and vote.

Despite Queer Rising’s demand that the governor incorporate the marriage equality bill into his budget package, Dillon said the group chose not to picket his Midtown office because of ongoing dialogue the activists are having with Alphonso David, who is Cuomo’s out gay deputy secretary for civil rights.

Dillon said the group expects that as time passes without specific action in Albany on the marriage measure, more members of the LGBT community will become in engaged in the group’s direct actions.

Asked to comment on the protest, Joshua Vlasto, a spokesman for Cuomo, said, “The governor is absolutely committed to passing marriage equality, as he has said on many occasions.” Last month, in an appearance on Long Island, the governor said he planned to push the measure in the current legislative session that goes until June.

Tom Duane, the out gay Chelsea Democrat who is the Senate’s marriage bill sponsor, said, “I applaud the activists of Queer Rising for today’s civil disobedience and street action. Sadly, because they cannot get marriage licenses, they were booked by the police. Instead of planning their honeymoons, they struggle to get out of jail… Expect more marching, more protests, and more civil disobedience until marriage equality is the law – it already shamefully long overdue.”

As they unfurled a 75-foot banner that spanned Sixth Avenue, the activists chanted, “I am somebody, and I demand full equality. Right here. Right now.” One of those arrested, Jake Goodman (pictured alone, with his arm raised), said, “We do not enjoy inconveniencing drivers on their hectic morning commute, but we less enjoy living without the 1,324 protections and rights granted by state-recognized marriage.”

The other seven arrestees were Dillon, Kevin Beauchamp, Nora Camp, Frostie Flakes (aka Adam Siciliano), Honey LaBronx (aka Ben Strothmann, shown being cuffed by police), Eugene Lovendusky, and Kitten Withuwip (aka Caldwell). The ninth protester was Ted McGuire (shown wrapped in a rainbow flag).

The eight were charged with blocking traffic, given desk appearance tickets for a May 13 court date, and released within about an hour. — Paul Schindler