This past year was an historic one for New York City’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. By working together, our families stood strong and proud, and through our collective strength and passion, we helped changed the landscape of our city for generations to come.
In June, New York State passed gay marriage legislation. With the extraordinary leadership and commitment of Governor Andrew Cuomo, the bill passed the Senate with four Republican votes. Now that New York has passed this important piece of legislation, we look forward to other states soon following suit. Together, we can show that marriage equality is the right thing for our nation - one that will strengthen our families and communities even more.
In September, the 18-year-old Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) policy officially ended. Not only does this lift the burden of shame and fear from an entire generation of dedicated Americans who have served our country in the most noble way possible, but it also brings the U.S. military in line with those of other industrialized nations who allow gays and lesbians to serve openly.
On December 6th, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered an historic speech at the United Nations Human Rights Commission calling for international LGBT rights - the first time in history that LGBT rights have been exclusively linked to human rights. It was a signal to all countries that discriminating against gays and lesbians will not be tolerated.
While effective leadership has been vital to accomplishing these victories, we also owe them to the relentless efforts of fearless advocates who didn’t stop fighting until their voices were heard. New Yorkers have shown the world we are dedicated and committed to achieving full equality. Knowing that residents and advocates are out there every day on the streets in every borough defending equality should give us all renewed hope and optimism for the future of human rights.
After DADT was repealed, a soldier came up to me and shared the pride she felt when she received a standing ovation after re-enlisting in the Army.
On Marriage Equality’s inaugural day, I witnessed the marriage of the first same-sex couples in New York City, including Phyllis Siegal, 76, and Connie Kopelov, 84, who have been together for 23 years. Before that first ceremony began, I met with couples from around the City eagerly waiting for their turn. We were all there in the most amazing of moments when New York finally said that our family matters, that our family is just as good as anybody else’s.
We have a great deal to be thankful for this year, and we must keep the momentum going.
While New York can take pride in the passage of marriage equality, we need to ensure that every American is afforded the same rights. We cannot rest until the Defense of Marriage Act is repealed and the military recognizes same-sex marriages of service members who risk their lives to protect this country.
We also need to continue the fight for equal rights for the transgender community and to make sure that no one is discriminated against for who they are or whom they love.
Part of this fight means an ongoing awareness of bullying. We cannot and should not tolerate violence on the basis of gender and sexual identity. Together, let’s fight ignorance while also creating safe havens for those who feel like they don’t have anywhere else to turn. We have seen far too many young LGBT people taking their own lives because of the mean-spirited behavior of others.
In 2012 let’s resolve that we will not be deterred in any way from ensuring civil rights for all people. We must pledge to continue to advocate, to write to our legislators, and to do all that we can to demand equal rights.
Until every LGBT individual is ensured the promise of full and equal existence, we will not stop fighting.