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by Angel Collie
What an amazing couple of days this journey for marriage equality has been. We’ve gone from the bustling lights of New York City to being greeted by a small town with churches standing on each corner of the intersection. We have met with senators, assembly members, clergy members, and their congregations. Conversations have ranged from “we are so glad you are here” to “not in my town faggots”. The beautiful thing is that in every town, truth and love reigned pure.
Sunday marked the midpoint of our journey. A week ago we were just beginning to grasp the importance of the next two weeks and now here we are living and fighting for our dream to finally have the right to marry. At this point in our journey, morning alarms awaken me physically but also spirituality with a song in my heart. “Our minds are stayed on Equality.”
by Jason Ford
Today was the first day we met with legislators. It was a very busy day. For the past two days, a very generous man named Andy opened his home, heart, and spirit to us, as we stayed there in Rochester with him. We left early this morning because we had a 9:15 breakfast in Albion. We met with a few constituents for breakfast before our meeting with Assemblyman Stephen Hawley. One of the constituents help me set up an interview with a local newspaper about our visit. The more GLBT visibility in that area, the better. A lot of the constituents were straight allies, and it was really interesting to see the issue from a different angle.
Assemblyman Stephen Hawley was our first official meeting so far. Though he voted NO in the NY Assembly, he says he personally supports marriage equality for all couples, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Hawley says he only votes based on what his constituents want him to do, though he has never done a poll of Albion residents on this issue, like he has on others. Assemblyman Crystal Peoples was next and she supports marriage equality and voted YES. She says that her job is to interpret “man’s law”, and not “God’s law”. She is very strong in her faith, and believes it is not for anyone to decide what basic rights a person can or cannot have, even if she doesn’t agree with it personally. Finally, we met with Senator Antoine Thompson. This meeting was one of the best. He doesn’t understand why equal marriage rights is such a big deal because it’s just common sense; he voted YES and has our support 100%. We are currently at an empty apartment in Buffalo preparing for our actions in Buffalo and Niagara Falls. A local pastor was extremely generous in letting us use her property for these four nights.
During her last speech to the public, Susan B. Anthony proclaimed that
with so many people devoted to the cause of women’s suffrage, “Failure
is impossible!” Our guide, Anne, taught us about the civil right
leader’s push for equality at the Susan B. Anthony house, as members
from the Soulforce West van toured through the communities of
Rochester, New York.
It was a pretty jam-packed day. Along with a visit to the Susan B.
Anthony House, we visited a food bank, an LGBT coffee house, and the
local youth group. In the morning, we visited the FoodLink food bank,
where we sorted donated food from local grocery stores into
categories, ready for distribution. By noon, we sorted dozens of boxes
containing nearly 3200 pounds of food.
The Susan B. Anthony House was next, and while we didn’t have enough
time for a full tour of the house, a friendly tour guide came out to
the van to tell us how Susan B. Anthony’s work for full equality was
never-ending, and she was optimistic about the movement on her dying
day. She set the building blocks for a movement that would result in
the women’s right to vote, which came 14 years after her death.
Many of us had lunch in a local eatery, called Penguin, which had some
pretty awesome mozzarella sticks. Then it was off to a local LGBT
coffeehouse named Equal Grounds. We immediately popped open
our laptops, as Equal Grounds had gloriously free Internet access.
When you’re on the road without 24/7 Internet access, it’s easy to
feel disconnected, especially when you’re coordinating events and
Mapquesting parts of the trip. We met members of the local Rochester
LGBT community at the coffeehouse in the late afternoon and had some
lively discussion about topics ranging from the issues facing the
senior citizen LGBT community to the latest reality shows on TV.
In the evening, we went to the Gay Alliance of Genesee Valley Youth
Community Learning Center where we meet the local LGBT youth group.
They asked us to participate in a brainstorming session of how to get
more young LGBT people involved. Rochester is the city of festivals,
especially in the summer, and we discussed how to promote the
organization to the public and promote leadership within the group.
Since young people typically don’t have access to their own cars or haven’t come out to their parents, the youth group is thinking of putting together a volunteer
carpool where older members can drive younger members to events.
We were pretty conked out by the end of the day. We were staying with
a community member, and he greeted us with chocolate-covered
strawberries and a dish of crackers and hummus. Delicious.
by Di Gray
Today was our first real day of action, taking place in a little town called Elmira. We were all a little nervous about our first time out, and certainly tired from staying up late preparing, but also excited to be finally getting started after all our preparation.
The main action for the day was handing out “wedding cake” on a busy street corner. We bought a plain sheet cake from a local grocery and cut it into small pieces, which we then handed out to passers-by along with a flyer entitled “Piece of Cake” which explains the difficulties LGBT couples face as they seek to affirm their relationships legally. We also had a large sign saying “Honk for Marriage Equality”, which Jason waved with great enthusiasm. The response from the local citizens was mostly positive, and we gave away 80+ pieces of cake in about an hour, in addition to distributing information to many more who didn’t want cake. It was great to feel like we’d really made an impact, and we’re looking forward to doing similar actions later on down the road. Unfortunately we were not able to meet with Senator George Winner at his Elmira office due to his being called back to Albany to complete legislative business, but we did drop off literature at his office and to that of Assemblyman Thomas O’Mara.
Then it was off to Rochester, about a two-hour drive involving lots of napping. We enjoyed a quick and delicious dinner provided by the local Metropolitan Community Church and heard many personal testimonies of people’s lives made unnecessary complicated and because of their inability to wed, with tragic consequences. We then rushed to a meeting hosted by the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Downtown United Presbyterian Church. We participated in a panel discussing several different LGBT issues including marriage equality and gender non-discrimination. We had a few minutes to share our own stories, and it was really helpful and inspiring to connect with other people doing similar work around the state and country from different angles.
Many thanks to the local people who have provided us with meals and places to sleep and work!
Victor and Jarrett discussing our stop at Elmira
David demonstrates how NOT to handshake a legislator
Angel poses with an Elmira resident in Wisner Park
by Jason Ford
Last night, we all had Chinese food. It was the last dinner the Freedom Riders of the 1960s ate before they embarked on their journey. My fortune cookie said, “You will be asked to lead in new ways”.
Finally, we are all on the road. This morning, all 4 routes joined in a group photo one last time. It was a very surreal moment, not only because we were upset to be leaving each other, but that we knew we were beginning something much greater than ourselves. We were officially beginning to embark on the Right To Marry Campaign. We all packed up our vans, said goodbye to the Comfort Inn, and drove to the state Capital to meet with some members of the media. Unfortunately, the South van couldn’t make it because of a scheduling conflict. After meeting with the press, we all hugged, took lots of pictures, said good luck, and went on our different routes.
The western van’s first stop is Elmira. During the 3 hour drive, many of us got calls from senators’ offices saying that the senate had been called back into session, and the meetings had to be rescheduled. Regardless of us meeting with the politicians or not, our schedule still will not change. We are so excited to finally be on the road, talking and meeting with everyday people talking about one of the most important issues of our generation. I know for me, I am extremely excited to meet the youth of New York. Growing up in today’s society is hard enough for anyone, and adding the GLBTQ factor in makes it even harder. One of the reasons I am here is because millions across our country and around the world cannot be. I look forward to sharing my stories with them, and hopefully empower lots more to stand up and be counted.
by Clare Ciervo
After weeks of planning, all the young adults involved in the Right to Marry Campaign congregated for the first time during our kick-off training session at 9am. Of course, part of the morning was spent attaching faces to those voices that we had so often heard during our weekly conference calls or (for those seasoned Soulforce members) the morning ice breaker activity afforded an opportunity to greet old friends with open arms. Later on, we absorbed information from several presentations and engaged in conversations that focused on important topics such as the policy of non-violence. Specific “van time” followed, then over our dinner that evening, representatives from each route shared the activities in which they will be hosting and participating during the campaign. By the time the day was over a lot of work was accomplished and all 32 of us were well on our way to forming a family fighting for equality.