There was an overwhelming sense of excitement in the air this year at “Equality and Justice Day” in Albany, a lobbying event held annually by the Empire State Pride Agenda. Making history, Equality and Justice Day 2009 was the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) lobby day ever held in New York. There were more than 2,000 attendees from all corners of the state and a record 23 Hobart and William Smith Colleges students, faculty and staff.
“For the first time, HWS brought not only students, but our chaplain and other staff and the Pride Alliance’s involvement has enabled us to join the Empire Club, the Pride Agenda’s society for major financial donors,” said Co-President of HWS Pride Alliance, John Monaghan ’11, noting also that HWS Board of Trustees member Bishop Prince Singh spoke at a rally for LGBT equality. “The political landscape couldn’t be better for winning equality for LGBT New Yorkers. It’s been a great year.”
The Empire State Pride Agenda, as New York’s leading statewide LGBT Civil Rights and advocacy organization, petitions governmental, religious and vocational institutions to promote equality and justice for LGBT New Yorkers and their families. Equality and Justice Day gives New Yorkers an opportunity to lobby their state representatives on the issues of marriage equality for same-sex couples, transgender nondiscrimination, and safe schools for LGBT youth.
Joining the HWS contingent were two alums and supporters of LGBT rights. Lisa Brown ’83 has been a long-time advocate for social justice and a straight ally of LGBT people. “Once you realize, as I did at William Smith, that you deserve those rights, you realize that everyone deserves them,” Brown said. “Learning this changed the world for me. It was a logical step to get into lobbying for social justice.”
Mitchell Karsch’83, co-chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda Foundation Board of Directors, and partner at Davis & Gilbert law firm, explained that he was closeted at Hobart and it made him lead a double life. He realized what a waste of energy this was and began to involve himself in Pride activities after graduating. “Hobart prepared me for the world. It laid the foundation for me to be more open about [my sexuality],” Karsch said to the HWS students at the event. “Your being here is a big deal.”
This Equality and Justice Day seemed to renew a sense of hope in its participants. “The wind is at our backs this year. We have unprecedented levels of support from all corners of the state. People really wanted to be here – we didn’t have to try to get people to come,” said Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda. When asked what he wanted people to take away from “E & J Day,” he stressed that, “[Legislators who say] ‘no’ today may not be a ‘no’ tomorrow.”
HWS’ Monaghan said, “This year could be ‘the year’, because never before has leadership in the State Senate, Assembly and the Governorship supported full LGBT equality. With only a few votes separating me from my equality, I’d like to echo the words of State Senator Tom Duane, ‘It’s not a matter of if anymore, it’s a matter of when, and the when is now!'”