Wednesday, July 27, 2011

NY Gay Marriage A Triumph, But Challenges Remain

On Sunday July 24th, 2011, 30 days after it was passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York’s gay marriage law took effect.    Minutes after, hundreds of eager gay couples were wed across the state.  The passing of this law is a momentous occasion in the LGBT community. For same sex couples to finally be able to legally wed, and enjoy all of the benefits associated with marriage is a major triumph.

The LGBT community has been celebrating since the Governor originally passed the bill on June 24th.  Just two days later, New York City’s annual Pride Parade took place.  The parade has been in effect for over 40 years.  And while each year the celebrations and festivities grow in support and number, the streets were in no way ready for the massive turnout that occurred on June 26th.

Because of the bills passage, people flocked from nationwide to show their support for the LGBT community and this country’s latest same-sex marriage law.  This is certainly a triumph for the LGBT community, but 40 years after the Stonewall Riots, many challenges still remain.  For those who identify with the LGBT community, these include coming out to friends and loved ones or just merely as they live their lives amongst people who may not agree with their sexual orientation.  As I walked along the NYC Pride parade route this year, I wanted to find out some of the challenges and triumphs that LGBT youth, in particular, face today.

Jo, 21, of the Bronx:  “My family is strictly from the West Indies and we’re Catholic, so it was definitely hard [coming out] but it’s something that they have to live with and they came through…and I’m here five years later all in one piece!” 

Ashley, 22, of Teaneck, NJ: “I'd say that the biggest challenge in coping with my sexuality was having to deal with other peoples’ ignorance and prejudices. It can be draining having to argue with people in order to legitimize my sexuality. In the end it's my life and not theirs and what I want to do and who I love is none of their business. The only thing I ask is to have the same rights as everyone else.”

Henry, 22, of Teaneck, NJ: “For me, the biggest challenge is actually admitting to yourself who you are and coming to terms with it regardless of religious or political stances. We still live in a very theology-driven society and the process of mustering up the courage needed to acknowledge one's sexuality defies social mores and (perhaps) cultural values. In my opinion, the most difficult part of coming out was the process of self-discovery and coming to grips with who I am.”

New York’s passage of the same-sex marriage bill presents young people of the LGBT community with opportunities that those before them were not as fortunate to have. Now they, too, can fulfill the dream of a legal marriage that just weeks ago, they were not entitled.

Sarah, 25, of Clifton, NJ:  “I’m bi-sexual and I’m open about it. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was come out to my parents. They had a hard time getting used to it but are still supportive…and my mom is here for the first time this year!”

Like Sarah’s mother, this year’s Pride Parade was a first for many. From 36th street & 5th Avenue, all the way down to Christopher & Greenwich Streets in The Village, hundreds of supporters, both new and old, were in attendance. I guess we can say that New York’s latest legislative reform has impacted New Yorkers in more ways than one.

And that is truly a triumph.

--Rebecca Florcyzk
GET DOWN Youth Blog Squad


Friday, July 8, 2011

More Than Just A Parade: NYC's Gay Pride Parade 2011

On November 2, 1969, the first gay pride parade was organized in New York City by American gay rights activist, Craig Rodwell. Today, the march has evolved into a week long celebration known as Gay Pride Week, during which numerous rallies and festivities take place in support of the LGBT community.   There is another difference, however, between this year’s events and the first parade that took place over 40 years ago. This year, there was something new to celebrate.

On June 24, 2011, just two days before NYC Pride, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law legalizing same-sex marriage in the state of New York.  New York is now just one of six states nationwide in which same-sex marriage is permitted.  With this new and exciting news, hundreds upon hundreds of people from New York and nationwide came out to make this year’s parade one to remember.  

GET DOWN's New York based partner organization, FACES NY was there to show their support with a float of their own.  The parade began at noon on Sunday, June 26th at 36th street & 5th Avenue and ended at Christopher & Greenwich Streets in The Village.  

Our partner FACES NY entered the parade at 37th Street on a large float themed “Paris is Burning.”  Those who participated wore either a fire inspired costume or dressed in a red, orange or yellow shirt. At the center of the float was a reconstruction of the Eiffel Tower in flames.  Throughout the course of the parade, I was able to speak with many young people to get their opinions on the passage of the same-sex marriage bill.  According to Kristin, 22, of New York, this is “the greatest thing that could have happened to the city.”


Chelsea, 18, of New York said, “I was excited because we [the LGBT community] fall in love, too and we all wanna get married.  We have our own plans and desires, you know, like everybody else. I felt that it was fair and about time!”  The large turnout at NYC Pride proved that many people share the opinions of these two young women. Jay, of New York, however, brought a different opinion to the table in response to New York’s latest legislative reform. 
Jay, an HIV education counselor in the New York area, stated “I think it’s a wonderful first step, but I do believe that as a man of color, who is a man of same sex desires, that there are a plethora of issues that the black and brown communities should see as more important than gay marriage.  We’re more likely to be incarcerated for crime, we are more likely to be poor, more likely to drop out of school, more likely to catch HIV/AIDS.  There are so many other things that I feel our white brothers and sisters within the LGBT community are not comfortable with addressing.”  While Jay recognizes the positive impact of the same-sex marriage bill on the LGBT community, he brings to light the fact that there are still many issues facing minorities within the gay community; issues that he believes are of greater importance.  
Overall, the 2011 Gay Pride Parade was a joyous and celebratory event.  I, like many others along the parade route, believe we should consider the efforts of New York’s Governor Cuomo a step in the right direction for New Yorker’s and the LGBT community as a whole.
--Rebecca Florcyzk
GET DOWN Youth Blog Squad

Sunday, July 3, 2011

6th Annual Iris House Women's Conference: Teen Summit

On the second day of the 6th annual Iris House Women as The Face of AIDS conference, The YOU! Project of Iris House hosted a summit focused on teens, HIV, AIDS, and STD’s. Held at the New York Academy of Medicine, teens from all over New York City and New Jersey attended. The presentations focused on 1. Teaching the difference between HIV and AIDS and 2. The effect of STDs on the body. Since most of the presenters were also teens or young adults the summit was particularly effective in reaching its participants.   

The first segment of the summit began with a workshop called “HIV 101” which explained what HIV and AIDS are and the difference between the two. Many people don't realize that HIV is a virus that infects the immune system and kills white blood cells or T cells. AIDS is a more advanced form of HIV in which the immune system is so weak that any illness can become deadly. The workshop also dispelled myths associated with the infection and disease. Myths like, it's possible to contract HIV from a toilet seat or that hugging an HIV infected person can spread the virus. Also shared were tips on how to prevent contracting the disease, such as abstaining from sex, using protection for safe sex, and using clean needles when getting a tattoo. 

Sexually transmitted diseases/infections (STD’s and STI’s) were the next topic of discussion. Teens learned just how prevelant STDs and STIs are in their age group. According to one STUDY, IN 2009, the city of New York reported 19,035 cases of Chlamydia in people ages 15-19 years old. Gonorrhea was reported at 2,754 cases in the same age group. To drive home the seriousness of these diseases and infections, presenters discussed and showed pictures of how STD’s can affect a person, both internally and externally. Though graphic in nature, both the dialog and visuals helped the teens to understand just how damaging an STD can be.

The summit ended with variety of performances and demonstrations. From spoken word and stepping to how to properly put on a condom and what types of lubricant you should use (such as flavored lubricant for oral use and non flavored lubricant for genetalia). Though teens enjoyed the entertainment, a few if the demonstrations were a little uncomfortable for some. For example, a 12-year-old boy, who was granted permission to attend the workshop by his parents/guardians, he hesitated to practice putting a condom on a modeled penis until one person in the group encouraged him that it would be a “life lesson to learn”.

Summit organizer, Debra Bosier-Allen, specializes in creating HIV/AIDS and STD conferences for teens.“We have a lot of teen workshops, we go all over to do," she said," We do it here, over in the Bronx, Jersey, all over.We provide HIV 101 workshops primarily to high schools, churches. We’ve done several interventions for the young people.”  Other teen and young adult programs that Ms. Busier-Allen has created are Listen Up (for young heterosexual men), D-UP (for young gay men), and the Willow Intervention (for young women who are infected with HIV). 

Overall the summit was interesting and informative. Although I was there to cover the event I was also an attendee and participated in the demonstration on how to put a condom properly. Since most of the audience were in middle and high school (with only 3 young adults) it was in their best interest to learn about HIV/AIDS and STD/STI’s . They’re in the phase of their lives in which they become sexually active and, regardless of sexual orientation, need to learn about the risks that come with having sex and ways to protect themselves from catching an infection.

For more information regarding about STD’s, where to get tested for HIV, or to find a low cost clinic, go to email

--Nelson Morales, Jr.
GET DOWN Youth Blog Squad