Looking back, 2011 has been quite a year, especially on the gay rights front, one of our major beats. Like the cardiac organ caught in a bear trap accompanying Jen Doll’s “Plight of the Single Lady,” there were times when, objective reporter or not, the stories we were reporting here at the Voice grabbed our grizzled, hardened heart and refused to let go.
And so we ask you, dear readers, to indulge us in the rare use of the first person singular as we reflect on some of the stories that touched and moved us to report over the past 12 months.
Kevin Beauchamp and Howard Orlick are both blind men living with AIDS. They’ve been together for nearly a decade, and they both buried young partners to AIDS previously. They fought valiantly for the right to marry. Yet, once they had the right to get married, they decided it’s not the right decision for them (for now, anyway).
I interviewed Thurston, the digital director for the Onion and author of the upcoming book How to Be Black, the day after President Obama released his long form birth certificate. Thurston’s impassioned YouTube viral hit is a walk through his family’s and nation’s struggle for civil rights, which were both pissed on by Donald Trump.
From Egypt to Albany to Wall Street, 2011 was a major year for protestors, especially those using non-violent resistance. It was a real honor to interview Lew Zuchman, one of the original Freedom Riders, when he was heading off to the 50th anniversary of the rides. Mr. Zuchman got in touch with me again after I wrote “The White Mayor’s Burden” and we had an amazing lunch and talked about all the ways progress has been made, and disappeared, since 1961.
This viral video, shot by my brother James Schmitz at an Occupy LA N17 event, does something few filmmakers or journalists have been able to do: capture the one percent on their true thoughts about Occupy Wall Street. It wasn’t just the raw honesty, but also the warmth and humor of James’ exchange with Jim Cruse of CBRE that was touching and fun to share.
Other than when Ruben Diaz’s minions were surrounding me with hate filled messages, there are few times I’ve actually felt in danger in the past year, reporting or otherwise. But it was pretty terrifying when, in October, I was on a 4 train that experienced a small explosion, stalled under the East River, and filled up with smoke. (The brother who busted out the gas mask especially put people on edge.)
Walking across Sixth Avenue this past fall, it was frighteningly stunning to see One World Trade and the Trump SoHo building looking like a spitting image of the view of the Twin Towers from that intersection more than a decade ago.
It was March, only a couple months into the nascent Cuomo administration, and the group Queer Rising was neither patient nor loyal to the new governor. Months later he’d make good on his promises on gay marriage, but QR wasn’t waiting. And so, at the height of rush hour, a bunch of activists, three drag queens, and a blind man (who we’d later profile) shut Sixth Avenue down. It was the first of many times we’d report on activists getting arrested in 2011, but the high heels, wigs, and blind cane — not to mention all out willingness to give everything for something they believed in — were especially touching to witness.
One of the genius people I interviewed this year was Julian Joslin, maker of the brilliant Ira Glass Sex Tape. But it was the quote I got when I approached Ira Glass himself that was as heartbreaking as, well, the final act of a This American Life story.
About a month before Occupy Wall Street started, foreclosure activists surrounded the home of 82-year-old Mary Lee Ward of Bed-Stuy to prevent her from being evicted. Ms. Ward had been the victim of a predatory loan; she never got the money she had borrowed, and thus didn’t pay it back. Sixteen years later, that loan had been repackaged endlessly and her house was foreclose on. An eviction watch is still mobilized to come to her house, 24 hours a day.
When Mary Ward’s defenders merged with Occupy Wall Street, the result was an attempt to stop foreclosure court in song. Even attorneys Karen Gargamelli and Jay Kim got arrested.
I’ve followed the byzantine end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell for a couple of years. Between profiling Lt. Dan Choi and witnessing Barack Obama sign DADT into history, it was a welcome and long overdue moment to finally see the policy end in September.
I go to too many vigils for murdered LGBT people. Camila Guzman’s was particularly rough. Unlike nearly every other memorial vigil I’ve attended, which have usually been candle light vigils in the dark, Guzman’s memorial took place on one of the longest days of the year, when the sun was still in the evening sky. The sounds of summer nearby — basketball playing, Mr. Softee trucks rolling by, kids running around — made her murder and loss seem all the more absurd.
I was honored to have world class photographer Arlene Gottfried shoot my story “Class Struggle” in February, and pleased to get to interview her in the above video about her new, beautiful book Bacalaitos and Fireworks.
It’s rare to find someone who switches sides in politics, especially around issues of gay rights. It was fascinating and humbling to meet Louis Marinelli in Bryant Park for a long face to face interview. Marinelli had been the driver and tech guy for NOM’s anti-gay marriage tour in 2010. By summer of 2011, he’d switched sides and went all out to promote same-sex marriage equality, even though he still considered himself a conservative.
This seven-year-old boy sat rapt with attention, for hours, right in front of me in the New York Senate gallery as the Senate debated the Marriage Equality Act. The passage of the bill affect his life and the life of his gay dad.
In writing “Diaz Family Values,” the most amazing thing was interviewing young Erica Diaz, an out lesbian who was ejected from the military under DADT and who wanted to marry her girlfriend, as she stood up to her anti-gay grandfather, Senator Reverend Ruben Diaz, Sr.
The week same-sex marriage became law, I went to 17 different weddings. It was one of the most fun weeks of my life. A particular highlight was returning to Middle Collegiate Church, where I attended for years, to go the first Sunday service where they could legally wed gay and lesbian couples. The church has fought for equal rights for LGBT people for years, and it was touching to see three couples (one that had been together for over 20 years) tie the knot formally, both in the eyes of their house of worship and New York State.
Of the 11 weddings I witnessed the first day of same-sex marriage, perhaps the most touching moment was when Mickey Miller, a septuagenerian lesbian who had been at the Stonewall riots, asked me to be an official witness and sign the marriage registry when she married Judith, her partner of 35 years.
On the first day of same-sex marriage, super parents Steven Landis and Julie Irwin took their adorable twin four-year-olds to Brooklyn Supreme Court to be flower girls for anyone who might need them.
Along with my regular collaborator C.S. Muncy, it was touching to think back on the decade since I saw the World Trace Center collapse, and to be with President Obama and those beautiful young women whose fathers had died as they paid their respects.
It was a highlight of my year — indeed, my life — to be sitting in the gallery of the New York Senate on June 24, next to Queer Rising’s Jake Goodman and Natasha Dillon and right over the head of Senator Reverend Ruben Diaz, Sr., as the senate passed the Marriage Equality Act, granting equal rights under New York State law to same-sex couples.
To all the sources and subjects that made all of these stories possible, and to all of the readers who read, commented on and shared them, thank you for making 2011 such an historic year to write about.