Alan Bounville and Iana DiBona have given up their livelihoods and been demonstrating and protesting outside of the campaign office of U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) for nearly 36 days. Their demand? That Gillibrand file the American Equality Bill, which adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the 1964 Civil Right Act -- a bill that "guarantees full equality for all," said DiBona.
Under the banner "Queer SOS!" (an acronym for "Standing OutSide") and with signs and sidewalk chalk about their cause surrounding them, they began September 27 with a daily vigil from 10 AM to 6 PM on the sidewalk outside of the office. But by October 11 were leading a 24-hour vigil because Gillibrand had not acted on their demand. Days before their protest outside of the office went full-time, they coordinated a well-attended die-in against homo- and trans-phobia at Grand Central Station.
With all their work, it perhaps is no surprise that they even faced arrest at one point -- when Bounville was jailed for over 22 hours for "erecting a structure," which in reality was a simple, vertical banner asking "HOW LONG MUST LGBTQI PEOPLE WAIT FOR CIVIL RIGHTS?"
With help from their fellow protesters, however, the site was not abandoned.
"The community rose up and stood guard through the night and all through Saturday, letting Senator Gillibrand and the community know that we will not be moved until our civil rights bill is filed," said Di Bona.
Upon returning to the vigil, Bounville was back in activist mode, and asked his fellow participants, "How long must LGBTQI people wait for civil rights? I don't know, but we're on day 20 and we intend on finding out!"
As a sign of their clear commitment, three of them, fellow protester, Joe Birdsong, as well as Bounville and DiBona, received a disorderly conduct summons demanding they appear in court Jan. 5, 2011. Zoe Nicholson, their spokesperson, said she expects that they will appear at their summons "in keeping with the people they are."
But this threat has not stopped them either.
In fact, if their demands are not met by Nov. 2 -- Election Day across the U.S. -- Bounville plans to begin a civil rights fast, a 24 hour, water-only fast with DiBona, his best friend, as his caregiver.
The American Equality Bill, or AEB for short, "covers employment, housing, all public spaces, government buildings...and any program funded by federal money like adoption agencies, homeless youth, HIV and health programs - all of them," added DiBona. The expansive fill bill also adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and amends language that the drafters view as discriminatory to the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Drafted by Karen Doering, former Senior Counsel to the National Center for Lesbian Rights with the cooperation of Juan Ahonen-Jover, Ph.D., who is a former National Gay and Lesbian Task Force chair and founder of eQuality Giving, it has the backing of a wide number of members of the LGBTQ movement, including the Act on Principles campaign, as well as the movement's allies.
Should Gillibrand win her Election Day bid for the Senate seat that she was appointed to in 2009, when it was vacated by now-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Senate would continue to have one of the LGBTQ's community's strongest allies, according to Gay City News' endorsement over her opponent, virtual unknown Joe DioGuardi. To some, Gillibrand is virtually a member of the LGBTQ community; so for these Civil Rights Fasters, as they are calling themselves as of Nov. 2, she could easily go further.
According to one of their press releases, they laud her for "[showing] the leadership of a veteran senator for the LGBTQ cause." And because of her endorsement of adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the Civil Rights Act, the time is now to file a bill that does just that, according to these activists.
The response, needless to say, has been tepid. When asked, a spokesperson for the Gillibrand campaign had no comment, a sentiment that was expressed to many inquiring reporters.
To Bounville, the response is frankly baffling. "I don't understand why the Senator and her office are ignoring the voice of the people," Bounville said upon his receiving his summons for disorderly conduct. "Senator Gillibrand supports the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to the Civil Rights Act. How many more kids will jump off a bridge or get murdered for being LGBT before she turns her words in to action and files this bill?"
You can follow the Civil Rights Fasters on YouTube and Twitter under "civilrightsfast" as well as on their website, civilrightsfast.com.
Follow James M. Russell on Twitter: www.twitter.com/james4texas