By Charisma L. Miller, Esq.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Gay/Straight Alliance of the New York State Unified Court System celebrated Gay Pride Month with a lunchtime event at the Brooklyn Supreme Court on Wednesday.
The organization, led by court employee Marc Levine, which began 10 years ago, aims to recognize the continuing need for action to address inequality and discrimination against those who are or are perceived as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered (LGBT), both within the legal profession and within society at-large.
“Ten years ago, you could barely get a straight person, let alone a gay person, to fill up this room in support of the Alliance,” Levine said to the sizable crowd that gathered in Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Yvonne Lewis’ courtroom.
“Ten years ago the Alliance struggled for organizational existence within the court system,” Lewis noted as she reflected on how far the Alliance has come in addressing the needs of the LGBT community.
Not only did the Alliance struggle to become a recognized organization, it also faced difficulty finding members. “In 2003 it took a lot of gumption for court personnel to be members of the Alliance,” said Lewis.
Levine touts the existence of the Alliance as being instrumental in helping court personnel and judges feel comfortable “coming out of the closet” in their professional setting. “Sensitivity training, while helpful and should be continued, is just not real. It does not have a kind of impact. With the Alliance, we are your co-workers … real people.”
Throughout the years the Alliance has garnered support from committees and organizations such as the NYS Judicial Committee on Women in the Courts/Gender Fairness Committee, The Kings County Supreme Court Gender Fairness Committee, Civil and Criminal Term, the Gender Fairness Committee of Kings County Civil Court, as well as the Brooklyn Community Pride Center. These are allies, said Brooklyn Judge Richard Montelione, said every movement needs.
All people present agreed that discrimination, no matter whether it’s based on race or sexual orientation, is something that must be tackled in today’s society, despite past struggles and successes in eliminating discriminatory stigmas.
“There should be no effort for the right to live your life as you choose,” said retired Brooklyn Surrogate Frank Seddio, now the chair of Brooklyn’s Democratic Party. “The right to stand up and be who you are is not something you should fight for.” The Alliance is working to make that so.
“It is [now] OK to be out in the courts,” said Levine as he introduced two openly gay members of Brooklyn’s judiciary. Civil Court Judge Anthony Cannataro formalized his relationship with his significant other as a domestic partnership 10 years ago — prior to the legalization of gay marriage in New York State — around the time the Alliance was created.
“I hope to come back in [another] 10 years and see that members of our community are treated with the same dignity and respect,” said Judge Cannataro.
Recently elected to Civil Court, Montelione has been with his partner for over 20 years. “This is a time to reflect on the progress made … but there is a lot of bigotry,” he said.
The 10-year anniversary of the Alliance comes on the heels of several recent crimes against the LGBT community in New York.
In May, Mark Carson, 32, a Brooklyn resident, was shot in the face, a crime that New York Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly said “looks to be a hate crime, a bias crime.” Also in May, a gay couple was brutally attacked outside of Madison Square Garden.
In 2000, the New York State Legislature created the Hate Crimes statute, which increases the penalties for many crimes committed with a bias. However, said Montelione, “You cannot legislate hate away.”
“There is much work to be done to make society at ease with the LGBT community,” Lewis reminded the audience. The continuation of this process of ease may very well continue within the court system, local and federal. “As the courts go, so go the states,” said Levine.
As the Alliance and its supporters continue the quest for complete equality for the LGBT community, Administrative Judge for Civil Matters Lawrence Knipel noted that the “administration of justice is the quest for fairness, regardless of race … regardless of sexual orientation.”