Saturday, May 2, 2009

"Woo-hoo, Rochester!"

Equality & Justice Day 2009.


Well, to be honest, it was kinda odd. 


I was all excited—waking up at 5 AM and all to get to Albany by 7:45.  The energy among the volunteers was heady and enthusiastic.  I’ve been to enough local events/meetings at this point that I know these folks well enough to exchange a few friendly words.  My friend Beth--photographer extraordinaire--volunteered to take photos of the day and it was fun to have her along.  When my friend Gabe showed up things really got cooking.  She started a group called Project Yay Gay that is “striving to foment positivity and crowd out homophobia and transphobia through community service, outreach, humor, and plenty of kindness.”   And not only are the group’s goals wonderful, but on special occasions they don capes and hot pink underwear.  I was handed a cape and gladly placed it around my neck.  Superhero for a day!  Tiffany arrived in her little bolero jacket.  I had met Tiffany the week before at an organizational meeting and she stole the show.  When one is a transgender roller derby queen, that goes without saying. 


The volunteer orientation was brief and to the point—get the people their credentials and get them into the convention center main hall.


We—ahem—bus greeters were asked to stay behind for further instructions.


Those instructions were not much more than board the buses as they arrive, welcome the people to Albany and find out where they’re coming from.  (This last to keep track of who had arrived and who had not.)  The script I had prepared (yes, the script I had prepared) had a little more to it than that, but I was willing to make some cuts for the sake of brevity.  Out went the remarks about the Empire State Plaza being “terribly ‘Logan’s Run.’” 


The first bus rolled in and Beth—who had decided she was my personal photographer--and I booked over to meet it.  I climbed aboard and stood in front of the delegates. 


“Good morning and welcome to Albany!!!” I shouted, mic-less, to the crowd. 




“Where are you all from?”




“Welcome, Rochester!  Woo-hoo!”




I mentally began hacking away at my script as I yelled out instructions to the group, ending with, “thanks to all of you for coming, have a great time while you’re here and now go out and get ‘em!”




O-o-o-o-oh K, then.


The rest of the buses had pretty much the same (lack of) energy.  Were they tired from traveling?  Was it too early for them all?  Were they disappointed that this bus ride didn’t end with a roll of quarters like the Atlantic City junket?  Who knows.  Beth and I were stumped.


We wended our way back to the registration area—fielding questions all along the route about my cape—and headed into the main hall, where breakfast was being served.  Here there was energy and enthusiasm to spare; you couldn’t get near the bagels to save your life.


We spotted a pair of (gorgeous) identical twin brothers who appeared to be journalistas of some sort.  A brief chat got the information that they were from Brooklyn and had--at the last minute—decided to drive up rather than take the bus.  This was fortunate for them as the Brooklyn bus had broken down en route.  On a hot day.  In rush hour.  In the middle of the George Washington Bridge.  A brief Google later on got the information that these were the Riker twins from The Amazing Race.  (Let's see, now...  the twins from The Amazing Race... supposed to be on the bus that broke down... just happened to change their plans at the last minute so they made it, anyway.  Hmmmmmm.)


The meeting got underway and Beth and I sat at the table with the Brooklyn placard.  We had a hunch there might be an available seat or two.  The speakers welcomed everyone and talked about how important the day was and how glad they were we were all there and blah blah blah.


Still the audience was just kind of subdued.  Uptight, even.  Beth and I decided these were the people who complain about there being too many drag queens and leather guys in the Pride Parades. 


Governor Paterson appeared onstage and spoke quite eloquently about the marriage and other bills of LGBT interest before the legislature.  That impressed me.  And the crowd got some fire under them at his appearance.


Then state senator Tom Duane took the podium and rehearsed the call-and-response he wanted for his talk.  I thought that was weird—shouldn’t that kind of thing be spontaneous?  (Maybe it’s a gay thing—at the Prop 8 rally in Albany last fall the first speaker attempted  a chant that was so wordy no one could repeat it.  He was followed by an adorable couple had been married in Massachusetts.  One of the gals said inspiring, but vague, things like “..and we’re not going to be kept down any longer by the haters of this world!”  One wasn’t entirely sure if a “Yaay!” or a “Boo!” was expected in response.)


The meeting adjourned and the delegates went on their way to lobby the legislators.  This, of course, was the real reason for the day and the mood of the crowd didn’t really matter. 


And still, people asked about my cape.


Lunch was served in the main hall, although we never did find out exactly what was in the kosher meal.  (The cute gay rabbi opted for the vegetarian instead.)  The placards for "Roast Beef" and "Ham" were identical to those for "Rochester" and "Hudson Valley."  In that context one pondered over the placard which read "Buffalo."

Amazingly, I didn’t recognize a single out-of-town person I knew.


Then the rally:  in the park behind the capitol a de facto stage had been set up on a short flight of steps.  Mr. Alan Cumming was the emcee (something he has a bit of experience at) and was charming as ever.  This was not the first Big Gay Event at which Alan and Yours Truly have both taken part.  My last appearance as Gus Mattox was at the San Francisco Pride Parade several years ago when Alan was the Grand Marshall.  That day I wore leather short shorts and a big smile.  This time ‘round I wore a cape.  Honestly, I can’t say which ensemble garnered more attention.


There was a lone protester with a couple of hand-lettered signs on cardboard who stood on the steps behind Alan.  A group of Vermonters who arrived to show solidarity very politely went and stood in front of Mr. Cardboard Sign.  He’d move over and so would they.  He’d move back and they traced his steps.  There was something so cute about it, because nobody really cared that he was there.


This was followed by more inept chanting.


The local TV news was there and Gabe shamelessly managed to get on camera behind the reporter (and, believe me, I know from shameless.)  It was hot.  The crowd cheered and held signs.


And then I said goodbye to Beth and Alan and headed off to work. 


It was great but it wasn’t dramatic.  And I liked that about it because the day just seemed like something one, of course, would take part in, but that would probably soon(ish) be not terribly necessary.  Things seem to be rolling along so well with all this stuff that the mood seemed to be not so much “We want our rights, dammit!” as, “Nu?  You gonna take care of this now, or what?  Sure, I’ll come back next year but you can save us all a lot of trouble and just pass the damn legislation.”  


That, my friends, is my definition of progress.


So, was there anything I learned at Equality & Justice Day 2009 that I will find to be of use in future life?


Whenever possible, wear a cape.






  1. Caption for Alan Cumming 2009 photo: Some people have a Tony Award and some people have a Project Yay Gay cape.

  2. Thanks for that excellent report Tom. Well done. And thank you for all your hard work and effort up there.

  3. Fun! Thanks for the photos! It looks like a great day to be out and about.