LGBT Activist Vows Hunger Strike Until Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand Adds Gay Men Women to Civil Rights Act

By Tara Kyle on November 3, 2010 6:16pm 

Bounville on W. 26th St., where he said he received kindness from neighbors including My Place Deli, the Breathing Project yoga studio, Hog's Pit bar and Hill Country restaurant.
Bounville on W. 26th St., where he said he received kindness from neighbors including My Place Deli, the Breathing Project yoga studio, Hog's Pit bar and Hill Country restaurant.
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Courtesy of Iana DiBona

By Tara Kyle

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MANHATTAN — A gay rights activist declared a hunger strike Tuesday morning, vowing not to eat a crumb of food until Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand introduces a bill to the U.S. Senate adding lesbian, gay and transgendered people to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The LGBT activist, Alan Bounville, 34, took the desperate measure after more than a month of daily vigils pushing for the bill in front of Gillibrand's West 26th Street campaign office yielded no response from the senator.

"All she has to do is file the bill," Bounville said in a video yesterday, where he produced a medical directive saying that, in the event that he becomes unconscious, he refuses life-sustaining procedures until his demand is met. 

Last year, Gillibrand told gay website Towleroad.com that adding gay men and woman to the Civil Rights Act was a notion "certainly worth fighting for." But her campaign office has repeatedly declined to comment on the vigil, which began Sept. 27 across the street from Gillibrand's campaign headquarters at 15 W. 26th St.

On Oct. 11, the vigil was expanded to a 24-hour protest and ended early Tuesday morning when Bounville started his hunger strike at an undisclosed location.

On Tuesday night, 18 hours into the fast, Bounville spoke to DNAinfo over the phone.

"I have a bit of a headache," he said. "What's keeping me going is these visualizations of Tyler Clementi jumping off that bridge. I keep replaying that in my mind."

"The issue is full civil rights right now," he explained, in contrast to the more narrow, targeted battles favored by many mainstream LGBT advocacy groups such as marriage equality, the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and anti-bullying bills.

"None of this piecemeal, convoluted stuff," he said.

But even within the LGBT community, many believe that a campaign like Bounville's should wait for a time when there is broader congressional support.

"You can count on one hand the number of members of the Senate that supports this idea," Richard Socarides, a Chelsea-based gay and lesbian civil rights attorney and former White House advisor to President Clinton, said at the start of the vigil.

Bounville and DiBona (center) with fellow activists in front of the midtown Sheraton Thursday night.
Bounville and DiBona (center) with fellow activists in front of the midtown Sheraton Thursday night.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

"Senator Gillibrand has been probably our strongest advocate for gay and lesbian civil rights in the entire federal government," he added.

Nonetheless, Bounville remains resolute in his fast. He said that on Tuesday morning, he had to turn off one of his favorite movies, 2003's "Girls Will Be Girls," after a scene came on depicting characters eating dessert.

"It was more psychological than physical," Bounville said. "Like, oh god, I might never have a bite of chocolate cake again."

Bounville explained Tuesday night that a number of somewhat recent personal traumas have fortified his position.

Among them: the murder of a gay man who attended his 30th birthday party four years ago; his mother voting for a 2008 Florida proposition defining marriage between a man and a woman; and losing his job as an event manager for an Orlando health care provider in 2009 after he campaigned for domestic partner benefits and the creation of an office of diversity.

Right now, Bounville and fellow activist Iana DiBona — who will serve as his caretaker, making sure Bounville has water and clean clothes during his hunger strike — are recuperating from their nights on the West 26th Street sidewalk.

But next week they plan to increase their public appearances, including stops at Unitarian churches, Gillibrand's Manhattan Senate office at 780 Third Ave. and landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty.

While Bounville has a tough physical battle ahead, it will also be difficult for DiBona, who calls him her best friend.

"I love him. I'll do whatever I can for him," she said Tuesday night. "I've thought a little bit about what him deteriorating is going to do to him. But it's just going to make me fight harder."

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