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Gay Activists Demand Sen. Gillibrand Help Amend the Civil Rights Act

By DNAinfo Staff on September 27, 2010 7:05pm

By Tara Kyle

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

CHELSEA — Ten days after Lady Gaga tried to enlist Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in the fight against "Don't Ask Don't Tell," gay activists are petitioning the junior senator from New York to help them amend the Civil Rights Act.

On Monday, members of the Queer SOS! action campaign started a vigil outside Gillibrand's Manhattan campaign headquarters, at 15 W. 26th Street, that will continue indefinitely from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The group wants to amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to make it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity

If Gillibrand has not pushed for a bill by Oct. 11, National Coming Out Day, the activists plan to extend their vigil to 24 hours a day. If there is no movement by Nov. 2, election day, some of the activists say they will institute a water-only fast.

Nearly a year ago, Gillibrand told the gay website Towelroad.com that adding gay men and women to the Civil Rights Act would "certainly [be] worth fighting for."

"We have to hold people accountable to what they say they'll do," said campaign facilitator and Inwood resident Todd Fernandez, part of a coalition supporting the American Equality Bill, a six-page document authored by activists.

But Richard Socarides, a Chelsea-based gay and lesbian civil rights attorney and former White House adviser on gay rights to President Bill Clinton, said Gillibrand should be afforded the time necessary to draft her own version of such a bill, with an eye toward gathering the greatest possible number of congressional co-sponsors.

"This is a relatively new idea that she has championed. You can count on one hand the number of members of the Senate that support this idea, " said Socarides.

"Senator Gillibrand has been probably our strongest advocate for gay and lesbian civil rights in the entire federal government. I think we're very lucky to have her in New York working on these issues."

Standing in the rain Monday, the handful of activists that turned up outside the senator's office stressed that there overtures to Gillibrand were meant to be friendly, especially after she showed her support for marriage equality and the repeal of "Don't ask, don't tell."

"We're here saying, we know you understand, we know you're listening," said activist and Queens resident Iana DiBorna, 30. "Start moving."

A spokesperson for Sen. Gillibrand's campaign declined to comment.