Putting a Black face on marriage equality

The conversation on marriage equality in New York is taking a turn in the right direction as filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris presents his landmark historic documentary, “Marriage Equality: Byron Rushing and the Fight for Fairness” as part of the Harlem Stage on Screen series.

The film premiered at the Aaron Davis Hall in New York City on April 26, 2011, was presented by Chimpanzee Productions and Harlem Stage and was commissioned by Nelson Mandela Foundation of the Tribeca Film Institute whose Managing Director Eileen Newman stated their aim is to expand the statement in film so everyone can be a part of the conversation. Other sponsors of this event were HBO, Human Rights Commission, dot429.com, NYSCA, American Airlines and Deutsche Bank.

Sultan Shakir of HRC is committed to pass marriage equality in New York for all loving and commited same-sex couples. There was a soundbite collage featuring notable African American celebrities including choreographer Bill T Jones, actress Whoopi Goldberg and record mogul Russell Simmons which aired before the film.

In the film, Byron Rushing, a Black Massachusetts House of Representative connected the Black Civil Rights Movement with the LGBT Marriage Equality Movement and used it to spearhead the struggle, with the support of his LGBTQ constituents, that led to the victory for same-sex marriage in the state. We also see Massachusetts’ first African American Governor, Deval Patrick, marching alongside his LGBTQ constituents and we also witness wedding vows being exchanged including those of elected official, E. Denise Simmons, to her longtime partner.

After viewing the 15-minute documenary, a lively and robust panel discussion led by moderator, Jonathan Capehart – Washington Post editorial writer and MSNBC contributor. The panelists included David Wilson – Human Rights Campaign board member; Rev. Eugene Rivers – President of National Ten Point Leadership Foundation; Cathy Marino-Thomas – Board President of Marriage Equality New York; Alphonso David – Deputy Secretary for Civil Rights – Office of the New York State Governor, Rev. Irene Monroe – The Pacific School of Religion; Dr. Zakiya N. Muwwakkil, activist, public speaker and religious educator and LGBTQ supporter and ally; and Russell Simmons.

On film and during the discussion, David Wilson tells his poignant life story which without a doubt brought him to the lawsuit he, his partner and six other same-sex couples fought and won for the right to marry in Goodridge, Massachusetts. He put his life out there for equality so that what happened with his previous partner will not happen again to anyone. He tells the story of coming home one day and finding his partner collapsed in the driveway where he had been doing chores. While his partner was rushed to the hospital, authorities refused to give David any information until they notified his partner’s parents in Vermont who gave consent for him to hear that his partner had died on the way to the hospital in the ambulance. As he said, “what I have done is put a Black face to an issue which everyone has always recognized as a white concern.”

“Most people think that Black people are the problem and were opposing same-sex marriage in California and Massachussetts, but the film demonstrates that lots of African American leaders and citizens were embracing this as a civil and human rights issue,” said producer/director Harris.

All agreed the documentary was excellent including dissenter, Rev. Rivers who took a philsophical exception to the movement, “If you can replicate what was done in Massachusetts, in Alabama and other southern states then I will come back to applaud you.” Rev. Monroe who performed the marriage ceremonies of most of the couples in the film admonished Rev. Rivers to “take the message to stop being homophobic to your brothers and sisters.”

Russell Simmons who works with many religious organizations around the world noted that he hates to see anyone fight by themselves. “Deliver this message throughout the country. I am on the right side. I have talked to President Obama about this issue many times. Our president is more progressive on this issue than past presidents,” he exclaimed to the applause of an audience of equally African American male to female in ratio.

Dr. Zakiya N. Muwwakkil said, “marriage equality is a civil right, it is not a religious right and the same words were echoed in the film by Rushing. Cathy Marino-Thomas said, “everyone deserves equal rights under the law. The film brings the argument to the table. Our constitution should progress with our society.” She also further stated in a later interview, “well, the court of public opinion has never been more in our favor. Here in NY, we are enjoying a 58% majority in favor of marriage equality. All LGBT groups are working hard, in coalition, to keep the conversation going, keep the issue in the press and approach legislators to move the issue forward. Gov. Cuomo is extremely supportive and has promised movement on the issue. The climate is right. However, we have not yet seen any Republicans publicly supporting the issue. Until that happens, we have to keep working.”

“We want people to view the film with their families, their pastors, the guys at the barber shop, the ladies at the beauty parlor, their friends at school or in the sorority, in short, we want the film to spark a real discussion within the Black family about our families, especially our LGBTQ sons, daughters, moms & dads, and to ground ourselves in the love and compassion that lies at the very heart of our families. We need to see the commonality of our essential humanity in every one of us…there but for the grace of God, go I. This film is just the ice breaker to a whole host of fundamental issues, like how we treat one another, why so many of our kids are born out of wedlock, issues around self-esteem and self-worth, gangs, HIV- AIDS, issues which are tearing our communities and families apart and dooming generations who come after us. Marriage equality is about family so our goals for the film are to heal our families and our communities,” emailed Don Perry, editor/producer/writer and longtime partner of filmmaker.

The audience had limited time to ask their questions but all agreed that the information they came away with has stirred them to action and they will go back to their various groups and energize them to join the movement to get marriage equality passed in New York.

“Although there are some factors that will influence when it happens, the New York governor has made a public commitment to achieve marriage equality this year,” promised Alphonso David.

Dr. Wilhelmina Perry formerly a marriage ambassador for Empire State Pride and now Convenor for the newly formed group, that is growing in strength and numbers, LGBT Faith Leaders of African Descent, reiterated the sentiment of the evening, “ I want to put a Black face on the movement for marriage equality.”

$1.99 will give you 1-Day Access to view the documentary at marriageequalityfilm.com

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