New York Students Join Forces with Business Leaders for Marriage Equality

New York Students Join Forces with Business Leaders for Marriage Equality

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: February 7, 2008

For Immediate Release

Contact: Haven Herrin, 469-867-5725, haven@soulforce.org
Jarrett Lucas, 215-917-3703, jarrett@soulforce.org
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(Thursday, February 8, 2008)—This spring semester, some New York state students are learning real-world skills while contributing to a community-based project.  But for the young New Yorkers participating in the Right to Marry campaign, what’s at stake is much more than just a grade or an item on a resume: the outcome will shape one of the most personal and significant aspects of their adulthood.

“If New York students don’t speak to our community leaders about how marriage equality will impact us, we’re letting a previous generation determine the future of our families,” says Alexey Bulokov, an alumnus of the College of New Rochelle.

The Right to Marry campaign is the invention of Soulforce Q, the young adult division of Soulforce, a national social justice organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. 

In July 2007, Soulforce Q organized teams of young adults to travel across the state of New York, from Long Island to Niagara Falls. Partnering with local citizens and organizations, the youth met with lawmakers and mayors, and spoke with ordinary citizens at events from the state fair to the Ironman competition, all in the effort to create a statewide conversation about the need for marriage equality.

This semester, Soulforce Q is training student leaders and student organizations in four regions—the Bronx, Binghamton, Plattsburgh, and the Hudson Valley—to reach out to local business leaders and ask them to publicly express their support for marriage equality.

It’s a model with multiple benefits according to Haven Herrin, Director of Soulforce Q. 

“The students learn to organize a grassroots campaign, interact with business professionals, and become more engaged in their communities.  The businesses have the opportunity to interact with trendsetters and future leaders and to build new constituencies,” says Herrin.

According to a 2006 study by the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at UCLA, numerous businesses stand to reap direct gains from marriage equality: retail gifts, hotels, florists, restaurants, caterers, etc. The study estimates that same-sex couples’ weddings could create approximately $2 billion in new business for those industries nationwide.  Many more businesses stand to gain through increased employee productivity and competitiveness in workforce recruitment.

College students will take the lead in identifying pro-equality businesses, marriage-related businesses, and other businesses that are leaders in their communities. Teams comprised of students and local citizens will go out into the community to speak with business owners and get their feedback. Those who are willing to go on record in support of marriage equality will receive a plaque, a window sticker, and an invitation to write a letter of support.

“Their responses will become part of a document that tells the story of small business owners who are ready to support marriage equality because it is necessary for the vitality of their community that they help sustain,” says Jarrett Lucas, Director of Outreach for Soulforce Q.  Soulforce Q will work with local students to share the document with key decision-makers, including mayors and state legislators.

"The more connections we make within and between our communities, the more unity we find. It gives us hope and strength to work until all citizens are ensured the equal rights they deserve,” says Erica Olmstead, a student at SUNY Plattsburgh who will work on the campaign.

To find out more about the Right to Marry campaign, to get involved, or to become a supporting business, go to: www.righttomarry.org

Soulforce Q is the young adult division of Soulforce, a social justice organization that works to end political and religious oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people through relentless nonviolent resistance.

New York Students Join Forces with Business Leaders for Marriage Equality

New York Students Join Forces with Business Leaders for Marriage Equality

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: February 7, 2008


For Immediate Release


Contact: Haven Herrin, 469-867-5725, haven@soulforce.org

Jarrett Lucas, 215-917-3703, jarrett@soulforce.org

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(Thursday, February 8, 2008)—This spring semester, some New York state students are learning real-world skills while contributing to a community-based project.  But for the young New Yorkers participating in the Right to Marry campaign, what’s at stake is much more than just a grade or an item on a resume: the outcome will shape one of the most personal and significant aspects of their adulthood.

“If New York students don’t speak to our community leaders about how marriage equality will impact us, we’re letting a previous generation determine the future of our families,” says Alexey Bulokov, an alumnus of the College of New Rochelle.

The Right to Marry campaign is the invention of Soulforce Q, the young adult division of Soulforce, a national social justice organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. 

In July 2007, Soulforce Q organized teams of young adults to travel across the state of New York, from Long Island to Niagara Falls. Partnering with local citizens and organizations, the youth met with lawmakers and mayors, and spoke with ordinary citizens at events from the state fair to the Ironman competition, all in the effort to create a statewide conversation about the need for marriage equality.

This semester, Soulforce Q is training student leaders and student organizations in four regions—the Bronx, Binghamton, Plattsburgh, and the Hudson Valley—to reach out to local business leaders and ask them to publicly express their support for marriage equality.

It’s a model with multiple benefits according to Haven Herrin, Director of Soulforce Q. 

“The students learn to organize a grassroots campaign, interact with business professionals, and become more engaged in their communities.  The businesses have the opportunity to interact with trendsetters and future leaders and to build new constituencies,” says Herrin.

According to a 2006 study by the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at UCLA, numerous businesses stand to reap direct gains from marriage equality: retail gifts, hotels, florists, restaurants, caterers, etc. The study estimates that same-sex couples’ weddings could create approximately $2 billion in new business for those industries nationwide.  Many more businesses stand to gain through increased employee productivity and competitiveness in workforce recruitment.

College students will take the lead in identifying pro-equality businesses, marriage-related businesses, and other businesses that are leaders in their communities. Teams comprised of students and local citizens will go out into the community to speak with business owners and get their feedback. Those who are willing to go on record in support of marriage equality will receive a plaque, a window sticker, and an invitation to write a letter of support.

“Their responses will become part of a document that tells the story of small business owners who are ready to support marriage equality because it is necessary for the vitality of their community that they help sustain,” says Jarrett Lucas, Director of Outreach for Soulforce Q.  Soulforce Q will work with local students to share the document with key decision-makers, including mayors and state legislators.

"The more connections we make within and between our communities, the more unity we find. It gives us hope and strength to work until all citizens are ensured the equal rights they deserve,” says Erica Olmstead, a student at SUNY Plattsburgh who will work on the campaign.

To find out more about the Right to Marry campaign, to get involved, or to become a supporting business, go to: www.righttomarry.org

Soulforce Q is the young adult division of Soulforce, a social justice organization that works to end political and religious oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people through relentless nonviolent resistance.

Soulforce Q Right to Marry Campaign Concludes after Inspiring Citizens Across New York State

Youth Activists Look to the Future

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: August 1, 2007
For Immediate Release
Contact: Haven Herrin, Soulforce Q Co-Director
Cell: 469-867-5725
haven@soulforce.org
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(New York, NY) — On Friday, July 28, the young adults of Soulforce Q completed their Right to Marry campaign, a two-week tour to connect with New Yorkers and their legislators on the issue of marriage equality.

The tour, which criss-crossed the state on four separate routes, ended with a debriefing in New York City, where the youth recalled the many fair-minded citizens and legislators who were impacted by personal conversations with the young equality advocates.

"We have learned how to temper the natural assets of youth–earnestness, idealism, and personal witness–with the data and political astuteness that makes this conversation effective with lawmakers," said Haven Herrin, one of the campaign co-directors.

The youth were joined at the debriefing by Evan Wolfson, Executive Director of the Freedom to Marry coalition, who listened and asked questions about their experiences speaking with the people of New York state.

"The energy and tenacity of Soulforce’s Right to Marry Riders are wonderful, and a true inspiration," said Wolfson. "I am grateful for the way these young people are reaching people heart to heart, helping them push past their discomfort and rise to fairness, through conversational engagement with people where they live."

For the thirty-two young people who set out to have conversations across the state, one of the highlights was visiting legislators’ offices side by side with Madeline Davis, founder of the Buffalo Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Archives and, in 1972, the first out lesbian to serve as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

The Right to Marry campaign utilized a variety of creative methods to communicate the moral necessity of marriage equality. On a visit to the office of Senator Andrea Stuart-Cousins, the young adults brought the senator a cupcake to represent civil unions and an entire wedding cake to represent the 1,342 rights and responsibilities associated with civil marriage in New York State. Stuart-Cousins surprised the visitors by indicating that she had decided to become an official co-sponsor of the marriage equality bill in the state Senate.

However, in their quest to speak with citizens and decision makers, the young adults were not universally welcomed. When Senator Ruben Diaz refused to schedule a meeting or to allow his staff to discuss marriage equality, Right to Marry participants used a sit-in in his Bronx office as a means to extend peaceful civic discourse.

The campaign also included meetings with religious communities, including an hour-long forum at Long Island Community Fellowship church, where participants examined the role of the church in social justice movements and the role of young adults in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights movement.

"The opportunity to spend the past several days with the Soulforce’s Right to Marry Team was eye opening," said Pastor Shane Hibbs. "It is an experience which calls all religious persons from a faith of words to a faith in action. It challenges a complacent nature which is satisfied with the sameness of yesterday to a vibrant vigor hope of tomorrow."


Soulforce Q is the young adult division of Soulforce, a social justice organization that works to end political and religious oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people through relentless nonviolent resistance.

Young Activists Devise New Methods to Speak to New Yorkers about Marriage Equality

Soulforce Right to Marry Campaign Wins Hearts and Minds Across the State

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: July 25, 2007
For Immediate Release
Contact: Haven Herrin, Soulforce Q Co-Director
Cell: 469-867-5725
haven@soulforce.org
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(New York state) — On July 14th, a group of young adults from New York and across the country set out to speak with the citizens of New York and their legislators about marriage equality. In the first ten days of the "Right to Marry" campaign, these young people have devised a variety of creative and unconventional means to engage with local communities.

But while the medium has ranged from witty t-shirts to wedding cake, the message has remained consistent: the Right to Marry campaign asks New Yorkers to envision a society in which all couples and families are protected by the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage.

The campaign kicked off with a visit to the office of State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. Bruno emerged as a key figure in the struggle for marriage equality in New York when Governor Eliot Spitzer introduced a bill that would grant same-sex couples the same status, benefits, and protections that heterosexual couples enjoy. The bill passed in the state Assembly, but the Senate did not act on the legislation in the 2007 session.

When young adults from the Right to Marry campaign visited Bruno’s office, they shared their views and stories with staffers and left an unorthodox calling card: a pair of shoes. Right to Marry participant Brian Murphy left Bruno a pair of his shoes and a narrative about how marriage equality would impact his quality of life, in the hopes that Bruno would "walk a mile in his shoes."

As Right to Marry teams cross the state on four different routes, they are urging other New Yorkers to send their shoes and their stories to the Majority Leader, in order to promote empathy and understanding for the ways in which marriage equality affects real lives and families. For more information, go to: www.soulforce.org/righttomarry

But sending shoes to the Majority Leader is just the beginning. In their efforts to create a statewide dialogue about marriage equality, the young adults of Right to Marry (RTM) are using innovative approaches to connect directly with the citizens of New York:

On July 18, RTM riders on the western route handed out free wedding cake on the streets of Elmira, New York, along with fliers outlining the difficulties that gay and lesbian couples currently face in creating legal protections for their relationships.

On July 20, RTM riders on the northern route visited the Saratoga County Fair wearing t-shirts that asked "Do you believe in marriage? I do." The t-shirts inspired conversations with high school students, workers, parents, and grandparents.

On July 22, two RTM riders, Jarrett Lucas and Alex Lundy, performed at the Hardware Cafe in Buffalo. Their spoken word piece, entitled "Genesis," explored marriage equality from two perspectives. It caught the attention of a local radio producer, who invited them to record it for her show the next day.

In their efforts to create cultural and legislative momentum for marriage equality, the young adults of RTM have not overlooked more traditional approaches, including meeting with long-standing New York equality activists and meeting directly with local elected officials, including mayors and members of the state Assembly and the Senate.

On July 23, riders on the central route met with staffers for Assemblyman Tom McKevitt, who last week became a father for the first time.

"The Senator’s personal experience with family provided a tangible forum in which to discuss good public policy. We too will have families that need to be protected, and we hope that Senator McKevitt can understand that we are here not asking the state for anything other than the tools to care for those we love." said Haven Herrin, one of the co-directors of the Right to Marry campaign.


Soulforce Q is the young adult division of Soulforce, a social justice organization that works to end political and religious oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people through relentless nonviolent resistance.

Young Adults Bring Marriage Equality Discussion to New York Lawmakers’ Neighborhoods

Mixed Reaction From State Politicians

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: July 10, 2007
For Immediate Release
Contact: Haven Herrin, Soulforce Q Co-Director
Cell: 469-867-5725
haven@soulforce.org
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(Albany, NY) — From Niagara Falls to Long Island, Finger Lakes to Adirondack Mountains, communities across New York State are considering the future of family values, due to Governor Eliot Spitzer’s bill to grant marriage to same-sex couples and the NY State Assembly’s passage of that legislation.

On July 14th, a group of young adults from New York and across the country will gather in Albany before embarking on a journey to speak with state legislators and their constituencies about marriage equality. The initiative, known as the Right to Marry campaign, will bypass the state capitol and engage directly with the communities that inform the positions of the elected officials.

"We are going to have a conversation across New York State about creating a world in which two people who make lifelong commitment to each other can rest assured that their family will be protected and prosper," says Jake Reitan, one of the co-directors of the campaign.

Forty young adults will traverse the state in four distinct routes over two weeks. The groups plan to meet with Assemblymen and women to discuss their June 2007 vote on marriage equality and with state Senators to learn about the future of similar legislation in the Senate. Senator Thomas Duane (D-Manhattan) sponsored a bill similar to the Assembly legislation (S.5884), but the bill did not come up for a vote during this session.

Some legislators, like Teresa Sayward (R- Glens Falls), are already on board as allies. On the other hand, the office of Senator Tom Libous (R) in Binghamton told campaign organizers not to waste their time as there is nothing that can change his mind.

Aside from appointments in home districts, the Right to Marry young adults will volunteer with local organizations, host potlucks and picnics, participate in County Fairs, and attend religious services. Sunday, July 22nd, has been designated as the Right to Marry Townhall Sunday with events scheduled to take place in Niagara Falls, Canton, New Paltz, and New York City. For more information, visit www.RightToMarry.org

The campaign is coordinated by Soulforce Q in collaboration with the ACT OUT student organization from Vassar College and is endorsed by the Empire State Pride Agenda. "This is a necessary exercise in making democracy work at all levels, from Congress to neighborhoods, as young adults continue to the push for marriage equality across the country, not just in the vanguard states like New York and California. The future of our families cannot and will not to be decided without our consent," says Haven Herrin, another Right to Marry co-director.


Soulforce Q is the young adult division of Soulforce, a social justice organization that works to end political and religious oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people through relentless nonviolent resistance.

Right to Serve Campaign Returns to New York

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: November 3, 2006
For Immediate Release
Contact: Haven Herrin, 469-867-5725, haven@soulforce.org
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(New York, NY) — At 1:00 pm today, Curt Peterson will walk into the Armed Forces Recruiting Station in Times Square for an appointment with an Army recruiting officer.

He hopes the recruiter shows up.

Peterson was one of three openly gay Americans who attempted to enlist in Times Square on September 25. When Peterson and his fellow enlistees arrived at the office, they found the country’s busiest recruiting center locked and dark. The would-be recruits held a sit-in with more than eighty supporters from area colleges. Throughout the day, enlistees unaffiliated with the Right to Serve showed up for recruiting appointments, but they found that recruiters had cancelled appointments without notice in order to avoid facing gay Americans who wish to serve their country with honesty and dignity.

Peterson is part of the Right to Serve campaign, a coordinated effort in which young, gay adults are attempting to enlist in the military in order to catalyze national discussion about "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." Since the beginning of the summer, 43 openly gay young people have attempted to enlist in 17 cities. They range from recent high school graduates to recent college graduates, but each one has been denied the opportunity to enlist because of sexual orientation.

Three young people were denied the right to serve on October 10 in Los Angeles. Among them was Vincent Cervantes, a student at Azusa Pacific University. Cervantes and five other Azusa Pacific students were arrested in the sit-in that followed, bringing the total number of arrests in the campaign to 54. The following day, Cervantes posted his testimony as a gay student on the conservative Christian campus, claiming that the experience of standing up for social justice had made it impossible for him to live in the closet. Cervantes has since withdrawn from Azusa rather than submit to "reparative" therapy in accordance with school policy.

Today in Times Square, Peterson, who is a student at Vassar, will be joined by supporters from that institution. If Peterson is again denied the right to enlist, he and his fellow students plan to stage a second peaceful sit-in in Times Square.

The Right to Serve campaign is a project of Soulforce, an LGBT social justice organization dedicated to using nonviolent direct action to expose injustice and call attention to the real costs of homophobia.