Despite recent inroads for those supporting gay marriage and family, many people in New York still oppose that goal.
Angry protesters condemn those who march in the Queens All – inclusive St. Patrick’s Day parade. Tribune Photo by Ira Cohen
By Brian M. Rafferty
As gay culture takes a stronger foothold in the country, there has been both negative and positive response from Americans.
Tragic incidents such as the brutal 1998 killing of Matthew Shepard in Texas or the 1990 gay beating death of Julio Rivera in the schoolyard of PS 69 in Jackson Heights polarized the nation. Loud voices swell on both sides, each trying to shout over the din of their naysayers.
But in gay culture, it is not just moments of tragedy that evoke responses of hatred and anger. From gay couples adopting children to same-sex partners looking to be married in the eyes of God – and the state – there have been problems across the board.
Gay people have been called unholy, their sexual practices deviant and their basic desires to live and love together immoral.
In a recent edition of Gay Parent Magazine, published by Angeline Acain of Forest Hills, the Perina family of Bellerose explained the struggles and joys they have faced raising a son together.
Barbra Ann Perina and Deborah Matut-Perina are the proud parents of Everett, a smart, well-adjusted kid whose mother was air-lifted off the top of the World Trade Center in the February 1993 bombing – when she was pregnant with him. His biological father is Barbra Ann, who used to be known as Bob before he transitioned.
“Before my transition I was a miserable human being and a drunk,” Barbra Ann says. “After I transitioned I became a happy, caring human being who is sober. Losing a father or father image through parents separating is not as difficult. I’m Everett’s father but he doesn’t have that father image, it’s difficult but we work around it as family.”
“She’s dad but she’s Barbra,” Deborah says. “We decided this because if they were out alone and Everett’s calling her dad, we didn’t want anyone thinking, ‘Oh my god what’s going on here?’
“Sometimes it hurts,” Barbra says. “I have to take the good with the bad. It’s better to deal with that emotionally and work it through than to be dead.”
The Perina family’s joy, however, is tempered by the occasional problem.
“An anonymous vehement hate letter was left in Deborah’s PTA mailbox at school,” Barbra Ann says. “But they made a mistake because they didn’t know who they were dealing with. I made one call to the first deputy commissioner’s office at the police department and that afternoon the entire hate crimes task force took over PS 18. They fingerprinted the teachers, interviewed the parents, the principal was very upset because the task force literally took over the school. They took the letter to forensics and dusted it for prints. They narrowed down the suspects but the suspect family ended up leaving the neighborhood because they realized they were going to get nailed. They never admitted but it was obvious.”
“It was obvious because what was written in the letter were the same things that were actually said to our son, word for word,” Deborah adds.
“Hate is a learned behavior,” Barbra Ann says. “It was good to see the hate crimes task force take this seriously, but it was because I sit on the police council and had access to the first deputy commissioner…The average queer identified individual who is the victim of anonymous hate mail would not get that kind of response.”
Deborah And Barbra Ann were already married as a straight couple when Bob transformed into Barbra Ann. But for many loving couples who are of the same sex, marriage has not been an option.
And there are those who would like to keep it that way.
Since the 1990s there has been legislation proposed by state Sen. Serphin Maltese (R-Glendale) and Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio (D-Richmond Hill) to clearly define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
“The institution of marriage between a man and a woman has been the cornerstone of civilization for over 6,000 years,” Maltese says. “It is a union born of the need to procreate and protect one’s offspring. In ensures the survival of the human race.
“Neither a gay nor a lesbian couple can, of its own resources, produce a child. A mother and a father in the home are far better equipped to face the demands of raising a child than any other unit,” he adds.
“We should not let the shrill din of a vocal minority drown out the voice of the vast majority of the people…I firmly believe that throwing out the basic covenant of marriage in order to placate the sexual proclivities of a small minority of adults in our country is both socially and morally irresponsible.”
Representatives for both Maltese and Seminerio say that their stance on the issue of same-sex marriage have nothing to do with homophobia or prejudice toward the gay community, but are, put as simply as the title of the bill they drafted, “in defense of marriage.”
In February, a State Supreme Court judge allowed Curtis Woolbright and his partner Daniel Reyes – along with four other couples – to be legally married.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg could have accepted the verdict and begun to issue same-sex marriage licenses, but instead he appealed the decision – straight to the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest – so it could be resolved more quickly.
In late March the Court of Appeals turned down this request, however, stating that it would not hear the case until it went to the Appellate Court.
“We thought it would have been good for New Yorkers to see couples getting married,” Joe Tarver, a spokesman for Empire State Pride, says. “But things are trending in the right direction,” noting that same-sex marriages that are performed legally in other states are now recognized in New York City.
Susan Sommer, senior counsel at Lambda Legal and lead attorney on the case, says she sees the light at the end of the tunnel.
“We’re hopeful that the Appellate Court will rule in our favor,” she says.