Activists stage hunger strike to protest Gillibrand

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Thursday Nov 11, 2010

In an effort to force U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand [D-N.Y.] to introduce pro-LGBT bills on Capitol Hill, several gay activists have staged a hunger strike.

Alan Bounville and Iana Di Bona began a hunger strike on Nov. 2 in order to spur Gillibrand to introduce the American Equality Bill, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. "I will fast until the American Equality Bill is filed, which can be done by any federal senator or congressperson," said Bounville. "I'm engaged in this fast because the time has come we as queer and allied people fight the altruistic fight-full civil rights in the existing federal laws, nothing less."

Bounville began his water-only fast after participating in Queer SOS!'s five-week vigil outside Gillibrand's office, which also sought introduction of the pro-gay legislation. The vigil, initially held on Sept. 27, reconvened on Oct. 11 and was continuously held for the following five weeks. Activists say they were inspired by suffragettes who stood outside the White House from 1918-1920 in support of their right to vote.

While the effort may appear valiant, many have described the action as ill-timed and even ill-conceived.

Gillibrand supports marriage equality, the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" and the passage of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act. A Republican-controlled House will almost certainly hinder progress on any pro-gay legislation the Democrat-controlled Senate would introduce.
These facts, however, do not seem to deter the hunger strikers.

"Because Gillibrand had committed on camera to introduce the American Equality Bill, they had pressured her every day to do that," said Zoe Nicholson, a spokesperson for the hunger strikers. "I will point out that we are just asking her to introduce it: not to pass it or get it signed, knowing that in politics, legislation is incremental. We are asking for that first step."

The activists are also asking people to call their local legislators.

"We are asking everyone who wants to advance equality to do whatever they can to move their local legislator," said Nicholson, who said hundreds of calls are being made to legislators every day.

Neither Gillibrand nor her office immediately returned comment, but Nicholson complained about the way the senator's staff has treated the protesters.

"One video on the site shows them actually packing up and going to Gillibrand's office," said Nicholson. "Security was called, and would not let them up. The security at her office rudely made them leave, and Alan said to the officer, 'If you don't want us here call the police.' I thought he was being low-key for having not eaten for five days. But they went outside. No one wanted Alan arrested because it would be hard to continue the hunger strike in jail."

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.


  • , 2010-11-11 16:23:00

    Why an ally like Gillibrand? These people are just stupid and weird publicity seekers.

  • Allan, 2010-11-16 13:05:11

    They may be mistaken in the details of how they are going about this, or against whom (Gillibrand, because she said she would introduce it), but as private citizens they are apparently just trying to give our effort their all, they are certainly not "just stupid and weird publicity seekers." They may have bitten off more than they could chew, they may have made lots of mistakes. But what they did do is force everyone to face the fact that all the pitiful little temporary "rights" the hets "allow" us can be taken away until the Civil Rights Act includes us. I initiated, was the sole participant, and ended an 87-day Hunger Strike for Freedom and Equality. It’s difficult. It’s difficult to admit defeat. In my case, it was against the City of San Diego, and the state pre-empted legally the ordinance I was trying to get the City to enforce. So I happily quit the hunger strike. If the state hadn’t, I would have died for the cause whether anyone agreed I should or not. Please, honor the effort and educate those who are probably trying their best, instead of hammering our own for no real reason. I’m glad I’m still here.

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