by Rick Landman- August 8, 2015
I went to college right after the events at Stonewall and started the Gay Liberation Front at the University of Buffalo in 1970. In 1971, I was 19 years old when we went to the First March on Albany for Gay Rights to de-criminalize the act of being gay or lesbian and to de-criminalize cross dressing. Yes, both were criminal acts at the time. We were also demanding our "Equal Rights".
I was a bit star struck when I heard that the NYC Congresswoman, Bella Abzug was supporting us. Very few elected officials would even speak to us, let alone help us. Bella met with leadership and explained why we needed to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include us as protected categories under the law. I was filled in on the conversation, but wasn't there. In retrospect, I can see that I was only a teenager.
Bella suggested a frontal assault to demand our civil rights, as compared to an incremental approach of asking for parts of our rights. She was an inspiration to me. In 1974 she introduced her "Gay Rights Bill" that would have amended the Civil Rights Act to include us. The beauty of this bill was that it would prevail where ever the Civil Rights Law was effective. The new "religious exemptions" and it covered employment, housing and public accommodations. In changing one section, we could get it all.
Years later, I would walk her into the gay bars when she would run for office and then I worked for her mayoral campaign in 1977. She was one of those people who you wanted to win, as compared to being the lesser of two evils.
Now that we are introducing the "Equality Act" which is re-introducing her approach (by adding sexual orientation and gender identity) to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 I think it is an appropriate time to re-introduce Bella Abzug to the next generation by having a statue of her placed in Washington Square Park . Her family lived on Bank Street and then on the Park. At a time when the City is trying to place women statues in our parks, I think that Bella would be perfect to accompany Mr. Garibaldi and Mr. Holly.
That is why I am re-introducing the idea of the Bella Abzug statue to get the conversation rolling again. I am reaching out to the elected officials, Community Board #2, the City's Parks Department, and the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute (Liz Abzug) and all of my friends.
If you want to get involved or be on the initial steering committee, just let me know. It may take some years to do, but now is the time to start.