Sunday, February 13, 2011

My mini upstate tour

Nope. The snow won't stop me. :) Saturday I hopped on a train and headed upstate to the Miss Fulton County pageant. This was their 40th year and they gave out amazing scholarships: $5040 to the winner, but each of the seven contestants received a scholarship just for competing! In between parts of the competition, I got to perform my Miss America talent as well as speak on stage, sharing a few fun announcements about the 2011 Miss New York State Pageant - June 13-19th in Staten Island, NY at the St. George Theatre where the community and borough president are really rolling out the red carpet for us! A new program this year is our Star Princess Program. I definitely signed autographs for some future Miss Fulton Counties and future Miss New Yorks, so I hope they participate!  Congratulations to Kieren Sheridan, Miss Fulton County 2011!! First RU Danielle Trumbull, 2nd RU Amanda Boyer (overall talent and interview awards), Community Service Misti Hilts and Miss Congeniality 3-way tie to Kieren Sheridan, Colleen Gagne and Misty Hilts!

Since I was in Fulton County on Saturday and in Albany on Tuesday, I decided (kind of last minute) to stay upstate, wonderfully hosted by Colleen Gagne and her parents. On medical leave from surgery, Brian was my traveling companion all day on Monday, taking me to four elementary schools, Amy's doctor's office to say hello and the Lincoln Day Dinner with the Republican Club. On Thursday when I confirmed with Colleen that I'd be coming, she went to town calling schools to get me appearances. I did an all-school assembly at Park Terrace Elementary, speaking on bullying and respect, handed out their citizen of the week awards and reading awards. Then it was off to Kingsborough Elementary where I spoke to two 5th grade classes (Colleen's 5th grade teacher) about bullying and the importance of working hard on your academics and education. Then I met some very curious 3rd graders at Pleasant Avenue, through the Miss Fulton County Executive Director Kathy Smith, asking about all of my favorites before a big group photo and high-five hug! And last stop, Kieren Sheridan's after school program at McNelty Academy. After a presentation, I got to recognize that their very own Miss Kieren was the new Miss Fulton County, and the kids were so excited!!!

Pleasant Avenue Elementary

As word traveled quickly that Miss NY was in town, I was invited to the Lincoln Dinner with the Republican Club. I was able to meet many of the public officials from the area including Assemblyman Marc Butler and State Senator Hugh Farley. Everyone was excited that I was visiting their schools with an anti-bullying message.

Talking with Assemblyman Butler and Charlie Potter
Senator Farley
Tuesday took me to Albany where I lobbied for marriage equality in New York State with Marriage Equality New York and people from districts all over the state. Only 4 districts were not represented and we covered their senators with education, letters and conversations. I met with my senator, Dan Squadron, who is one of our biggest allies in the senate. I remember during the discussion for the vote last year, he shared that after his own wedding to his wife, he first-hand experienced the joy of the most beautiful day of his life and therefore would never vote to not let every person experience that. So our meeting was about thanking him and asking advice for who we should speak to and with what approach. I also went to meetings with Sen. Carl Krueger (Brooklyn) and Sen. Adabbo (Queens). Both are Democrats who voted NO in the last marriage vote. In both meetings, their issue (relayed by council/staff) mainly came from the conflict of personal belief vs. voting to represent the opinions of their constituents. We were informed of the numbers: 40% Irish Catholic people, 40% Orthodox Jewish people, etc etc. To that I responded that I understood those percentages but also recognize that each stat ended with "people." Isn't that what this is all about? This is not a religious debate - remember separation of church and state? It is about affording all people equal human and civil rights - protection and recognition under the law. And there is no requirement for religious institutions to "marry" anyone.

My district's lobby group - good work everyone!
HRC liaison, David and Sen. Kennedy, Buffalo
A big question of the day: Why aren't civil unions enough? Because currently, there are 1,324 rights given to a couple with the word "marriage" whereas a civil union is not recognized the same in every state. If a couple who married in MA, CT or VT lives in NJ but works in NY, then they are married and unmarried every time they cross the Hudson River on the PATH train daily, because NJ and NY recognize civil unions differently. Doesn't that just seem silly?

Overall it was a fantastic few days upstate and I'm so thankful to the Gagne Family for being such wonderful hosts. I know I made an impact on the kids I spent time with, and come time for a vote on marriage equality in NY, we will see how much of an impact I had there in Albany. Regardless, it was motivating to see people's excitement about meeting Miss New York and seeing her active in their communities-that reminds me of the wonderful work the Miss America Organization continues to do through each of us.

Here is a great article from an interview I did with following my trip upstate.
Miss N.Y. says her gay-rights platform has 'heart behind it'

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