Sunday, August 28, 2011

The last one: QSAC Fundraiser

My last appearance was the evening I returned from Buffalo – straight from the airport!  with QSAC: Quality Services for Autism.  I met "Charlie the Matchmaker" at a Straight Talk event with dot429 and he introduced me to his husband Gary Maffei, founder of QSAC.  I presented an award to one of their corporate sponsors, but also receiving an award that night was Richard Oceguera, President of the New York Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NYGLCC), and organization that has been supportive of me this year, including their donation to my Miss America ad in the program book.  This was a great way to end my year, once again realizing that just because there are LGBT people supporting a cause, it does not make it a “gay” event.  It is because they are people supporting human causes.  

But don’t get me wrong, that room did enjoy the sash J 


In the few days I had left as Miss New York, I spent my time on Long Island at my friends’ house – Eric and Walter – to relax, reflect, write my farewell and finish planning the logistics of Mr. New York.  Since I was a “homeless vagabond” the last two weeks of Miss New York (My lease was up May 31 and I was traveling so much at the end of Miss NY and after, there was no reason to spend thousands of dollars on a NYC apt I was barely living in!)  I was very thankful for Eric and Walter opening their home to me as my own.  

I witnessed a beautiful, beautiful thing that weekend.  In the two years I’ve known them – they do the musical at Hewlett HS that I choreographed after Walter judged me in Miss Jubilee – we have of course talked about my service and platform as Miss NY, but I had heard Walt say before, “I don’t need the state to tell me that I’m married. I know that we have a home together, a life together, and it’s just fine the way it is. Neither of us are going anywhere.”  Interesting perspective for someone who has been in a relationship for many years. But something changed; something evolved.  And through my conversations with Walt, he started the Human Rights Club at the high school, has become more open about answering students’ questions, and has realized, he needs to be married to Eric.  They say it’s because of me.  I say it’s because they are two people who love each other unconditionally with eternal commitment.  Both musicians, we went in the piano room and Eric played piano as Walter sang “their” song.  Tears.  Heck, I’m getting teary-eyed now and this moment was two and a half months ago.  I was a mess – but not sad tears – happy tears!  Another realization of what “marriage” means to some people, but what a relationship truly is. 

When marriage passed in NY two weeks later, Walter texted me, “Thank you.  We’re getting married December 31.”  More tears.

Finally to Western NY!!

One thing I wanted to do during my reign as Miss New York was focus on traveling to Western NY.  Miss NY has not had a strong presence there, and we are missing out on so much.  So I contacted the local titleholders in the Buffalo and Rochester areas and we went to town. I was so impressed by Desiree Wiley, Miss Buffalo 2010, from whom I immediately received an email CC’d to me through the superintendent of schools in Lockport as well as a few other area school districts.  Katie Martin, former Miss Greater Rochester and now co-executive director, contacted some Rochester area schools as well.  Since JetBlue had so graciously offered to fly me anywhere to talk about my platform, I took them up on it!  So the trip went a little like this:  Sunday straight from Queens PRIDE, I flew JetBlue to Buffalo, NY where Desiree hosted me for the few days. 

Monday we spoke at Lockport High School in multiple assemblies, covering their entire 1,600+ student body, focusing on diversity, bullying and acceptance.  Desiree was able to share that as a recent Lockport grad, she has already accomplished great things as Miss Buffalo and they were able to accomplish what they set their mind to as well!  At the end of one of the presentations, a senior girl came up to me to say “Thank you” and invited me to the G/SA meeting that afternoon.  When I went to the meeting I was so excited to find that it was actually their last meeting – what a way to celebrate!  We had fascinating conversation about the role of youth in this civil rights movement as well as the shifting climate in schools that makes sexual orientation a bit less of an issue, however still reliving some important stories that should not be hidden to the public about bullying. 

Desiree and me with the Lockport HS Principal
Lockport HS Final Gay/Straight Alliance meeting
In between the assemblies and the G/SA meeting, we were able to sneak away for a trip to Niagara Falls.  I hadn’t been since 2006, so it was exciting to be able to return!  Of course we had to take one picture with our crowns and sashes on and boy did that draw a cute crowd!  People were sooo excited to meeting Miss Buffalo and Miss New York and one lady even told me about how excited she was last year to meet Miss America Caressa Cameron at an event!   We had a family cookout that night where I got to experience just regular life with the Wiley’s friends and family.

Miss America fans!
with my hosts, the Wiley Family!
Tuesday, we went to Rochester to Golisano Medical Center at the University of Rochester Medical Center at Strong Hospital where we were joined by Chelsea Prophet, Miss Greater Rochester 2011.  In the play room, we had arts and crafts time, made frames and had some great talks with the kids there.  With Desiree’s platform of organ, eye, tissue and blood donation, she was able to connect with some special kids who were there in that play room because of a donated organ.  And since we were all dancers, that was a topic of conversation as well.  I’m glad that we made such an impact on Golisano Hospital as Kaitlin Monte, Miss NY 2011 has already been able to go back!  In fact, she went on an upstate CMN Hospital tour – take a look on her blog HERE.  We returned to Buffalo for some media interviews which you can see featured HERE on the front page of the newspaper. 

The next day in Buffalo, we had a meeting with Senator Tim Kennedy.  I met the Senator in Albany on a lobby day and he was so excited to bring Miss NY to Buffalo and share experiences from the marriage equality trail.  He is an upstanding Senator who has been very supportive and vocal about marriage equality, regardless of it’s potential effect on his political standing and/or race.  After hearing from me, and also hearing of Desiree’s involvement with her platform (he had a blood drive set for the following Saturday!), he said to consider him a partner of the Miss New York Organization and became and Elite 100 Donor to the Empire State Scholarship Education Fund.   I’d say overall it was a very successful trip!  Taking this trip to Western NY allowed me to check off my wish list as Miss New York and I’m very grateful for all who helped to make it possible and especially to the Wiley family for hosting my stay.
Senator Tim Kennedy, Buffalo

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Happy PRIDE Month!! (uggh so late.)

PRIDE MONTH!!!! (lame, I’m sooo late. But I tweeted lots about it when we were actually IN the month of June)   Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that June was probably a pretty big month for me with my platform, right at the end of my reign as Miss New York.

I was reminded of my Queens and Staten Island PRIDE events this week when I got an email of photos from a woman, Laura, whom I met at Queens PRIDE.  She has sent me a pin that is a rainbow colored high heel.  Could you represent my year as Miss New York any more perfectly?!  Love it.   To finally wrap up on my Miss NY year so that I can get this book of my year printed, AND start blogging as “Just Claire” here’s one final push at finishing my year of service. 

After kicking off PRIDE Month at PepsiCo, it was on to the real celebration of PRIDE Parades.  Now these parades have indeed caught flak before; I believe it was Carl Paladino who referenced them as “bumping and grinding…disgusting” and “speedo-wearing men with gyrating movements.”  I’m sure there was a “leather” reference in there somewhere.  Well stereotypes do come from some example, but are generalizations that are detrimental and limiting to any group.  Instead, at Staten Island PRIDE where I served as the Grand Marshall, there was a fairly small group of people, many youth and very diverse minorities were represented.  Christopher Hines, a producer who was filming a documentary for Logo, joined me at SI PRIDE to get a taste of the reception the community has for Miss New York.  I’ve just received word that I am “prominently featured” in the film, which will release in October.  I’m excited to see the support and highlights of exciting straight allies like myself, Hudson Taylor, Ben Cohen and more.  At the festival, we heard from many politicians in support of equality and I of course signed quite a handful of autographs.  It was great to see Kim Cantoni, Miss Liberty 2011, and Jim Smith, Executive Director of Miss Staten and the 2005 Grand Marshall of SI PRIDE!

Kim Cantoni and Jim Smith, ED of Miss Staten Island and the 1st Staten Island Grand Marshal

Danny Dromm, City Councilman
Matt Titone, NY State Assemblyman
The next day, Queens PRIDE really went above and beyond!  Danny Dromm, out City Council member, started Queens PRIDE years ago and it has grown exponentially since. I was a co-Grand Marshal with State Senator Tony Avella.   Unfortunately, I was only able to stay for the parade and lunch and did not get to visit in the festival because I was flying to Buffalo, but it was such a wonderful afternoon and I most certainly did not want to leave!  I ate lunch with a few young people who were interning with Christine Quinn because they wanted to be advocates for social justice.  So cool.  And once again, negative stereotypes of PRIDE parades were proven wrong – instead crowds of loving and supportive people, in jeans and t-shirts nonetheless, celebrating equality and supporting their forward, fair-minded politicians. 

with my Queens PRIDE drivers
Tony Avella, Co-Grand Marsal, NY State Senator
Tom Duane, NY State Senator

What we have to remember is that the Pride parade is one day, and Pride month is one month, June, but we must celebrate people all day and every day.  This year’s Pride month in New York was especially energetic because of the momentum in the fight for Marriage Equality.  Unfortunately, I was not able to march in the NYC Pride Parade because I was a surprise guest at Miss North Carolina, but I’m pretty sure I could hear the celebration, the day after Marriage Equality was passed in New York State!! Now that is something to celebrate with huge PRIDE, excitement and love!

I did experience a first at this parade though that I have to share.  So I’m sitting up on the back of a white Mustang convertible  - very nice – ready to start the parade when the car behind us dies.  So with me still on the top we pull forward, reverse back, wind around the car and then proceed to jump the car with cables.  In case you weren’t picturing it funny enough in your mind, here’s a look.  What an experience – one every pageant girl must have.  ;-)