Michael Buchanan wanted people to stare as he stood in Times Square Friday evening holding hands with Jason Gilbert, his partner of five years.
“It feels amazing to be out in public like this,” said Buchanan, an openly gay 33-year-old from Harlem. “I’m out in life. There’s no reason not to be.”
It was a brief but powerful demonstration of love as both straight and same-sex couples stretched through the public plaza between 46th and 47th streets, linking arms and locking lips during a 15 minute “love-in” organized by the gay activist group Queer Rising.
“We’re here to say we are proud of our love, we will show our love and we will not be invisible to anybody,” said the event’s organizer, Jake Goodman, 31, of Brooklyn. “You must see us, and if you hear hateful rhetoric, stop it.”
Goodman said the love-in was prompted by the recent slew of hate crimes and bullying shaking the nation’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, including the brutal beating of a 30-year-old Bronx gay man and two teenagers, and the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman whose sexual relations with another male student were secretly videotaped and streamed on the Internet.
“We have lives at stake,” Goodman said. “People are dying.”
Participants were asked to hold photos of LGBT victims of violence as they cried for tolerance and love, turning the heads of passerby with chants of, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.”
Sergio Llanos, 22, of Queens, took a spot toward the front of the crowd, joining hands with Felix Rivera-Perez, 36, of Hamilton Heights. It was the first time the two had met.
“We’re united through activism,” Llanas said. “I think it just shows the power of the gay movement here in New York City. We’re a loving community, and we should be heard.”
Rivera-Perez said he chose to attend the love-in to show his sympathy and support for the hundreds of LGBT youth victimized nationally by hateful rhetoric and bullying. He said he clearly remembers the pain of being a gay adolescent.
“It was difficult,” Rivera-Perez said. “I was taunted for being Latino, for being gay, for being a nerd. I took those experiences and made them positive, and it made me the strong person I am.”
Still, Rivera-Perez said hardships linger. He is no longer on speaking terms with his mother, who was upset when he came out.
“I feel like this country has a long way to go,” he said. “I think it’s great to do something like this here because you have so many tourists coming from places where homophobia is rampant. It sends a strong message that we won’t tolerate this anymore.”
Jeanette Coleman-Harris, 40, attended the event with her wife, Kawane Harris, 35, to demand equality. An Army drill sergeant for 14 years, Coleman-Harris said she was let go after her commander found out she was gay.
“The bullying has got to stop. Killing people for who they are is ridiculous,” she said. “Firing people from their jobs just because they’re gay is wrong. And not allowing us to be legally married? We’re just as much in love as a heterosexual couple.”
Coleman-Harris said she married her wife in August in New York. The couple lives in Manhattan with their two children, a boy and a girl.
“We don’t want anything special,” she said. “We just want what everyone else has.”
Sporting a rainbow-striped feather boa, Ellen Zitani, 32, of Astoria, carried with her a photo of Clementi. A gay teacher at Hunter College, Zitani said her message for youth was one of hope.
“I want young people to know that there is a whole community of people out there that know that life gets a lot better after you get past adolescence, and that the narrow mindedness of the people who are around you now — you don’t have to exist with that for the rest of you life,” Zitani said. “If you survive it you can get beyond it, and it does get a whole lot better.”