The LGBT Democratic Voice in Western New York
Stonewall Democrats of Western New York is the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Democratic voice in WNY. Our mission is to advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community within government and the Democratic Party, and to encourage LGBT participation within the Democratic Party. Our membership includes representatives from state, county, and city government, as well as Democratic committee members amongst the various County Committees in Erie, Niagara, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties. Stonewall Democrats is affiliated with the National Stonewall Democrats.
Stonewall Democrats: A History of Accomplishment
Stonewall Democrats of WNY was founded in the mid-1990's, in a response to the desire of lesbian and gay community members to participate in local Democratic Party politics. Political activists including Carol Speser and Bill Eaton helped found the LGBT Democratic political club Stonewall Democrats of WNY. Early on, members of the lesbian and gay community supported former New York Governor Mario Cuomo's reelection campaign, as "Gays and Lesbians for Cuomo". The first meetings, organized by Stonewall Democrats founder Carol Speser, and Sheila Healy (Governor Cuomo's Director of the Office of Gay & Lesbian Concerns), led to the official start of the Stonewall Democratic Club of WNY. The election of its founding officers included Willam "Bill" Goodman, Don Kreger, Connie Burns and Jeffrey Tooke.
Several events in 1995 put Stonewall Democrats on the local political map. The appointment of Larry Adamzcyk as Democratic Commissioner of the Erie County Board of Elections, the appointment of then-Stonewall chair William Goodman to the Executive Committee of the Erie County Democratic Committee and the election of Barbra Kavanaugh as Buffalo City Councilmember-at-Large gave Stonewall Democrats credibility as the identified political group of the local lesbian and gay constituency.
In 1996, local politicians began to solicit the endorsement of Stonewall Democrats, solidifying an endorsement by Stonewall Democrats as a mantle of support from the local lesbian and gay community.
Stonewall Democrats Breaks on the Statewide Scene
In 1998, Stonewall Democrats' chair Jeffrey Tooke cofounded the New York State Federation of Gay & Lesbian Democratic Clubs (now called NYS Stonewall Democrats) with state committee vice-chair Emily Giske. Along with the other member organizations in the statewide Federation, Stonewall Democrats sponsored the Federation's first-ever reception at the New York State Democratic Committee's convention in Westchester County.
Also in 1998, Stonewall Democrats worked with Barbra Kavanaugh in trying to secure the Democratic nomination for Lieutenant Governor. Stonewall Democrats worked as well for the successful victories of United States Senator Chuck Schumer and State Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, through their efforts in coalition with the NYS Federation and the newly formed National Stonewall Democratic Federation.
In addition to increasing membership and activities during this time, SDWNY increased the number of LGBT county committeemembers, elected our first LGBT zone chair, David Granville and increased the number of candidates seeking our endorsement.
In recent years, Stonewall has continued to make history. The election of Gail Wojtowicz brought SDWNY our first female president. Under Wojtowicz’s presidency, Stonewall brought in such speakers as Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman Len Lenihan, Erie County Board of Elections Commissioner Dennis Ward, Erie County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz and Erie County Legislators Maria Whyte and Lynn Marinelli.
Our trailblazing continued with our subsequent president, Michael James. During James’ presidency, Stonewall’s accomplishments included educating candidates on our issues to the point of converting some to supporting marriage equality, making a candidate’s opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act a requirement for endorsement, meeting with the City of Buffalo Mayor and Common Council on the issue of domestic partnerships, eliciting Buffalo Mayor Brown’s recognition of city employees’ same-sex marriages and helping elect Gregory Rabb to the Jamestown City Council, through our financial and canvassing support.
2009 brought the year of longtime community activist and advocate Bruce Kogan. Under Kogan’s leadership, SDWNY had a long list of accomplishments. SDWNY had electoral victories with the reelection of Erie County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz, Erie County Legislators Lynn Marinelli and Maria Whyte and Jamestown City Council President Gregory Rabb. Mr. Kogan’s presidency also consisted of great advocacy for victims of anti-LGBT biased crime. SDWNY advocated for Scott Wright, a victim of hate crime in Springville, New York, within the District Attorney’s office. Kogan’s long history and record in victim advocacy provided the needed tools for advocating for additional victims of hate crime in the WNY community.
In late 2009, SDWNY began lobbying the City of Buffalo Common Council on the issue of domestic partnerships, an issue which was years of hard work by our members in the making. Councilmembers David Rivera and Michael LoCurto championed the issue, introducing a resolution beginning the process of creating a domestic partnership registry in the city, and extending partner benefits to all city employees.
Also during this time, Stonewall brought focus to the larger community on the need for LGBT supportive representation on the Buffalo Common Council, in the appointment process for a City of Buffalo Councilmember from the Ellicott District. Stonewall Democrats of WNY lobbied for our issues to be addressed and matter, which resulted in the appointment of a LGBT equality-supportive councilmember, following the resignation of the former councilmember amid ethics concerns.
In early 2010, SDWNY worked with the LGBT community to bring attention to hate crimes as a distinct, heinous crime to the broader community, and as a result we have the attention of multiple elected officials willing to give us results. As a result of this movement within our community, the City of Buffalo has agreed to install a security camera at the corner of Main and Allen in Allentown, work on providing better lighting and other safety features for the heavily LGBT-based area. City Councilmembers have also gone public with intentions to issue a resolution establishing a LGBT violence task force for the community.
January 2010 brought the election of new officers—including Bryan Ball as President, Kitty Lambert as Vice-President of Community Affairs and Bruce Kogan as Vice-President of Party Affairs—and the culmination of the issue of domestic partnerships in the City of Buffalo. The City has since passed a domestic partnership registry, available to both Buffalo and non-city residents, as well as extended domestic partnership benefits to all city employees in registered same-sex partnerships.
We currently look forward to the year ahead, where we will elect all of our NYS legislature and governor, as well as our entire New York Congressional delegation. We have made so much progress over the years, and we anxiously await the reelection and election of our strongest champions to the state legislature, where we will rest assured that the candidates SDWNY will support in 2010 will, once elected or reelected, take part in granting our community the equal rights our state currently denies us: marriage equality for our partnerships, non-discrimination for our gender expression and identity and dignity for all our students.
Our Stonewall Democrats of WNY Chairs
Stonewall Democrats of Western New York is the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Democratic voice in western New York. Our mission is to advocate for the LGBT community within the WNY area government and the Democratic Party.
We meet the fourth Tuesday of each month at:
El Museo Gallery
91 Allen Street
Buffalo, NY 14202-1320