NYC Real Housewife Sonja Morgan with Lady Lassahn and DJ Lady Bunny.
- It is not the oldest party in the Hamptons, it is not the most celebrity populated and it certainly may not be the choice of the blue blood old money, but the Hamptons Tea Dance
is definitely a party with an agenda and that agenda is equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) New Yorkers.
One of the liveliest and largest cocktail parties in the Hamptons, the annual summer fete of the Empire State Pride Agenda
(ESPA) was attended by over 1,000 supporters despite the intermittent rain that occasionally reached the point of downpours last weekend on the East End. It was indeed raining men, women and, yes, children.
Regarding the latter, this year's co-chairs and last year's Tea Dance hosts Will Trinkle
and Juan Granados
were bubbling with their own pride as they announced the recent surrogate birth of their son - two months ago. Their child was born in California because New York State does not recognize surrogate births for gay couples.
Long time active advocates of marriage equality for LGBT people, now a family, that is clearly more important than ever, "It brings it home because when you are a family you need the protections of marriage. We are an international couple and we need them more than ever with our child," said Trinkle. Elaborating on the point Granados, a legal resident with a green card, explained that although both of their names are on their son's birth certificate they are very concerned about international travel and the complications of coming through U.S. Customs with a child, particularly Granados traveling alone with his son as a non-American. A concern not generally faced by straight people with a marriage certificate and legally sharing the same name.
Congresswoman from NYC Carolyn Maloney made the trip east to support the Empire State Pride Agenda.
The couple spent most of last November and December in Albany lobbying for the marriage rights bill and were both surprised and deeply disappointed that it did not pass. Trinkle noted, "If New York can't do it, it is ridiculous. We are moving to Connecticut. We are tired of waiting. We pay the same taxes and we deserve the same rights. It is not about religion, it is not about politics, it is about our lives."
Staying on the point of children, I speculated that a marriage rights bill might facilitate the process of gay couples adopting children who are in foster care or orphanages and Granados said, "Having a home is always better than being in an orphanage. A home filled with love is even better and we are good at that." Yes indeed, as the love that permeated this event was nothing short of palpable.
There was a change at the top this year at ESPA and new Executive Director Ross Levi
told me, "It is going to be all about these elections. We are very happy that the legislative session is over and we can turn our attention fully to the elections this November. We have already been out there knocking on 5,000 doors identifying supporters of marriage equality and transgender rights. We are going to be going full force to be sure we have very open supporters of our issues so that next time it will go differently." He went on to explain, "It is about getting our elected officials to understand that it is the right thing to do, it is what their constituents want them to do and that it will help a lot of people."
Marriage rights is an issue for children of LGBT couples, many of whom attended the Tea Dance with their children.
On the subject of elected officials, several were in attendance at the Hamptons Tea Dance, both state and federal representatives. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney
referenced the battle for gay marriage in the Congress, "It is a fight on both the state and federal level. We got a bill out to the House last year, but we couldn't get it through the Senate. I think the decision in Massachusetts was a big step for us and it came from a Republican
judge appointed by Nixon."
State Senate candidate Regina Calcaterra and State Senator Craig Johnson at the 2010 Hamptons Tea Dance.
7th District NYS Senator Craig Johnson
, who represents the Port Washington area of Nassau County, was in attendance with his family. A co-sponsor of last year's marriage equality bill, he commented on its failure, "Anytime you lose a vote like that it is going to be a let down. It was a surprise when we had commitments from both Democrats and Republicans for passage of the bill and they withdrew their commitments and voted against it. I am hopeful with the support of Andrew Cuomo
, who I believe will be the next governor, and maybe some new senators in Albany that we are going to have the votes to pass marriage equality and make it the law of this great state."
Challenging incumbent Ken Lavalle
in our own 1st NYS Senatorial District is Regina Calcaterra
who was at the Tea Dance in support of ESPA. The issue of marriage and adoption rights is a very personal one for her as she explained, "Not only is it a civil rights issue for members of LGBT community, but for me it is a very personal issue. I grew up in and out of foster care and in homeless shelters when I was a child in Suffolk County. I aged out of the foster care system when I was 21, but I was told when I was 14 that by time I was 18 years old I was going to be homeless. You are kicked out of foster care at 18 unless you are going to college."
Attorney Mitchell W. Karsch was a Hamptons Tea Dance co-chair this year and last.
Calcaterra did go to college and remained in the system until 21, but went on to elaborate, "I am a board member of an organization called "You Gotta Believe" and we work to get older foster children adopted. We have gotten hundreds of kids adopted from the age of 14 to 24 and you know who is adopting them, gay parents! So we have gay and lesbian couples adopting them, taking them off the street, providing for them and educating them, creating a family in very unique circumstances. The state, however, is still coming in and saying, 'You can't be afforded protections because you were adopted by gay parents." It is not only a civil rights issue for the parents; it is also an issue for so many kids that are being adopted by gay couples. We need to get it done and we need to get it done now. When I win in November I am going to push for this bill to come to session in January or February."
Another Tea Dance co-chair Mitchell W. Karsch
eloquently articulated the importance of alliances and political pressure in the fight for marriage rights, "Part of our goal is to get the messages out there to our community and to our straight allies that you have to vote. This is a passionate, important issue and the key is to tell people our stories and remind people that we have to keep fighting. We are going to win this right, it is just a matter of time and we want to make it sooner rather than later."
The indomitable spirit associated with this issue for the LGBT community could not be better reflected than by the overwhelming spirit of the event itself. People chatted, connected, networked and, oh yes, they danced. Lady Bunny
was once again the event's celebrity DJ kept the crowd on its feet throughout the afternoon, despite the inclement weather.
The love and friendship was palpable, as always, at this year's Hamptons Tea Dance.
This year's highly coveted gift bag featured a specially designed, one-of-a-kind white polo by Ralph Lauren
celebrating ESPA. Belvedere
Vodka was the spirit sponsor for the event with both martinis and specialty fruit concoctions endlessly flowing. Seen everywhere in the Hamptons this summer, newest NYC Real Housewife Sonja Morgan
was one of the many allies in attendance at this year's 18th annual Tea Dance which was held at the ARK Project in Water Mill.
For the Hamptons active and influential gay community the issue of marriage rights remains an elusive but highly desired prize. As we found out at this year's Tea Dance it is not only a critical and essential civil rights issue for LGBT adults, but an issue for their children as well.
For more information go to www.prideagenda.org
Frequently mistaken for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis commercials and the iconic gray-bearded Sean Connery, DMH is the Senior Contributing Editor at Hamptons.com. www.hamptons.com