Spreading A Message of Equal Rights

iana writing
messageHannah Rubenstein Iana Di Bona (top) has been scrawling chalk messages on East Village sidewalks calling for civil rights for the gay community. Her effort is part of larger effort that includes a 24-hour vigil outside the offices of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on West 26th Street.

Iana Di Bona crouches low near the corner of St. Marks and First Avenue scrawling a chalk message that she would repeat on sidewalks across the East Village: “Gay Civil Rights! QueerSOS.com!” Her electric blues and purples are defiant against the monochromatic city streets.

“Some people don’t want to stop and take a flyer,” Ms. Di Bona says, explaining the chalk that now stains her fingers. “This is a graffiti tactic that brings attention and awareness to the cause.” She places the chalk in a tattered plastic bag and continues walking, searching for the next blank slate.

Graffiti activism is only the latest action that Ms. Di Bona and the group she represents, QueerSOS, have taken in recent days in hopes of promoting gay rights. Two months ago, the 30-year-old Ms. Di Bona quit her job as an office manager in an East Village medical office and began living off of savings, dedicating herself to social activism full-time.

Since Sept. 27, she has been part of a daily vigil outside of Senator Kristen Gillibrand’s campaign office on West 26th Street. For the past nine days, she and her best friend and fellow activist Alan Bounville, a 34-year-old former NYU student, have been sleeping on the sidewalk outside — an act of “political homelessness,” Ms. Di Bona says. QueerSOS, which stands for Standing OutSide, has only one mission: pressuring Senator Gillibrand to introduce the American Equality Bill.

The American Equality Bill is a piece of legislation that would introduce the phrase “sexual orientation and gender identity” to the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. As it currently stands, the Act limits discrimination on the basis of “race, color, sex, national origin and religion.”

In an interview last year, Senator Gillibrand pledged her support for the legislation, saying, “I truly believe that this gay rights agenda is the civil rights march of our generation.”

However, advocates for civil rights for the gay community are growing impatient because the senator has not taken any steps toward introducing the equality bill or any related legislation in Congress.

Senator Gillibrand’s office declined to comment on the demonstration.

As the protest stretches toward its fourth week, Ms. Di Bona and Mr. Bounville have decided to branch out into surrounding communities like the East Village in hopes of garnering support for their cause.

They spend their days etching chalk messages on the sidewalks of city streets – as they did in the East Village Monday – and return to their sleeping bags outside the senator’s office each evening.

iana sleepingHannah Rubenstein Ms. Di Bona sleeping outside Senator Gillibrand’s office.

Braving biting wind, downpours, and even an arrest, Ms. Di Bona and Mr. Bounville huddle together at night under banners that read, “How long must LGBTQI people wait for civil rights?” The next step in their protest? The pair has threatened a hunger strike if the senator does not act soon.

Pausing in the middle of chalking an exclamation mark on the concrete Monday afternoon, Ms. Di Bona explained the theory behind the graffiti: “The base of this action is community building and community awareness — reaching out to everyone and saying ‘Here we are, we’re all family, we’re all going to do this together, help me.’ And help get behind Senator Gillibrand.”

“We should be fighting for each other, regardless of whether we’re LGBT or we’re straight,” Ms. Di Bona added. “The point is to stand up together.”