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Rights Protest Becomes Hunger Strike

Alan BounvilleHannah Rubenstein Alan Bounville, who took part in a 36-day vigil outside Senator Kristen Gillibrand’s local office, began a hunger strike earlier this week to draw attention to the American Equality Bill.

A couple of weeks ago, we wrote about the work of QueerSOS, a gay rights group that was taking part in an ongoing vigil outside of Senator Gillibrand’s campaign office. At that time, activists Iana Di Bona and Alan Bounville had slept on the West 26th Street sidewalk for nearly four weeks, vowing to continue until the senator introduced the American Equality Bill to Congress, which would introduce the phrase “sexual orientation and gender identity” to the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

After 36 days standing vigil, incurring arrests and disorderly conduct summons, but no response from the senator, the activists decided that something more had to be done to bring attention to their cause. On Election Day, QueerSOS morphed into a new incarnation: the Civil Rights Fast.

Senator Gillibrand has declined to comment on the protest.

In a video Bounville explained his decision to begin a water-only fast, vowing to continue until the American Equality Bill is introduced.

Civil Rights Fast chalkHannah Rubenstein Members of Civil Rights Fast etch sidewalk messages in chalk to bring attention to their cause.

“I know that Senator Gillibrand may never file this bill,” he said. “But I would rather live a short life that was full than a long life never knowing what it was like to walk down any street in America holding the hand of the person that I love without fear or trepidation, looking over my shoulder.”

Mr. Bounville and Ms. Di Bona are beginning a series of public appearances in the city to draw attention to their struggle: Friday afternoon outside Senator Gillibrand’s office, and Sunday at the Metropolitan Community Church of New York and Queer Rising meeting at the 14th Street Y. More information is available on their website.

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!!” 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.
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