After 12 years, The Alliance is still fighting for LGBT rights in the courts
Growing up with two politically connected parents led Marc Levine to become an active member of society himself at a young age. He helped to create the Newkirk Area Neighborhood Association where he volunteered so much of his time that people thought it was his full-time job and they assumed that he would eventually run for office.
A sexual harassment complaint changed all of that and put Levine on a path which would eventually lead him to creating the Gay/Straight Alliance of the New York State Justice System.
“I was one of those crazy over-involved people,” Levine said. “Then all of a sudden, I was forced to come out because I had this crazy accusation against me and, quite frankly, it changed my life. It took me three years to regroup from that, but afterward it led me to create The Alliance.”
Levine knew the accusation against him was bogus. A six-month long investigation took place during which time he realized that other people were at the end of similar bogus claims. One man had been accused of sexual harassment from the same woman, a third was fired for “being inappropriate” and a fourth was denied a promotion despite being well liked and good for the job. The one thing these four men had in common according to Levine — they were obviously closeted homosexuals.
“It didn’t make any sense what was going on,” Levine said. “Then you start to see a pattern and I started to realize what I had to do.”
Levine finally came out before his hearing. He said that most people had already known that he was gay and said he felt overwhelmed by the positive support he received. Still, the ordeal caused him to step back from his extracurricular activities including his extensive work with the neighborhood association.
Levine wouldn’t be sitting on the sidelines for long, though. After three years, he realized that the atmosphere in the courts still wasn’t a positive one for most LGBT members so he started The Alliance as a way to boost representation and gain acceptance.
With the assistance of Luz Bryan, who was head of the Cervantes Society, Levine started The Alliance in July of 2003.
“There was a debate over whether or not we should be an exclusively LGBT group or a gay/straight alliance,” Levine said. “Obviously we eventually went with the Alliance and I think it made all of the difference because people were still afraid to come out and thought it would cost them their jobs.”
It was slow going at first. Assemblymember Richard Gottfried came to the first meeting and discussed the history of same-sex marriage, a fantasy back then, and Tom Dwayne came to the second and remarked at how small the numbers were, but encouraged them to keep it up. It wasn’t until an event in Queens about five years into The Alliance when things started to change.
“We held the event in a Queens courthouse and the administrative judge Bernice Siegal plastered our flyers all over the courthouse,” Levine recalled. “After that event one of the practitioners in the court, Sebastian Maguire, said that the mood changed overnight. All of a sudden it was okay to be gay.”
Lenny Rosenblatt joined The Alliance during its fifth year of its inception. At this time, Rosenblatt said that open discrimination in the courts wasn’t as prevalent, but said that he joined because LGBT members were avoiding good jobs within the court system because it had a bad reputation.
“I wouldn’t be here if not for The Alliance as many other people can now say,” Rosenblatt said. “The Alliance has made a tremendous difference. The courts have such a negative perception and this is a tremendous opportunity. There aren’t a lot of other entry level jobs that start at $50,000 with benefits, but people thought that these positions weren’t open to them.”
The Alliance is now going on 12 years and is one of the strongest growing associations of its kind. There are 30 judges on its board of advisers and 15 officers, regional representatives and at-large directors. It holds regular events throughout New York City and Albany. In the fall it will hold events in Rochester and Buffalo for the first time.
“Part of the mission of The Alliance is to change the perception of the courts,” Levine said. “Part of our mission is to change the attitudes of people and to make the place a safe place for the employees and the public. One of our biggest battles is getting LGBT people appointed to the courts. Until recently, we did not have anybody to an appointed level position or above.
“That’s going to make the biggest difference. People don’t fear for their jobs like they did 12 years ago, but it still seems like we aren’t reaching the positions that we feel that we’re deserving of,” he said.
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CORRECTION: In the June 29, 2015 edition of the Brooklyn Eagle, it was incorrectly stated that Sebastian Maguire identifies as gay. Maguire is supportive of the Gay/Straight Alliance of the New York State Justice System; however, he does not identify as gay. The Eagle regrets the error.
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