CLAREMONT – Dartmouth grad and New York Senator Kristen Gillibrand stopped by Barnes Park on Saturday to show her support for Pride Day, shake a lot of hands and have a lot of conversations under the noise of the band.
The Pride Day celebration drew 50 vendors and several hundred visitors, from children riding in red wagons pulled by their parents to local school board members, LGBTQ activists, and the first out transgender representative in New Hampshire, Lisa Bunker of Exeter.
Bunker sold copies of her books, two queer-positive (as she put it) novels with pre-teen hero/ines.
“I didn’t want them to just focus on Identity with a capital I but to be about other things,” she said. Zenobia July, in the novel of the same name, is a transgender girl who gets to live with a new family and also solves a mystery; in “Felix Yz” the protagonist has been accidentally fused with a being from another world because of a science experiment gone wrong.
Bunker also gave the keynote speech for the gathering. Although a minority of those listening were alive during the Stonewall riots, she reminded everyone of what 1969 was like. Fifty years ago on June 28, a gay night club in New York City was raided by the police. The LGBTQ community erupted, and the event is remembered as the beginning of the LGBTQ rights movement.
“In 1969 I was about six years old,” said Bunker. “I was shy. I had no language to tell my parents and my teachers this boy thing wasn’t me at all.”
At that time homosexuality was considered a mental illness and a crime. “I grew up knowing if I dared to express who I really am, I would be killed for it,” said Bunker.
Bunker came out as transsgender in the 2000s. She also ran for state legislature, successfully, and became an author. Best of all, she tried dating online and met her soulmate, whom she married.
“We have come a very long way,” she said. “Many steps forward and a few steps back … The fact that we are all legal, they can’t take that away.”
Gillibrand wore a “Love is Brave” rainbow T-shirt and worked her way through the crowd, talking to supporters and smiling for dozens of selfies.
“I feel very lucky that I get to run and talk about a vision for our country,” she said. She characterized the crowded Democratic field of presidential candidates as “an awakening.”
“I think we’re seeing a surge because people are so disturbed by what President Trump is doing,” she said.
Dozens of progressive non-profits, from Twin States Animal Liberation to PFLAG and the Gay Straight Alliance, had tables staffed with volunteers. Other, more staid organizations offered information on their services, such as the Veterans Administration Medical Center in White River Junction. The Stevens High School Art Club had face painting for the droves of children underfoot; the Sullivan County Democrats were there to support Rural Outright, which sponsored the celebration, and to highlight state and national Democratic public servants.
A woman from the New Hampshire American Civil Liberties Union asked Gillibrand if she would support restricting the stop zone for Border Patrol to within 25 miles of an international border instead of 100 miles. Gillibrand said “Yes” without hesitation, leaving her interlocutor temporarily at a lost for words.
“Our diversity is our strength,” said Gillibrand. “I’m very concerned that stops [to check for citizenship] are racially biased.”
She supports a path to citizenship and comprehensive immigration reform, “and I believe in border security to prevent drugs and criminal gangs coming into our country, but I would not do what President Trump is doing. I’d make sure asylum seekers are given due process.”
Gillibrand said as president, “I would move most of these functions [of processing asylum claims] back to the Department of Justice.”
If elected president, how would she reconcile the rights of states attempting to ban abortion and federal law?
“I would codify Roe v. Wade so it’s a federal law,” she said, “And repeal Hyde, so low income women have equal access to health care. I would only nominate justices and judges who believe Roe v. Wade is settled precedent, which it is.” The Hyde Amendment restricts federal funding through Medicaid for abortion services except in cases of rape and incest.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to use the correct term for transgender.