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July 18, 2009        OutcomeBuffalo > News

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Tom Duane Stands Up & Is Not Afraid

ALBANY, NY — New York State's only openly gay State Senator took to the floor of the Senate on Thursday to deliver an impassioned plea on behalf of people living with HIV and AIDS.

Senator Tom Duane’s impassioned 20-minute speech in support of a measure that would cap "shelter costs" (rent and utilities) costs for people living with HIV and AIDS and already receiving public assistance, from having to pay more than 30 percent of their monthly income on rent.

Duane (Democrat, Manhattan), who is openly gay and HIV-positive, demanded that his Senate colleagues not forget the hysteria and indifference that health care providers and society invoked when faced with people who were among the first to live and die from the AIDS pandemic.

Duane is the prime sponsor of marriage equality legislation that has been set aside in the wake of the Senate coup. During the recent monthlong stand off some legislators attempted to use the marriage equality bill status as an enticement to Senators, both for and against, to secure legislative power. Duane did nothing to mask his frustration with his colleagues during his dramatic floor speech.

Duane obviously irritated by would be opponents of the bill reacted by stating: "You think it’s funny? ´We’ll kill Duane’s bill.´ No, you’re not killing my bill — you’re killing people," Duane shouted about 16 minutes into his floor speech.

Elizabeth Benjamin of the New York Daily News reported that the bill was one of the last things the Senate did before departing the Capitol. Despite the late hour - the second marathon Senate session in a row - Duane delivered an impassioned 21-minute speech, "his voice raising at times to a near-scream".

Duane shared his experience of living through the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic, watching friends die after a rapid decline along with the prejudice that came with ignorance over the illness. "I’m lucky: I have a good health plan," he said, contrasting his status with that of someone living in SRO housing and paying for daily necessities with public assistance money.

When he was elected in 1998, Duane became the first openly-gay and first openly HIV-positive member of the Senate.

The legislation passed the Senate 52-1. The Assembly’s version of the bill is currently under review in the Ways & Means Committee. —Staff

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