In the late evening hours of Friday, June 24th, New York became the latest state to legally recognize same-sex weddings. This made The Empire State the sixth (and so far, the most populous) state to legislate marriage equality. Needless to say, the famous Manhattan Pride Parade and other celebrations that weekend were especially jubilant. But as we see another Gay Pride Month come to a close, our community looks ahead to the question, “What’s next?“ We asked the fabulous diva Wendy Williams— mother, groundbreaking radio personality, daytime TV goddess, and ardent ally of GLBT‘s– the question: “What’s the most important issue facing the GLBT community?” Is it nationwide marriage equality? AIDS and HIV awareness? An sweeping employment nondiscrimination bill? Ms. Williams, Tony Sawicki and Jed Ryan of DishMiss.com, and eight other movers and shakers in our community gave us their answers:

WENDY WILLIAMS:“It’s the marriage issue! You know, unfortunately, without marriage: When your partner dies, you’re not going to get the money, or the custody of the children, or whatever! I think that if we start with marriage, then after that we can move on to other things. That should be the top cause. Also, don’t you all want the right to suffer as much as we do?!”
(Award-winning celeb Wendy Williams became famous as a best-selling author and radio “shock jockette” before finding the role she was born for: Her smart and sassy “The Wendy Williams Show“ has just been renewed for two years.)

TONY SAWICKI: “Gay Pride is a time to celebrate how far we have come in terms of civil rights and public acceptance, to acknowledge that we still have a lot more to accomplish in terms of equality, and to revel in the incredible spirit of our community. This year especially, it is a time for savoring the incredible step that has been taken in the legalization of gay marriage right here in New York.”

(Tony is the producer and lead correspondent for “Under the Pink Carpet” which airs on the NYC-Life Television Station. He is also Recipient of 2010 Fresh Fruit “Fruits of Distinction” Award for his work in the GLBT community. Visit http://nyc.gov/html/media/html/schedules/schedules.shtml for Under the Pink Carpet scheduling and carrier information.).

JED RYAN: “OK, I’m gonna get serious here: I’m very happy that New York State has finally made the decades-belated decision to legally recognize gay marriage… although as with a lot of other issues, I don’t think the government should have been involved in the first place. I believe that fighting HIV and AIDS should be our top priority. Our community is only as happy and powerful as we are healthy. We need greater technology to find ways to make smarter sex more pleasurable and to make everyone want to practice it; and we need more effective, less toxic treatments for those living with the virus. Isn’t about time we found a cure… or at least a vaccine?”
(Jed is Mr. Rawhide NYC 2011 and a Producer of/Performer with The Boys of BEARlesque.)

PEPPERMINT: “I certainly think the issue that deserved the most attention DURING pride was Marriage Equality; it is probably the one issue with the most clear cut solution. I’m so thankful that the legislature has come to their senses this time… but now, I need to get my wedding dress altered! It‘s screaming ‘fashion victim!’ right out of the 90’s. Now that we have achieved marriage equality in New York, let’s focus on a cure or at least a vaccine for AIDS. I’ve been volunteering at Project Achieve. (www.ProjectAchieve.org)”
(Peppermint is one of New York’s hottest and busiest drag divas. Her Awards include “Drag Queen Of The Year” [“HX” Magazine] and “Best Drag Queen” [”L” Magazine]. See more at www.PeppermintOnline.com.)

MICHAEL LAVERS: “Watching the fireworks from Pier Dance while holding my boyfriend’s hand amid the backdrop of ‘Chapel of Love’ crystallized the emotions I have felt over the last few days. The passage of the marriage equality bill in Albany is obviously a huge victory for New Yorkers and LGBT people around the country, but it is imperative to remember that LGBT people continue to suffer needless discrimination, oppression and violence. I look forward to the day when all people can live their lives with full dignity, respect and equality.”
(Michael is the national news editor for the EDGE Media Network and the managing editor of the Fire Island News. He also blogs at Boy in Bushwick: http://www.boyinbushwick.blogspot.com.)

DICK AND DUANE: “We should be fighting to put an end to cargo shorts and flip-flops. And guys should be getting naked in the gym locker rooms again, instead of shimmying in and out of their underwear under a towel. Oh, and let’s get DOMA repealed, too.”
(Dick and Duane™ [Richie Cohen and Duane Tragis] are the world’s only husband & husband comedy team, in the tradition of Burns & Allen, Sonny & Cher and the Smothers Brothers. Their brand of comedy has been described as part traditional burlesque [parodying the classics], part old-school stand-up comedy and part 1970s variety show. The two met as teenagers in 1981, fell in love, got married with rings from a gumball machine and will celebrate their 30th anniversary this October with the show “Never Too Much” at The Laurie Beechman Theater. See more of them at http://www.facebook.com/dickandduane, on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/dicknduane, and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/DickandDuane.)

RON MOSER: “First of all, New Yorkers should be proud of the Marriage Equality Act that was just recently passed! There is nothing like being the largest state to have legal marriages for gays and lesbians. For this Pride, I think we should really think about equality and how it impacts us as a community. Consider yourself male, female, trans, dyke, white, black, Latino, leather, kink, or otherwise; we should all consider ourselves equals. Until we can do that amongst ourselves, we will not be taken seriously as a unified group amongst the world as a whole.”
(Ron is a government employee who has a passion for non-profit work, holding board positions on two non-profits in the Washington, DC area. He is owner and creator of custom stained glass windows [Capital Art Creations: http://www.CapitalArtCreations.com] and is Mr. DC Leather 2011. )

ROB ZUKOWSKI: “I’ve been an activist personally and professionally for a long time and have worked on many important LGBT issues. In recent years, my focus has been on marriage equality; not only because of the rights and protections or the tradition of family I believe in, but because there is no place in our lives for second class citizenship. One day, should some terrific twink, beautiful bear or charming Chelsea boy ask me for my hand in marriage, I’d like to say ‘I do!’ versus ‘I’m not allowed‘!”
(Rob is an activist, writer and photographer in New York City.
He has worked professionally and personally in the LGBT community and in the arts since 1992. See more at www.RobZPhoto.com,www.YouWereRobbed.com, and www.RobZNYC.com 

TOM RAGU: “This Gay Pride Season, I think that the issue we as a Community should fight for most of all is Marriage Equality. Sure, I believe that all people should be treated equally. Yeah, I know that we in The Gay Community pay taxes and we deserve all the rights afforded our hetero brothers and sisters. All true. But I am for Gay Marriage for one reason only: Gay Marriage will lead to Gay Divorce – and THAT will be FABULOUS! Can you picture it? ‘Are you cheating on me with him? Or Him? Or Him? Or Him? Or Him? Or Him?’ There will, of course, be Gay Divorce Court – and that will be presided over by Judge Judy. Ooooh, I cannot WAIT!”
(Seriously funny Tom Ragu is a NYC-based professional stand-up comedian and producer. He currently produces and hosts a number of comedy showcases in NYC, including “The Tom Ragú Comedy Revue” [the longest-running comedy show at The Stonewall Inn], and two monthly showcases at NYC’s elegant and fabulous cabaret venue, The Metropolitan Room: “Women We Love” & “One Night Only – with …” . See more at www.TomRagu.com.)

RYAN JANEK WOLOWSKI: “At this point in LGBTQ History, I feel it is time as a community we need to take on the role of being educators much more seriously with the same intensity that was applied to Marriage Equality. In other parts of the world people are being put in jail, murdered, stoned to death, hung in public squares just for being born Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer. If there is anyway as a community we can stop that, we must.”

(Working behind the scenes at MTV Networks, Ryan has something new out on a daily basis, but on a more personal note this summer he is showing artwork at the Leslie Lohman Art Gallery in Soho opening on July 13th as part of The Fresh Fruit Festival. On August 6th, he will be returning presenter at Splash in Chelsea for the 2nd Annual “GOOTH” Magazine Readers Choice Awards, and last but not least he has a small part in the next Will Smith movie “Men in Black III”, portraying a 1960’s business type New Yorker.)


LOVARI: “Obviously, I was initially going to have my answer be gay marriage. But I also want to touch upon something that we are doing to ourselves with in our own community. I have the highest regard for ALL recording artists. I firsthand know the struggle, belief, and tireless effort it takes to make even a dent in the industry, regardless of whether you are on a major or indy label. I also am honored to have some very close friends of mine that happen to be both straight and have successful singing careers, and some I will have the honor of recording with on my next album. That being said, I always find it cowardly and a slap in the face to the gay community when we continue to have straight headliners at gay pride. I understand that we need monetary revenue and support from all allies gay and straight. However, if we have the need to do this, then I insist that we must have a double headline bill which must implement an LGBT artist as an equal headliner, regardless of whether they are well known alot. As much as Eminem is a relevant and important part of hip hop, would we see him headline the mainstage entertainment at African American Day Parade? No. I’m sure he would be one of the featured performers, but like that parade, the focus on Gay Pride should celebrate the success, struggles, and bravery of artists that are OUT AND PROUD (and who sometimes sacrifice major label deals in order to stand up for what they believe in). There are a plethora of LGBT artists out there. They deserve the recognition on this day, along with their straight allies, but they need to be at the forefront. The one thing that I cannot cut corners with is Grand Marshalls. There are so many LGBT people who tirelessly devote their free time and effort into fighting for our rights, MORE then enough to choose form, yet lately, especially on the East Coast, some have chosen straight allies as the lead Grand Marshall. Again, everything that I said previously about the performers applies to this as well.”
(Lovari’s award winning album “The Statement” includes three Top 20 U.S. dance singles, including “Work It Out” (from the TV series “Under The Pink Carpet”) and “Turn Around” (from the upcoming film “Saving Julian”, of which he serves as one of the Executive Producers). He is currently on a U.S. promotional tour. See more at http://www.twitter.com/Lovari,www.Facebook.com/Lovari, and http://www.LovariWorld.com.)

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