Wearing a tiara with blinking red lights, State Rep. Mimi Stewart addressed the mostly gay crowd as the non-gay queen of Equality New Mexico's so-called Vent Event.
"First of all, your community is amazing!"? Stewart began, as a mix of young and old, skinny and fat, couples and singles gathered around her near the back of an empty storefront on Albuquerque's Central Avenue.
Stewart, an Albuquerque Democrat, was presented with the diadem at the March 16 event, which was half-carnival/half-wake, for her efforts as sponsor of House Bill 9, the Domestic Partner Rights and Responsibilities Act, during the legislative session that ended on Feb. 14.
Calling the proposal "one of the top three or four bills I've ever carried, "the seven-term Stewart lamented its highly publicized death during the waning days of the session.
"We were so close," she said. Then, turning to the "Pin the Tail on Rainaldi" poster on the wall behind her, she added: "In fact, here's the ass who did us in!"***image2***
She was referring to State Sen. Lidio Rainaldi, D-Cibola, considered by many to have been the decisive vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee that ultimately voted to table - or kill - HB 9. "I really wanted to go up and ring his little neck," Stewart said to thunderous applause.
Havens Levitt, who wore a white T-shirt that read "LEZ, Girls Love Them,"a sly play off of the Pez candy empire, was more than happy to pile on Rainaldi.
"He was just so offensive," she said, pointing out that she was one of the hundreds of citizen-lobbyists who trekked up to Santa Fe to lobby on behalf of the bill. "He talked about us in the gallery. He said, 'What's up in the gallery?' like we were a thing. He couldn't even talk about us like people."?
Noting that she heard from fellow lawmakers, claiming to be either supportive or undecided, who said they were receiving numerous, angry e-mails opposing the bill, Stewart didn't offer them any sympathy.
"They changed their wimpy little minds. Assholes!" she unloaded. "They deserved the e-mails."
But the Vent Event wasn't all venting.
"We're giving the community a chance to have a good time, blow off a little steam and raise a little money for Equality New Mexico," Celeste Jewell, Equality New Mexico's project coordinator, said. Tickets to whack pinatas with printed labels like "homophobia"and "legislative clowns" were available at the door. "It's all in good fun," Jewell added as she finished taping large, broadsheet thank-you notes to the wall, which she said would be sent to the only two Republican legislators who voted for the domestic partnerships bill: Reps. Justine Fox-Young and Kathy McCoy of Bernalillo.
Todd McElroy, longtime Santa Fe resident and president of Equality PAC, the political fundraising arm of the state's premier gay rights organization, hardly vented at all.
"We've done really well in New Mexico," he said, ticking off the passage of anti-discrimination and hate crimes laws in recent years, as well as the presence of numerous high-level openly gay state and local officials. "We're part of the political culture of this state," he added.
Plus, he argues that in certain urban centers in the state, anti-gay prejudice is mostly a non-issue. "People say, 'Why isn't there a gay bar in Santa Fe?' And I say, 'We don't need one,'" McElroy half-vented. "If I want to go out on a date at Del Charro, I can do that. Nobody cares."
McElroy worked as campaign manager for State Sen. John Grubesic, D-Santa Fe, who also spoke at the event. Grubesic, married with two kids, began by saying he was "envious"of the lawmakers who sponsored the Senate version of Stewart's domestic partnerships bill.
"We let you down," he offered, referring to the legislation's demise in the Senate.
And while he said he also received his fair share of hateful comments for speaking out in favor of the controversial - "Someone told me that I was going to hell. I figured I was already on my way," he deadpanned - Grubesic emphasized that activists looking ahead to next year must keep their focus on persuading majority Democrats in the Legislature's upper chamber.
"It wasn't just Sen. Rainaldi. You have to understand that there are other Democrats doing this," he said.
Referring to his decision to not seek re-election, Grubesic told the crowd that he is moving to Albuquerque. In an interview with SFR, he said "there's a definitely a possibility"he might seek public office in Bernalillo County. He added that the prospect of a tough re-election battle isn't what caused him to move but, rather, he moved because his daughter recently began attending Albuquerque Academy. Grubesic, a lawyer, said his job prospects are "completely up in the air right now."
Alexis Blizman, Equality New Mexico's executive director, kept her focus on the future.
"We have to look to 2009,"she said. "We're obviously going to work on domestic partnerships, but we're also going to work on an anti-bullying law. New Mexico has one of the worse bullying problems in the country."
In an interview later, Blizman added she'd like to see the establishment of safe school zones and more teacher- and school-administrator training to decrease the number of bullying incidents that she says are often directed at gay students, or those perceived to be gay. "This is not just an LGBT issue,"she said.
After the last pinata was busted open and several volunteers given awards, Blizman gave the crowd a final thought:
"And we're not giving up!"
The crowed roared its agreement.