Tag Archive | "Katrina Foster"

The Culture of Generosity

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In this wealthy community of lavish parties, high profile people, over-sized houses, and over-priced almost everything else, it’s encouraging to learn about another affordable housing complex being built.

By November 2012, St. Michaels Housing complex in Amagansett, a 40 unit affordable housing project, paid for with HUD funds and property sold by Amagansett’s St. Michaels Lutheran Church (at way below market value), will be up and running.

When I passed St. Michaels church and the neighboring construction site, I noticed how practical the site was: a clinic and gym will be within walking distance; as will the grocery across the street, and the small Amagansett post office. A crosswalk, newly completed on 27, will enable the residents to get from the complex to the other side of the road without risking life and limb.

I wanted to know who qualified, how it came about, who was responsible. So I called St. Michaels pastor, Katrina Foster, who agreed to meet with me and give me the facts.

“How will I know you?” I asked when we set a date and place.

“I’ll look like a pastor” she said, but when she came in the door to the restaurant she looked only young. And happy. She and her very pretty nine-year old daughter Zoia sat down to talk with me. Her daughter immediately pulled out a book and I imagined Zoia was used to her mother giving up her time for other people.

“A single person,” Pastor Foster said, “who can make no more than $36,000, qualifies; $46,000 for a couple. They pay 30 percent of their income for the yearly rental. If they have medical expenses, the 30 percent they pay is after medical expenses are deducted. There’s a lottery of 100 people and we draw 40 people from the lottery based on, one, the homeless (and that constitutes anyone living on someone’s couch or in their car; it really MEANS homeless), two, disabled people and, three, people with the lowest income.

“The minimum age is 62,” she continued. “The 40 people can be from anywhere — from Alaska or anywhere and they don’t have to belong to our church or any church. They don’t have to meet all three criteria, but highest priority is given to homeless first, then disabled and lowest income. An able-bodied person or couple who have a home and are not disabled and who fall within the income guidelines will qualify, but priority is given to those most vulnerable. There’ll be a superintendent at the complex and we’ll also have a 3500 square foot community center for not only the residents but the whole community.”

“All of this,” she said “is for people who have given to their communities as fishermen or teachers, service people; anyone not in a position to stay because they’re unable to find affordable housing. Now St. Michaels will be able to provide such a place, as Whalebone and Windmill Villages One and Two already do.”

“Under the radar,” she said, “is a whole way of life in which people look out for other people. For people who are old, infirm, and without means. It has to do with what it means to live a religious life; it’s a culture of generosity. People donate money or their time; they volunteer to make meals. St. Michaels sold five acres of its land at way below fair market value for this project.”

She told me that Michael de Sario (president of the housing board that secured funding) and Gerry Mooney (a member of St. Michaels and manager of the other existing affordable housing complexes) kept the project going for the ten years it took. But this involved lots and lots of people who never gave up.

“None of us ever gave up and sometimes it was rough going.”

Then she asked if I knew the parable of The Insistent Widow. When it was clear I didn’t, she explained that it involved a judge and a widow in the same town.

“The widow went to the judge asking for justice and help but the judge refused her,” the pastor said. “The widow went back day after day after day. She never gave up. Finally the judge gave in. That’s what we do. We never give up. We just keep working until things get done.”

Before coming here, Pastor Foster was pastor in the Bronx for 16 years where she earned the Bronx Borough President’s Citation of Merit in 2000 and 2004, and was awarded the NAACP’s Women Who Make a Difference Award in 2001. She began serving Incarnation and St. Michaels Lutheran churches in the Hamptons Lutheran Parish on the East End in 2010 when she was told there was a spot in Amagansett where she could be useful.

“I’m here with my wife and our daughter and an array of animals,” she said.

“What do you do when you’re not serving your congregation and everyone who needs help?” I ask…. “IF and WHEN you ever have free time?”

“We go to the beach” she says. “Zoia loves the beach. All three of us, and one dog, love the beach.”

Marriage Equality Act Yields 25 Registrants

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By Claire Walla

As of Monday, July 25, New York is all systems go. Just 30 days after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the marriage equality act into legislation, same-sex couples can now officially apply for a marriage license and be legally wed in the state of New York.

While some gay couples living in New York have already tied the knot in one of the five U.S. states where same-sex unions are already legal, and though some couples will opt to wait a bit before they listen to the wedding bells ring, the clerks’ offices in East Hampton and Southampton Towns are already seeing requests for the paper contracts.

Glenda Hayes of the East Hampton Town Clerk’s office said their offices had received three requests for marriage licenses from same-sex couples on Monday, July 25 and one request the following day. The numbers in Southampton Town are a bit higher. According to Southampton Town Clerk Sundy Schermeyer, the town issued 19 marriage licenses just this past Monday, in addition to one on Tuesday and another on Wednesday.

Though the office seems to have been inundated at the start of the week, Schermeyer explained, “that was really because we were gathering applications from the week before. We allowed people to begin filling out their paperwork early on,” she said, adding that all of the applications that were started last week could only officially be filed on Monday. So, in that sense, the number of licenses she issued was pretty on-target. “We kind of had an idea [of how many we would be issuing] based on the number of phone calls we had coming in,” she said.

Though any couple that obtains a marriage license through a New York clerk’s office is free to marry in any part of the state, Schermeyer explained that she herself officiated ceremonies for three of the gay couples who had requested marriage licenses this week.
For the Reverend Katrina Foster, pastor of St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Amagansett and Incarnation Lutheran Church in Bridgehampton, the first wedding with two men she will preside over will take place this Saturday, July 30. She added that her first wedding with two women will be held in October.

“Both of my churches are excited to host the weddings for both couples,” she said. In fact, the passage of the Marriage Equality Act came nearly two months after Incarnation Lutheran Church officially adopted a statement of public welcome to all “regardless of age, race, gender identity, marital status, sexual orientation,” etc.

In light of the fact that the Catholic Diocese of Rockville Center has barred its priests from presiding over gay ceremonies, Reverend Foster is working to get the word out to the community that she can do the job.

“I’ve done some outreach to gay-specific communities” to get the word out that there is a pastor in the local community who can officiate a Christian service for a gay couple, she said. “I was just at a professional meet-and-greet [put on by the East End Gay Organization] the other night and I said, ‘If you need someone to officiate, I’d be happy to speak to you.’”

While Pastor Foster said her office hasn’t exactly been inundated with requests from gay couples, she said she’s not exactly surprised. While it may be the case that some couples feel strapped for options, she said it’s also very likely that there are a number of gay couples who will choose not to marry.

“More and more, a lot of people [gay or straight] are choosing not to engage in a hetero-normative construct,” i.e. marriage, she said. While that may sound overly complicated, when it comes down to it, it’s really very simple. “They just want to be themselves,” she said. “However they choose to be.”

Marriage Equality Bill Passes, East End Celebrates

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Gay Pride-1

By Claire Walla

Ken Dorph remembers being here 32 years ago. It was 1969, just after the Stonewall riots which sparked the beginning of the gay pride movement in the United States. Back then, Dorph said the Gay Pride Parade drew just a few dozen participants.

This year, it was much different.

Last Sunday, June 26 at the annual Gay Pride Parade in New York City, Dorph stood among hundreds of people at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 37th Street next to his partner of three decades, Stuart Lowrie, and their two children, Darius and Leyla, both 10. Wearing a white cowboy hat and a perpetual smile, Dorph held up a sign: “2 Dads, 30 years, 2 Kids, 1 Mortgage, A Marriage. I [heart] NY.”

Several excitable parade participants stopped mid-procession to take a picture with the Sag Harbor resident and his hand-crafted sign, and many more paused a moment to photograph Leyla, who — eyes fixated on the parade — propped her arms and head atop a handmade sign of her own: “I [heart] My Two Dads.”

This is the first time in nearly 20 years Dorph has decided to attend the parade. And he’s done so for good reason.
Just two days earlier, on June 24, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Marriage Equality Bill, making New York the sixth state in the nation to legalize same sex marriage, giving same-sex partners the same legal benefits as heterosexual couples.

Dozens of people held signs Sunday afternoon thanking Governor Cuomo for his effort to pass the bill: “A promise kept,” they read.

The New York City Police Department estimates at least two million people eventually congregated in West Greenwich Village on Christopher Street, just outside the Stonewall Inn.

The hours-long procession saw everything from the avant garde (people wearing pasties, Speedos, silver shoulder spikes, handmade stuffed-animal-pants and skin-tight baby-blue teddy bear suits); to the professional (teachers, firefighters, police officers and flight attendants); the recreational (volleyball players, mountain climbers, skiers and sprinters); and even the conventional (church groups and politicians, including Governor Cuomo).

“It’s like a slice of every corner of society!” Dorph exclaimed. “To come to something like this and see a million gay people in one place …” Dorph’s jaw dropped as he demonstrated his joy. “It’s like, anyone can be gay. And they’re all free.”

HOW IT HAPPENED

The Marriage Equality Bill passed in New York with a vote that came down to the wire, ultimately passing 33 to 29.

This week’s legislation comes just three years after Proposition 8 in California, which overturned a state supreme court ruling giving same-sex couples a right to marry. The comparison wasn’t lost on parade-goers, who held signs condemning the west-coast proposition: “I’ll see your Prop 8, and I raise you New York,” one read.
But it also comes just two years after former New York Governor David Paterson introduced legislation to legalize gay marriage in the state. It was shot down then, even though Democrats had a majority in the Senate.

“My sense is that two years ago, if you took politics out of it, there was a majority of senators who would have voted for it then,” said State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Jr.

But by Thiele’s account, the bill failed then because too many senators were not comfortable voting their convictions. For one thing, Thiele noted that the Senate votes alphabetically in a role-call procedure; he said too many swing voters were called to cast their votes in the beginning, and few were willing to be the first to come out in support of the legislation.

“Governor Cuomo was the difference maker on this,” Thiele continued. “His leadership created a climate by which more senators voted their convictions. He instilled them with the political courage to stand up for this.”
For Thiele, the fight for marriage equality is the continuation of a decades-long movement for civil rights.

“This the latest civil rights victory in a string of civil rights legislation that goes back to the ‘60s,” he explained. He evoked a phrase used by Martin Luther King, Jr., who said “the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.”

“This is a trend toward individual rights,” he stated. “I think Governor Cuomo said it right. People were focused on the first word of the bill, marriage, when the most important word was equality. To me what’s important is we as a state government treat people equally, regardless of their sexual orientation.”

MARRIAGE EQALITY ON THE EAST END

Back at the parade and surrounded by more rainbow-colored garb than you’d find at a Grateful Dead concert — there were at least 33 unique multi-colored articles of clothing and rainbow-print accessories, from flags, leis, boas and wigs, to paper roses, nail polish and neck ties — Dorph admitted the passage of the marriage equality act “is huge.”

Though he and Lowrie were legally married in Vancouver, he said they plan to marry in Dorph’s home state of New York some time next year.

Another Sag Harbor parent who came to the parade with her young daughter — she said she’s hesitant to have her name published because she works for the public school system — added that she will eventually marry her partner of over 16 years sometime next year, as well.

Though the law legalizing gay marriage will go into effect within a month, neither couple is eager to rush to the altar.

“I don’t want to just throw something together,” the woman said. “I want to really plan it.”

Here on the East End, Pastor Katrina Foster of St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Amagansett and Incarnation Lutheran Church in Bridgehampton said she’s already received one request to perform a wedding ceremony for a lesbian couple since last week — a reality she’s incredibly excited about.

Foster herself made waves in the Christian community when — in 2002 — she officially came out to the congregation she was a part of in the Bronx. Later, in 2007, she came out on the floor of the church-wide assembly.

“It’s the highest legislative body in my denomination,” she said. “I really could have been defrocked at that moment.”

But, because of the strong support from the community immediately around her, she wasn’t. Foster has since moved to the East End where she’s brought her spirit of openness and unity to Amagansett, most recently leading the effort to establish St. Michaels as a Reconciling in Christ congregation: last month, the church officially adopted a public statement of welcome for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

Like Dorph, she said the fight for equality is not over. But she hopes the Marriage Equality Act will begin to make it more comfortable for gay people, particularly those here on the East End, to come out — and not to be fearful of the consequences.

“It still is an act of courage to be out,” she said. “People are scared of losing their jobs. But the reality is, we have a lot of gay people on the East End and a lot of gay families living here full-time. Hopefully, as gay and lesbian weddings happen, people will look around and say, I’m not the only one.”

“I think courage is contagious,” she continued, “and I think this bill will help be part of that contagion.”