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Campaign To Rename Stadium Picking Up Steam

When Doug Newman heard the news that the Marriage Equality Act, which would allow gay marriage in New York State, had been defeated on the state Senate floor, his reaction was ‘profound disappointment,’ he said.

Newman, a senior history major at Stony Brook University, did not remain idle. Instead, he did what any activist of his generation might do: he started a Facebook group, gathering support for a movement to remove the name of 1st District Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, who voted against the bill, from the front of Stony Brook’s LaValle Stadium.

LaValle was instrumental in attaining state funding for the construction of Stony Brook’s main athletic facility which serves the school’s football, men’s and women’s soccer, and men’s and women’s lacrosse teams, in addition to hosting local high school championships.

‘Sen. LaValle has been a friend of our university, and of public higher education in general,’ Newman said in a press release Monday. ‘But history does not excuse those who propagate injustice because they helped construct nice buildings.’

The Facebook group grew rapidly, including almost 400 members within 24 hours of the vote. Newman renamed his group Stony Brook Students for Equality and called a press conference in front of the student entrance of LaValle Stadium.

Gathering on a cold December afternoon, Newman and about 15 supporters of the movement stood in front of the stadium. One man held a sign that read ‘YES ON EQUALITY.’ Most stood quietly throughout, showing their support simply by being there and moving only to stay warm or politely applaud each speaker.

In a prepared written statement, Newman acknowledged that LaValle has been a supporter of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender initiatives in the past, including the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act that made it illegal to discriminate against transgendered individuals. Newman said that this gives hope that LaValle can be swayed to support gay rights, but unless this happens, the campaign to remove his name from the stadium will continue.

Elana Lancaster, the lone other student to speak, echoed Newman’s message in encouraging LaValle to get behind the LGBT movement.

‘LaValle does not support the entire community,’ she said. ‘Now is the time.’

Alex Nagler, who serves as spokesperson for Stony Brook Students for Equality and president of Stony Brook Democrats, introduced each speaker. Nagler stressed that the campaign has not received backing from Stony Brook Democrats, Stony Brook LGBTA, or any other organization.

Regina Calcaterra, a Long Island lawyer who intends to run against LaValle for the state Senate seat in 2010, also criticized LaValle’s vote at the press conference.

‘Sen. LaValle was given the test of supporting equal rights, and he failed,’ Calcaterra said. ‘

LaValle, who could not be reached for comment on the stadium renaming campaign, issued a press release hours after the December 2 vote, saying that ‘at the present time, society is equally divided on the issue of gay marriage.’ According to LaValle, the next logical step would be to allow same-sex couples to be joined in civil unions that enjoy the same rights as a married couple does.

Despite the online response to the Facebook group, there are many at Stony Brook who believe the campaign is illogical. Jonathan Pu, a political science major and president of Stony Brook College Republicans, said that LaValle properly represented his constituency.

‘Even if the majority of students on campus do not agree with his vote, he does not serve only this campus, but rather the entire community he is elected to represent,’ Pu said.

According to Pu, the state recognizes marriage as a civil union, and marriage is an issue for the church.

‘If proponents of gay marriage seek equal protection under the law, then they seek the right to civil union,’ Pu said. ‘However, if they are seeking equal recognition by the church, this question should not even approach the legislature, but rather the clergy.’

Derek Mordente, editor of the conservative paper The Patriot, agreed that civil unions with equal rights should be enough, but pointed out that marriage has traditionally been regarded as a union between a man and a woman.

‘I support giving them equal protections under the law as called for by the Constitution,’ Mordente said. ‘But to demand (same-sex marriage) is not to seek equal rights but superior rights, that is, the ‘right’ to force others to disown a commonly accepted reality for one’s own particular view of it.’

The next step for the stadium renaming movement was to be a petition drive on Wednesday, December 9, movement spokesperson Nagler said. According to Nagler, there was no turnout for the physical petition drive, and the group is looking into creating a petition online.

Nagler said that Stony Brook Students for Equality believes athletics would be in charge of changing the name. Athletic Director Jim Fiore was unavailable for comment.

Stony Brook Students for Equality did not mention where the money to remove or change the stadium name would be attained.

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