Friday, May 29, 2009

Trip to Florida!


Flight delay in an airport? Bummer. Oh wait…. Perfect opportunity to catch you up on my blog and week of fantastic relaxation and preparation. I flew down to Florida to meet my mom for a couple day getaway and to be fitted for my evening gown. Upon arrival, we headed over to Regalia for the first fitting. [Aside: Driving didn’t go so well for us – by the end of the trip we just stopped counting the U-turns.] Let me just start with the stone-hard fact: David and Carry at Regalia are absolutely wonderful. Right off the bat, I was faced with my first test of flexibility (which is a 100% necessary attribute of a state titleholder). Thanks to their patience, creative input, and encouragement, it was easier to maintain a positive outlook and focus on solving problems efficiently. Jennifer, the seamstress at Regalia, will become my new hero on June 10th when my evening gown: attempt #2 arrives in New York. After returning to the store on Thursday for a fitting of the new prototype and round 2 of brainstorming and idea clarification, I am confident that I will walk on stage in 27 days in my dream evening gown! At the store, I met Stephanie Lozano, Miss Florida International University, who was also being fitted for her gown. Good Luck at Miss Florida, Stephanie!

In between my Regalia visits, I danced at James Dance Center, rehearsing my solo. JDC was the sister studio of my dance studio growing up, so this was a fun blast from the past! We sat poolside and ate watermelon, worked out in the mornings, watched movies and got massages and a facial. More importantly though, my mom and I caught up. We talked about my parents’ 3-week trip to Africa to visit my sister, Sarah; we talked about our family and relationships and the direction they are taking each of us in; we talked about my growth, the possibilities I have in my future, and how to best prepare for the unknown. It was a great getaway and much needed time for relaxation. I’ve got the best mom ever! PICS FROM THE TRIP

We stayed in a friend’s house in Kissimmee. They have a journal in which people write about their vacation, share great restaurants, etc. This is basically what I wrote:

Recipe for great pageant preparation:

1) Emotional Health: Relaxation poolside with Mama Bird (that’s what they call my mom), eating watermelon and gourmet salads
2) Swimsuit: AM walks, runs and workouts in the Florida humidity
3) Evening Gown: The perfect gown from Regalia….almost!
4) Talent: Dancing/Rehearsal at the nearby James Dance Center
5) Interview: Catching up on current events, reading articles and newspaper cutouts from JoJo
6) Interview/Sanity: Watching the Oscar-nominated films (& some blockbuster bummers)

All at the “Shellenswimmer’s!” Thanks for a perfect vacation!

Love, Claire Bear
“a hopeful Miss New York 2009”

You, too, can have this experience! The Shellenberger’s vacation home is fantastic and available for you to stay in when you go to Disney World, MAO Outstanding Teen or dress shopping at Regalia (for your pageant people), or just to get away! Here’s the short version – if you’d like more info, let me know! 3 bdrm, 2 bath: Queen, Full, 2 Twin (+ 4 couches) – Living room, den, full eat-in kitchen, dining room, laundry room, and a screened in pool with poolside amenities – in a neighborhood in Kissimmee great for walking/running – close to Disney, downtown Orlando, and more. Email me or Todd & Jamie at PICS OF THE HOUSE

Immigration Equality Safe Haven Awards

immigration equality

I learned a lot at this one. Drew Tagliabue, Executive Director of PFLAG NYC, and his [Australian] partner Mark invited me to the Immigration Equality Safe Haven Awards last Tuesday evening. This is important to know, as it is a common misconception surrounding gay rights: Gay rights are not ONLY about same-sex marriage. “Gay rights” refers to equality: in the workplace, schools, hospitals, and the law. Therefore, there are hundreds of independent organizations that represent a fight or cause within this umbrella term of “gay rights.”

Immigration Equality is a national organization fighting for equality under U.S. immigration law for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and HIV-positive individuals. They bring together law firms and attorneys for pro-bono cases to grant immigration rights to LGBT people seeking asylum and same-sex bi-national couples since they cannot marry under federal law and therefore cannot affect citizenship. They also defend HIV-positive people who cannot legally enter our country and receive a visa for travel, work or living. Straight people can often times get around this law, but gay people have a harder time. There are rules and stipulations that stand in the way of equality (ie: The Immigration and Nationality Act). I have to draw attention to a poignant quote in Leigh-Taylor Smith’s blog from an experience at Jerry Nadler's Congressional Gala. Jerry Nadler said, "We are allowed to disagree, but not to deny." How can one defend the ability for a man to marry a woman just to gain citizenship (as this DOES happen), yet two people in a committed relationship, perhaps who even foster children together, cannot be united…in the United States of America, that place where people go to receive rights and freedoms?

I was able to meet the Mayor of Newark, Cory Booker (who was predicted to perhaps be the first black president...oops – how about the second?) and his assistant Barry, as well as a few lawyers whom I thanked for their time and dedication, along with Rachel Tiven, the Executive Director of IE. Everyone was supportive of my quest and my platform and excited to have another public straight ally on their side. It was wonderful to see so many lawyers, yes, some gay, but many straight, in their black power suits defending what is right and equal.

Mark Jones, Drew Tagliabue, Exec. Director of PFLAG NYC, myself, Rachel Tiven, Exec. Director of IE

Monday, May 25, 2009

Red carpet?


I'm pretty much famous. haha. not. But it was fun to spend an evening with people who are! Tim Morehouse, Olympic Silver Medalist in Fencing, invited me to the premiere of Jessica Biel's new movie, "Easy Virtue." So in my birthday present (to myself) black skirt with pockets, we quickly walked the red carpet and enjoyed the 'subtle humor' in the movie. The after party was the fun part - Gramercy Park Hotel, dinner with Olivia from The City, had a few very attractive ... I mean... nice conversations :) with Ben Barnes, the lead actor from the movie, and briefly met Jessica Biel, and yes, JT. This was a great place to network though - I could end up with custom made earrings for my evening gown! Tim's fencing partner, Jason Rogers, met up with us as well as we met a few more fun people before the night came to a close. Tim told me a should celebrate my birthday every day of the week - well that was one way to kick it off!!

me, Ben Barnes, Tim Morehouse

Tim Morehouse, me, Jason Rogers

Saturday, May 23, 2009

AIDS Walk & = Broadway Impact Marriage Equality Rally =


What felt like 38 degrees, cloudy, windy, and spitting rain -- perfect weather for a 6.2 mile walk in NYC right? Well, we did it. Marina Montes, Miss Suffolk County, made the poor decision to wear shorts. But at least we walked! We were joined by my friends Carlie and Betsy from college, and although we missed her at the Apple store, Inga Schlingmann, Miss Manhattan, was also on the walk with her Americorps crew. The walk was....slow actually. We felt like a heard of cattle. But by a heard of cattle, I mean 45,000 people who came together to walk in honor of, memory of, and hope for people with HIV/AIDS. And in the midst of a recession, the 24th annual NYC AIDS Walk raised $5,603,409. (that's 5 million to clear up your "0" counting.) Pretty amazing.

Go home...warm up....nap a little....then off to...........

...the marriage equality rally in Times Square with my college/soon-to-be NY friends Carlie and Marcie. Now this was cool. The rally was organized by tons of organizations: Broadway Impact, Broadway Cares, Equity Fights AIDS, Human Rights Campaign, Empire State Pride Agenda, and more. Gavin Creel (<--marry me?) and the cast of HAIR put on an amazing show featuring "Aquarius" and "Let the Sunshine In."

Once again, we heard the support from Sen. Tom Duane, Assemblyman Danny O'Donnell, Governor Patterson, and this time also Mayor Bloomberg. Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City) announced her engagement to her partner Christine Marinoni with Kristen Davis there in support of her. More people spoke and sang, and it was just great - such positive energy in the middle of the streets of NYC. It was a rally, so of course some people had signs, but this is the one that jumped out at me. It is beautiful. Thank you, Warren.

Monday, May 18, 2009

100,000. That's why we're in schools.


Let's lay out some numbers for you. Hope you're not drinking water, because they may surprise you. The facts are that up to 10% of people are LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender). There are 1,000,000 (one million.) kids in NYC public schools. This means that in our public schools, there are up to 100,000 kids who are in a range from unknowing to struggling to confidently displaying their sexual orientation, and it's not the orientation this world deems "normal." So 100,000 kids. That is why we, PFLAG NYC, are in schools.

We go to schools and share our personal stories in order to challenge and charge these kids to be respectful and aware. After attracting the attention with the celebrities of the Stay Close Campaign, we ask for a show of hands for how many know someone who is LGBT - the entire class raises their hands. We ask to leave them up if someone in your family is gay - we still have a handful, in fact about 1/3 of the class, traditionally. For the demographic we are reaching, this is an intriguing number when you consider the machismo tradition of Latino culture, specifically. For many of these students, their homes are not accepting of different sexual orientations, so school is their outlet for expression or confidence. School should be a place where people feel safe; yet this is not always the case for LGBT youth in NY public schools. This is why I challenge the students to speak with dignity and respect, removing words like "gay" and "retarded" from their common slang or jokes. This use of derogatory vocabulary and jokes is horrible and can be affecting more people than they realize.

In my family, we were able to accept my sister Sarah's sexual orientation and we didn't have to back-pedal to think "Oh no, did I say something or make a joke that offended her?" This is what I challenge these kids to do: Speak with dignity so that in the surprisingly likely event that one of their friends will later come out to them, they don't have to do the back-pedaling and apologizing that so many people must. This is what being a true ally is all about: creating an inclusive environment that is respectful and safe for everyone. The bottom line is respect. Regardless of your opinion, I think we can all agree that all people deserve that.

I don't have photos from these events, just my memories of interesting trips to the Bronx in my heels. But here are some websites that you can learn more about our program. If you have a school or organization you would for us to visit, please contact me at and we will be glad to set up a visit.

PFLAG NYC Safe Schools Program

Tips for Professionals Who Work with Gay Youth

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Equality & Justice Day (it's a long one...)


Tuesday, April 28 4:30 am....alarm...... not happy. But I'll tell you what, it was totally worth it! At about 5:15am, I headed out of my apartment in order jump on the UWS bus with the Human Rights Campaign and head right back to Albany [where I had just been for Workshop for Miss New York] for Equality & Justice Day 2009 where we lobbied, rallied, learned and spoke to legislature about Marriage Equality, Dignity for All Students and Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) laws in the State of New York.

Upon arrival, I was thrown into my volunteer position at the information desk. Problem. I had no idea what was going on. I had never been to E&J day. But I smiled and pointed people in the best directions I knew! Governor Patterson welcomed the 2000 people in attendance (record number of pre-registrants) with this speech.

and proceeded to share and motivate ...

He spoke about our goals as a state. Yes, we want to change the law, but ultimately we must change the culture of NY society under the law. We must change how people treat each other. We need dignity and respect, and we need it now. Seriously awesome.

Senator Tom Duane, the first openly gay senator, has carried Marriage Equality, Dignity for All Students, and GENDA bills onto the senate floor. His motto throughout the day was IF. WHEN. NOW. "Marriage" is not IF, it's WHEN, and we demand it NOW. "Dignity." "GENDA." And to top it off, he joked (yet it's so true) about the fact that marriage equality would boost our economy!

Assemblyman Danny O'Donnell, sponsor of the Marriage Equality and Dignity bills in the Assembly, emphasized the separation of church and state. In confronting the issue that gay marriage invalidates "marriage," he talked about divorce. Heterosexuals are granted the ability to divorce multiple times, yet homosexuals aren't even given the chance to marry...once?

Assemblyman Richard Godfrey spoke of our inalienable rights as listed in the Constitution: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Happiness. "This is about humanity."

After the opening ceremony, we broke off into individual caucus meetings, legislative meetings and a peaceful rally in front of the statehouse. I have to admit, I'm not really a rally kinda gal. But this was wonderful. There were signs promoting equality that were supported by people of different races, religions, AND sexual orientations. There was such a strong straight ally support, of which I was incredibly proud to be a part. The rally was hosted by Alan Cummings (Tony Award Winning Actor) and featured multiple speakers, one of whom I will highlight in an effort to make this post short of repulsively long. Kate Hathaway is a PFLAG mom. She has a 3 children, a son who is gay, and a daughter you may know, Anne. Here's a quick clip of the letter that Anne wrote and Kate read on her behalf.

After the rally, I walked in the bathroom on my way to the PFLAG caucus. Who's there? Kate. Of course (I'm Jo Ellen Buffie's daughter), I say thank you for sharing her story and we have a great conversation in line about Anne, PFLAG, my story, her story, etc. and then the time came: 2 stalls open. You must know: I hate stall-chatting. You know, when people continue conversations in public restrooms?. Well, I gave it up; I stall-chatted with Kate Hathaway. It is so wonderful when people who have a voice, a recognition, yet nothing to gain, speak up. She and her husband were incredibly down to earth. I look forward to seeing them at UES PFLAG meetings and hopefully the PFLAG Gala in the fall where we hope to have Anne as well.

New York is moving forward, and I am so excited to have been a real part of it. I can truly say that I have made a difference on Capitol Hill in New York State. Here's a look at a bit of the day.

"YES. The storm is coming. But you better bet that when it clears, there is going to be a big ol' rainbow!"

Miss NY Class of 2009


Albany, here we come! Last week we had the kickoff weekend of Miss New York Orientation & Workshop in our new home of Albany, NY. I was finally able to meet all of the girls, and they are fantastic! It's going to be such a fun week at Miss NY this summer. After meetings at our hotel sponsor, the Crowne Plaza Albany where we will be staying in June, we headed just down the street to The Egg theatre. We worked with Kent Parham, our show choreographer, in walking classes as well as show rehearsals. Get ready -- Miss NY 2009: The Vision. It's going to be a good show! On Saturday evening, we joined Mayor Jennings of Albany at a reception as he welcomed us to his city. The NY Board of Directors, led by President Jill Williams, shared their excitement about this new relationship.

Sunday brought talent rehearsals in front of our reality panel including Kent, Kenny Mack (Show Producer), Kate Shindle (Broadway Actress/Miss America 1998) and the director of The Lion King, followed by more show choreography. (Reminds me...I might want to brush up on that!) We were fitted for our custom made swimsuits by Jodi Pelletier; they are smokin'. Kate Shindle spoke to us about interview and the importance of authenticity, something I respect more than anything. Leigh-Taylor took a minute to stress the fact that this is a job that we are all applying for. Miss NY is more than a crown and pretty dresses, it is honest, hard work. The preparation for Miss America has clearly changed her life. You have to be open and ready to receive and foster that change; I believe that I am.

HERE are a few more photos of the weekend.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Say cheese ... sassypants!


Every contestant needs a great photo, right? Yes. Here's the thing... I'm usually the one providing the photo, but this time I had a new role. I recently had my headshots taken by the Miss Jubilee [and Miss NY] sponsor, Joseph Moran. Side note: It's very odd to make a first impression with absolutely no makeup on and your hair just dry and limp, no product or anything. Upon my arrival, we discussed my previous photos, what I was looking for in my new headshots, and a few photos of the beautiful Katie Stam from Four Points Magazine for ideas, all while he and Rosa, the make up artist, studied my facial structure. It was intriguing to watch another [much more accomplished] professional work. Going for that truly natural look, Rosa did my makeup so beautifully; I looked like I had absolutely flawless skin [and we all know that's not true]. Couple outfit changes, including my evening gown from last year, and we finished up after 5 hours of work. Here are a few of the favs from the shoot. Funny thing is, one of the first things I told Joseph was that I didn't like non-smiling photos because I always feel soooo lame in them and usually just look tired or sad. ha .... ha ... look what we ended up with :)

A big thank you to Joseph for donating his time and amazing skills as well as Rosa for making me look and feel so beautiful!

Joseph Moran - Photographer -
Check it out! You'll even see Leigh-Taylor if you visit the Client Access page and wait a sec through the slideshow. Enjoy!

Rosa Domenica Fanelli - Makeup Artist - EMAIL