By LOUIS FLORES
About 18 people showed up at Club Revolution, a nightclub in Jackson Heights, on Wednesday night for an event to register volunteers for the presidential campaign of former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Headlining the event were New York City Councilmembers Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) and James Vacca (D-Pelham Bay).
“When we needed an ally, to support us for the St. Pat’s For All Parade, Hillary Clinton, when she was the First Lady, came to the St. Pat’s For All Parade,” said Councilmember Dromm, referring to the St. Patrick’s Day parade that runs through Woodside. That parade was started in the spirit of inclusion and diversity, in contrast to the prominent Fifth Avenue St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the latter which, only very recently, began to allow LGBT participants.
Having also cited former First Lady Clinton’s 2000 appearance at the Gay Pride Parade, Councilmember Dromm added that, “Hillary has been a long-time friend of the community.”
Councilmember Vacca said that former First Lady Clinton would make a good president, because she would be ready on “Day One,” noting that, “She knows where the levers of government are.”
As Councilmember Vacca escalated his enthusiastic talk of supporting former First Lady Clinton, he announced that he would be serving as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention for the first time, adding that, “I’m voting for Hillary.”
Perhaps because former First Lady Clinton has the backing of establishment New York Democratic Party officials, her campaign is wanting for campaign volunteers to do grassroots work. An appeal was made for attendees to register for similar outreach events, for phone banking, and for street canvasing, like handing out literature. Prospective volunteers were asked to register for multiple events this week-end and for the following week-end.
A Clinton campaign organizer, who would only identify herself as Shelby, would not speak speak to a reporter about the evening’s event or about the Clinton campaign’s efforting in the last two weeks before the New York primary scheduled for April 19.
The holding of a Clinton LGBT outreach event in Queens comes as the LGBT community has been split about former First Lady Clinton’s record on LGBT civil rights. As reported by Progress Queens, former First Lady Clinton is recovering from making historically-revising comments about former First Lady Nancy Reagan’s record on HIV/AIDS advocacy. Prior to that, former First Lady Clinton courted controversy after she made other historically-revising comments about the rationale behind the Clinton administration’s passage of the Defense of Marriage Act and the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy enacted by administration directive during the administration of President Bill Clinton.
Against the backdrop of the larger struggle between the corporate and progressive wings of the Democratic Party, a similar conflict between the corporate and progressive wings of the LGBT community has been playing out in New York politics. The rift notably opened up during the 2013 Democratic Party mayoral primary, when LGBT activists questioned the progressive credentials of former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Chelsea), an out lesbian. Some LGBT activists even questioned former Speaker Quinn’s record on LGBT civil rights, noting that she had not supported same sex marriage until grassroots activists had formed a mass social movement for marriage equality, for example.
Like former First Lady Clinton, former Council Speaker Quinn had the support of establishment Democratic Party groups. Despite that support and despite having spent 15 years in the New York City Council, former Council Speaker Quinn lost the Democratic Party primary in 2013, with approximately 85 per cent. of Democratic primary voters casting their ballots against her.
A similar questioning is taking place in respect of former First Lady Clinton’s record on LGBT civil rights, and it comes at an inopportune time for the Clinton campaign, as polls show that her lead is narrowing in New York. These issues were noted to some degree in a report filed by Chris Johnson for The Washington Blade.
Speaking to Progress Queens about former First Lady Clinton’s record on LGBT issues, Pauline Park, a transgender rights activist whose work has been recognized outside the United States, noted that former First Lady Clinton supported the Defense of Marriage Act that her husband signed into law in 1996 and continued her opposition to same-sex marriage until 2013, when she began to position herself to run for president.*
Ms. Park, who did not attend the Clinton campaign event, revealed that when former First Lady Clinton was running to represent New York in the U.S. Senate in 2000 and was, therefore, making necessary entreaties to the LGBT community, former First Lady Clinton was asked if she would support the inclusion of transgender rights in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, draft legislation which, at that time then, would outlaw discrimination of employees based on sexual orientation. According to Ms. Park’s recounting, former First Lady Clinton responded that no one she knew in the LGBT community had ever asked her that before.
Ms. Park told Progress Queens that that answer seemed very similar to the response former First Lady Clinton made to Ashley Williams, the activist who interrupted a Clinton campaign fundraiser in South Carolina to demand that former First Lady Clinton account for her use of the term, “superpredator.” During that confrontation, former First Lady Clinton said defended her silence about her use of the controversial term, saying, in part, “Nobody’s ever asked me before.” Speaking of the similarity of former First Lady Clinton’s responses to difficult questions, Ms. Park said, “That’s the height of evasion.”
Even though Ms. Park noted that former First Lady Clinton had supported each of the Defense of Marriage Act and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Ms. Park was asked to explain how could key LGBT community groups still support former First Lady Clinton. Ms. Park said, “It’s a very sad fact that most LGBT Democratic clubs in the country eagerly seek inclusion in the political machines.”
At the Clinton campaign event at Club Evolution, before campaign-related announcements were made, attendees mingled along the bar. A majority of those attending were either elected officials, their staff members, or other political operatives. Few appeared to be political novices. When the attendees moved to the performance space of Club Evolution to hear the announcements, only two patrons remained in the bar area, signaling that perhaps the timing of the small event was not ideal.
Since most gay bars in Jackson Heights, like Club Evolution, attract gay Latino men, some of whom may not be documented, the Clinton campaign had either chosen a venue completely unaware of the community, or else the campaign was trying to recruit volunteers based on the Clinton campaign’s promise of immigration reform. Indeed, one woman, who represented a Bangladeshi group, informed a reporter that one of the reasons she supported former First Lady Clinton was because immigration was an important issue for her.
Michael Mallon, who is a staff member of Councilmember Dromm, was in attendance, but Mr. Mallon declined an interview request about the former First Lady Clinton’s record on LGBT civil rights. Besides being on Councilmmeber Dromm’s staff, Mr. Mallon also serves as president of the Lesbian & Gay Democratic Club of Queens, which has endorsed Former First Lady Clinton. Mr. Mallon is also a board member of the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City. From his City Council staff position, Mr. Mallon is able to influence key LGBT political clubs.
When a reporter approached Councilmember Vacca for an interview prior to the making of remarks, Mr. Mallon interrupted the reporter to whisk Councilmember Vacca away.
Also in attendance were politically prominent LGBT residents of Queens : Melissa Sklarz, Lynn Schulman, and Brendan Fay.
Like Mr. Mallon, Ms. Sklarz is currently a board member of the Stonewall Democratic Club, but she informed a reporter that she was attending the event as a “private citizen.” The Stonewall Democratic Club has already endorsed Mrs. Clinton for the New York primary.
Ms. Schulman is a former candidate for the New York City Council, and Mr. Fay is the founder of the St. Pat’s For All Parade.
When Mr. Fay was asked if he was supporting former First Lady Clinton for president, all he would say was, “I hope there will be a lot of critically-engaged conversations about progressive change,” adding that the LGBT community needed to develop “deeper coalitions” with other groups. Mr. Fay said that the cause he is taking up now is the fight against sickle cell anemia.
Other LGBT political clubs in New York City, such as the Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn and the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, have already announced their support for the Clinton campaign.
Despite former First Lady Clinton’s regressive record on supporting each of the mass incarceration of people of color, the Republican Welfare reform bill that predominantly impoverished women of color and their children, and the invasion of Iraq, Ms. Park, the LGBT activist, was asked why voters generally still supported former First Lady Clinton.
For lack of better words, Ms. Park invoked the term “party hack” to describe the loyal mentality of a Clinton supporter from the political operative class, saying that such an individual was only looking after his or her own self-interest in choosing to support former First Lady Clinton. Speaking generally of ordinary voters, Ms. Park said that they were probably mistaken about what they were supporting. This confusion was a result of the Democratic Party’s habit of fostering fear in the Republican boogeyman : that if an imperfect Democrat was not elected to office, then a worse Republican would win. Ms. Park said she wholly rejected that logical fallacy, but, in former First Lady Clinton’s case, such an argument didn’t especially hold water, because, “Hillary Clinton’s politics is Republican.”
For the New York primary, Ms. Park said, “While I have not yet endorsed Bernie Sanders, I intend to vote for him,” referring to the independent Vermont Senator, who is former First Lady Clinton’s primary challenger.
Beyond the immediacy of the presidential election, Ms. Park said that voters needed to begin to think outside of politics and outside of elections, because every four years, she said, political party leaders claimed that year’s election was the most important election ever, another scare tactic that Ms. Park said that she rejected, saying, “Is this election more important than 1860, 1864, 1932 ? I don’t even think it’s as important as 1980,” referring to historically-influential presidential elections that were won by Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan.
Speaking generally about government, Ms. Park alluded to the need for citizens to be informed and to find a way to bring about progressive policy changes. Speaking specifically about some members of the LGBT establishment, who are very involved in politics, Ms. Park expressed disappointment in the “corrupt party machine and the LGBT component,” saying of efforts by some LGBT leaders to recruit supporters for former First Lady Clinton : “Party hacks are coming out to shepherd the unsuspecting LGBT community into the fold.”
(*) CORRECTION : A passage was updated to reflect when former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton first announced her support for same-sex marriage.