By LOUIS FLORES
The failure of the New York State Senate to vote proposed legislation referred to as the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, or GENDA, out of committee last month was more than a reflection of an on-going frustration by progressives with Republican Party-controlled upper Legislative chamber. Had it passed, GENDA would have prohibited discrimination in various laws based on a person's gender identity or gender expression, and it would have added offenses made based on a person's gender identity or gender expression to the State's hate crime statute.
To some of the men, who were championing GENDA in Albany, the draft legislation's failure pointed to the anti-civil rights agenda of the Republican Party-controlled State Senate. "The Assembly has passed GENDA 10 times, including with bipartisan support. It is appalling the Senate Majority continues to stand in the way of basic protections many New Yorkers take for granted," said State Sen. Daniel Squadron (D-Brooklyn), according to a statement. Recently, it was noted that a cöalition named GENDA 2017 reportedly took the lead in pressing for GENDA's passage. The cöalition included an activist group named Equality New York, which was formed following the unwinding of the Empire State Pride Agenda, the former foremost State-wide LGBT advocacy group. Equality New York includes political operatives, such as Michael Mallon, the director of communications to New York City Councilmember Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), and members of prominent LGBT Democratic Party political clubs. Despite the inclusion of politically-savvy members, Equality New York has not publicly identified political challengers to State Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr. (D-The Bronx), or to State Sen. Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn), both of whom have strong anti-LGBT records, and both of whom voted against GENDA according to information about GENDA's legislative history posted online by the State Senate.
To one activist, Brooke Cerda Guzmán, the failure to pass GENDA in the upper legislative chamber was also a reflection of divisions within the broader LGBT community.
In a wide-ranging interview with Progress Queens, Ms. Cerda Guzmán criticized the fact that gay men were basically the visible face of the fight to pass GENDA in the New York State Senate, noting that State Sen. Squadron was GENDA's lead sponsor, and that State Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) had a public role in pressing for GENDA's passage. To Ms. Cerda Guzmán, the fact that men were fighting for trans civil rights exposed the powerless state of trans activists.
"Basically, our lives are in your hands," Ms. Cerda Guzmán said, referring to some of the prominent gay elected officials and LGBT agency heads, who were championing GENDA. "We don't have any property, we don't own anything, [and we don't have] any markers of power. So, we depend on you for anything basic, which is very frustrating."
Ms. Cerda Guzmán, a self-described community organiser and "herstorian," stars in videos she posts on her own YouTube channel, in which she provides social and political commentary about issues affecting the LGBT community. In the past, Ms. Cerda has expressed disappointment in cis gay leaders and on LGBT institutions for having failed to champion issues important to, or for having misappropriated the culture of, the trans community. In one recent, notable video, Ms. Cerda Guzmán said that gay men were oppressing her on social media.
A prolific volunteer for LGBT community groups, Ms. Cerda Guzmán enumerated a list of five major LGBT agencies for which she had been a volunteer. In retrospect, Ms. Cerda Guzmán said that, in her opinion, the LGBT civil rights agenda in New York is very "homocentric," adding that, "There's no room for any other agenda," such as a comprehensive agenda that included enacting trans civil rights or for respecting the minority cultures, such as those of LGBT Latin Americans.
Of five other major civil rights groups, which Ms. Cerda Guzmán named, she said that trans activists were "tokenised," noting that even as America had become a "slaughterhouse" for trans women, particularly for trans women of color, not even high trans murder rates has triggered a rebalancing in the LGBT civil rights agenda. "They're always talking about gay men," she said, deriding some leaders in the LGBT community as "gatekeepers," adding that many leaders are gay men, who "do most of the talking. What do they know about our experience ?"
Speaking generally about how she believed that the trans community are denied positions of power in New York, Ms. Cerda Guzmán said the evidence was obvious : "There are no trans women in power." Some of her disappointment with leaders of New York's LGBT groups was explained by the desires of career-minded "corporate climbers," who were trying to assimilate instead of uniting a truly inclusive LGBT cöalition for what could be described as a pursuit for political and economic justice. Of the New York City LGBT political élite, Ms. Cerda Guzmán said that, "They have to cover their bases. They are doing the bare minimum," noting that the trans community generally received attention for two, high-profile programs a year : Trans Day of Remembrance and typically one event during Pride Week, where, Ms. Cerda Guzmán said, the trans community are merely treated as photo ops, adding that she believes elected officials only seek to placate trans activists, referring to herself in the thoughts she imagines political leaders have, "There she is [at a City Hall event], so everything's O.K."
New York City's highest-profile LGBT official in the de Blasio administration is Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Emma Wolfe. An out lesbian, Ms. Wolfe is tasked with serving as the City's top liaison with Government bodies and agencies in Albany. From her unique position of political power within the LGBT community and her role in serving as Mayor de Blasio's enforcer on all matters Albany, it is not known what role Ms. Wolfe played in GENDA's defeat. Ms. Wolfe did not answer a request for an interview for this report. In the past, some LGBT civil rights activists have complained about Ms. Wolfe's refusal to outline a progressive agenda to defend and extend LGBT civil rights, according to information obtained by Progress Queens.
When the April legislative defeat of GENDA was noted in a report broadcast by the NY1 cable news network, the names of the State Senators, who voted down the legislation, were not even identified in the accompanying written report that was published online. In its FOIL litigation with the de Blasio administration, the NY1 cable news network has revealed that the de Blasio administration reportedly micromanages its media relations on sensitive subjects, particularly those, which may trigger political backlash. That same micromanaging is notably absent on issues important to the LGBT community, despite Ms. Wolfe's roles in the LGBT community and in Albany politics, unless the absence of an LGBT-specific media operation reflects the de Blasio administration's apparent complete abdication of LGBT issues, some LGBT activists have said.
After many Democrats voted down marriage equality legislation in 2009 in the New York State Senate, grassroots LGBT activists formed direct action groups and targeted obstinate State Senators. One such elected official, who was targeted, was then State Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Queens), who, after being the focus of a notorious zap by LGBT activists and after persuasion by LGBT allies, voted to successfully pass marriage equality legislation in 2011. At that time then, promises were made to oust from office other elected officials, who defended discrimination. Amongst those State Senators, who upset LGBT political groups, were State Sen. Diaz, Sr., and State Sen. Golden, both of whom have remained in office to continue to block passage of anti-discrimination laws. In those years then, as in the present, the promises of mainstream LGBT activist groups have remained the same : "Next year, we will challenge State Sen. Golden," according to information obtained by Progress Queens. Yet, State Sen. Diaz, Sr., and State Sen. Golden remain in elected office, despite those promises.
To Ms. Cerda Guzmán, these perennial promises of "next year" in the wake of legislative failures have begun to ring hallow. When asked why she thought LGBT political clubs have refused to pressure, for example, Brooklyn Democratic County Committee chair Frank Seddio to run a strong candidate against State Sen. Golden, Ms. Cerda Guzmán said that she was not aware of specifics, but she could speak generally, speculating that, "It sounds like that has all the trademarks of making deals and compromising," which, to Ms. Cerda Guzmán, was indefensible, adding, "With huge numbers of gay politicians that are out, why are you still compromising ?"
The failure to codify trans civil rights in New York is the legacy of past political compromises made by LGBT advocacy organisations, which sought to situationally advance some LGBT civil rights protections at the expense of trans civil rights protections, the latter, which were, at that time then, politically unpalatable to conservative elected officials, conditions that still exists in New York State today. According to information obtained by Progress Queens, the lack of will by New York City's LGBT political clubs to pressure the Brooklyn Democratic County Committee to recruit a strong challenger to State Sen. Golden is explained, in part, by a desire of LGBT political clubs to enable GOP control of the State Senate, in deference to the wishes of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-New York), a noted neoliberal Democrat.
Requests made over the week-end for an interview with one LGBT political club, the Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn, were not answered. An interview request made to a Manhattan LGBT political club was turned down.
At one point during the wide-ranging interview, Ms. Cerda Guzmán said that the object of the LGBT community has changed. "I have not heard anybody say liberation," adding that the gay men, who primarily act as leaders of the LGBT community, only want the privilege of wealth, and they don't care about ethics or the fact that gay men have become oppressors of the trans community. "There's a lot of élitism in the LGBT community, but there's no money for us," Ms. Cerda Guzmán said, noting how the playground of New York's gay élite remains Fire Island, an expensive enclave. There are economic resources for opulence in New York's wealthy gay and lesbian community, but not resources to finish the fight for political and economic justice for the trans community, Ms. Cerda Guzmán said. Ms. Cerda Guzmán made a demand that elected LGBT officials create fellowships in politics for the trans community. As context for her demand, Ms. Cerda Guzmán noted how, "None of the bills introduced by gay politicians are moving," calling for a reassessment of the LGBT political agenda in the face of failure. Leaders of New York City's LGBT community were using "the same formula" : doing the same thing every year, each time expecting a different result, which Ms. Cerda Guzmán described as the "definition of insanity."