LETTER FROM NEW YORK : After criticism of his absence on NC travel ban, Sen. Hoylman documents his LGBT leadership


After Progress Queens reported that out-of-state LGBT officials had eclipsed out, gay State Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Chelsea) on leadership to enact economic boycotts against States passing anti-LGBT legislation, State Sen. Hoylman's private sector spokesperson declined to answer a series of questions submitted by Progress for this follow-up report. Therefore, it is not known what changed between 2015, when State Sen. Hoylman demonstrated a very visible role to enact a travel ban to Indiana to protest an anti-LGBT law in that State passed under the guise of "religious freedom," and 2016, when State Sen. Hoylman preferred to engage in "back-channel conversations" in respect of grassroots' demands for a travel ban to North Carolina to protest an anti-LGBT law in that State that would preclude local protections against LGBT discrimination.

In lieu of answers to the advance questions submitted by Progress Queens, Noah Gardy, State Sen. Hoylman's spokesperson, provided a plethora of documentation to Progress Queens evidencing State Sen. Hoylman's leadership on LGBT issues. The documentation included a link to a letter that State Sen. Hoylman sent to the North Carolina legislature following the passage of a bill, known as HB2, that would restore the possibility of discrimination against LGBT North Carolinians on the local level.

One of New York's leading advocates for LGBT civil rights, Pauline Park, told Progress Queens that in governance terms, the powers available to State Sen. Hoylman were largely symbolic in terms of exerting influence to counteract discriminatory laws in the State of North Carolina. Referring to State Sen. Hoylman's actual authorities, Ms. Park said, "There's not much he can do," adding that, "[Gov.] Andrew Cuomo has already instituted a travel ban for New York State employees." In March 2016, Gov. Cuomo instituted the travel ban to North Carolina by executive order.

Although Progress Queens had reported that some elected officials attempt to divorce issues about civil rights from economic policy, Ms. Park noted that State Sen. Hoylman had a history of suggesting that the LGBT Community Center should regulate the speech of the groups renting its meeting space and voting to allow New York State Government to identify anti-apartheid activists for a modern-day McCarthyite list that would preclude the activists from entering into any business relationships with New York State Government. Ms. Park laid blame for the larger hypocrisy to support economic sanctions against States, like Indiana and North Carolina, but not against the Nation of Israel, over violations of civil or human rights at the feet of Gov. Cuomo. One area where New York State has been been slow to enact LGBT civil rights has been the failure to pass the Gender Non-Discrimination Act, or GENDA, which would add gender identity and expression to the State's code of laws about human rights and hate crimes. Ms. Park blamed Gov. Cuomo for legislative failure on GENDA, because, she said, Gov. Cuomo could see to it that GENDA was passed if he "made it a priority, which he has not."

From LGBT activism, community groups have been formed and individuals have been inspired to run for elected office. Since autonomous grassroots activism has been on the wane, the business of the community has largely been being done by key nonprofit advocacy groups and by elected officials. Consequently, there is ongoing LGBT community discussion about the need for a dynamic tension between citizens, community groups, and elected officials to serve as a check on power. "We put a lot of our energy into getting 'a seat at the table' by electing out LGBT legislators and think our work is done when they win," wrote Andy Humm, another leader of New York's LGBT community, in a post published on the blog of the notable West Coast activist Michael Petrelis. Mr. Humm added that elected officials can play an important role within the larger movement for LGBT equality, but that it was up to the LGBT community to keep elected officials accountable for that role, writing of elected officials that, "They are in a position to bring diverse elements of the community to work together in coalition to get things done, but we have to insist that they do this." Mr. Humm was not interviewed for this report, but his published writings and observations were quote, because he is respected by many LGBT activists.

Despite the importance of community groups and electoral strategies to winning equal civil rights, some LGBT activists have cautioned against vesting all of the community's power in undemocratic community groups or in self-interested elected officials. Nonetheless, in the wake of the 2016 dissolution of a cornerstone, well-funded LGBT advocacy group, the Empire State Pride Agenda, or ESPA, there has been a hallow to state-wide advocacy in New York State, even if, at times, there was criticism of ESPA by grassroots activists and leaders, such as Ms. Park and Matt Foreman, including about the process by which ESPA decided to close.

The work by LGBT activists to keep community groups and elected officials accountable to the community means that, even if State Sen. Hoylman had taken a more aggressive stance on enacting economic boycotts on the State of North Carolina, LGBT activists would have acted to make sure that the power exerted by State Sen. Hoylman on behalf of the community was kept in check. That State Sen. Hoylman has, instead, cut back on his advocacy means that, under the dynamic tension philosophy of some LGBT community leaders, State Sen. Hoylman would still need to be held accountable for not doing more.

Because of New York's role in the movements for gay liberation, gay pride, and, later, for LGBT equality, actions by the leadership within New York's LGBT community can lead to progress for LGBT Americans across the nation. When gay men across the nation needed a revolution in public health to address HIV/AIDS in the 1980's, critical leadership emerged in New York that led to nation-wide progress in medical research and treatment. Therefore, when a notable out LGBT elected official, such as State Sen. Hoylman, voluntarily retreats from his leadership role, that withdrawal may deprive other areas in the nation of inspiration or action needed to affirm the community's dignity and equality.