It’s Up to Us
BY PAUL SCHINDLER | Seven anti-gay attacks in 16 days. One a shocking close- range shooting of Mark Carson in the face, resulting in the 32-year-old man’s death. The West Village, the East Village, Madison Square Garden, Union Square, and Soho.
If there is any consolation in all this, it would seem to be the willingness of the city’s elected leadership to step up to condemn the hatred, support the victims, and mourn Carson.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly spoke unsparingly of their outrage at the murder. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, an out lesbian and a leading mayoral contender, was the driving force behind a May 20 march in remembrance of Carson that drew an estimated 1,500 participants. All four of her Democratic mayoral rivals also joined the gathering.
The gay community in New York has enjoyed equal marriage rights for nearly two years. As Quinn’s strong position in the mayoral race attests, we are rapping on the doors of some of the highest political offices. In New York’s entertainment and business worlds, high profile gay men and lesbians are increasingly commonplace players.
And still the hatred continues. It’s always ugly, sometimes brutal, and on the most tragic occasions lethal. One hard truth about all this is that even among our closest allies — indeed, even within our own community — there is a reluctance to adopt the unwavering zero tolerance for bigotry that we should expect toward any form of prejudice.
If you doubt that, think about the pass accorded to determined homophobes like Brooklyn State Assemblyman Dov Hikind. Consider the exalted position the Roman Catholic Archdiocese continues to hold in New York’s civic life. And remember how often, even in this “liberal” town, religious-based objections to LGBT equality are rationalized as simply a competing civil liberties claim.
When gay marriage first headed for the floor of the Assembly in 2007, Hikind told Capital New York political reporter Azi Paybarah, “If we authorize gay marriage in the State of New York, those who want to live and love incestuously will be five steps closer to achieving their goals as well.” When the issue was on the cusp of victory four years later, Hikind cloaked this nonsense in his Orthodox Jewish beliefs, telling his colleagues during debate on the bill, “Maybe we take the Torah, God forbid, and throw it in the garbage.”
To Hikind, gay couples are outside of God’s law. They are the Other. Hikind’s attitudes toward LGBT people are profoundly dehumanizing.
How do his fellow elected officials respond to him? The reaction to another outrageous episode of Hikind’s is instructive in this regard — and also discouraging. Earlier this year, for a costume party to celebrate Purim, Hikind dressed in blackface. Any easy call, right? Well, not necessarily for “progressive” Bill de Blasio, who — incredibly — told Paybarah, “In all the time I’ve known Dov, I’ve never found him to be prejudiced against anyone.” Hikind endorsed de Blasio for city public advocate in 2009 and has bragged he got him elected to the City Council in 2001.
Bill Thompson is the only African American in the Democratic mayoral field. His reaction to Hikind’s blackface? “For years, Assemblyman Dov Hikind has played a crucial role in bringing together leaders from the African-American, Jewish, and other communities to stand against racism and anti-Semitism,” the former city comptroller said in a written release, which called on Hikind to apologize “consistent with his record of service and commitment to our diverse city.”
Quinn, for her part, was unambiguous in condemning Hikind, but the candidate who nailed the issue was dark-horse hopeful Sal Albanese, a former Brooklyn City Council member, who said, “I strongly condemn Assemblyman Hikind’s tasteless attempt at humor and suggest my opponents stop begging for his endorsement.”
If de Blasio and Thompson have at times turned a blind eye toward bigots — especially in the Brooklyn political backyard they share — Quinn has on occasion shown her own measure of indifference. She explained her appearance at a 2008 Yankee Stadium Mass led by Pope Benedict XVI — who in 1987, as Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, declared a homosexual orientation to be “intrinsically disordered” — by saying, “To get to take my father to the pope was an extraordinarily special thing.”
That particular excuse, however, was unavailable last year when she was asked by Gay City News about her attendance at Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s annual Al Smith Dinner. The event is often billed as a fundraiser for disadvantaged children, but in fact the Catholic Archdiocese spends the money as it sees fit. Asked about a 2011 beneficiary that is “a non-sectarian organization founded in 1974 offering positive alternatives to abortion,” the pro-choice speaker offered a cringe-inducing response, saying, “What’s wrong with that? Choice doesn’t mean we’re for one choice. Choice means we’re for an array of choices and women getting to decide for themselves.”
Dolan, of course, does not merely tangle with supporters of abortion rights. He is also a faithful prosecutor of the Church’s hostile policies toward the LGBT community. In an April blog post about the Church’s posture toward gays, the cardinal wrote that his parents welcomed anyone into his childhood home, so long as they remembered to “wash your hands.” A group of gay activists with dirty hands who attempted to enter St. Patrick’s Cathedral the following Sunday were met with determined NYPD resistance.
No issue better crystallizes the unwillingness of progressive politicians in New York to confront religious bigotry squarely than the ongoing legal battle over the Department of Education’s policy barring religious congregations from renting space in schools. Prior to that policy, at least 50 churches — perhaps many more — held services in the schools, and some of them denied membership to gay and lesbian New Yorkers or had a stated mission of converting homosexuals to a heterosexual life. One such exclusionary congregation, the Bronx Household of Faith, took the city to court.
This year’s crop of Democratic mayoral contenders have not acquitted themselves well on this issue. De Blasio told Gay City News, “I do not want to see New Yorkers lose the church families they’ve come to rely on and contribute to in so many ways.” Even while conceding there should be a “line between church and state,” he argued that “common sense and fairness dictate” that the congregations be allowed to return.
City Comptroller John Liu, another “progressive” in the mayor’s race, took a similar position when asked last year, though he has tried to back away from it since.
Quinn is substantively on the right side of this issue, but in an election year, she has lost her nerve to stand firm. In 2012, she blocked a vote on a Council resolution urging the State Legislature to strike down the Department of Education policy. But as Gay City News goes to press, the Council is expected to take up the very same resolution on May 22. Describing a committee hearing at which he took a drubbing from otherwise progressive colleagues outraged he was standing in the way of congregations reclaiming their place in the schools, out gay Councilman Daniel Dromm told me the resolution is a shoe-in.
Politicians will always have their reasons for wavering on principle. The need to name bigotry and call it out wherever it rears its head, however, is too important to leave to those willing to let their self-interest cut in line ahead of our right to dignity. Anti-gay rhetoric and glib dismissal of our basic humanity can no longer be countenanced — at any time or in any place. In this election year, we better wise up quick to the fact that the job is up to us.