Lucky 13: A Baker’s Dozen Things to Watch For in the Year Ahead
BY PAUL SCHINDLER | 1. New York Could Elect Its First Openly Lesbian or Gay Mayor
Christine Quinn, who has represented Greenwich Village, Chelsea, and Hell’s Kitchen since early 1999, has made skilled use of her perch as City Council speaker since 2006 to raise her citywide profile. She leads the Democratic pack in early polling in the mayor’s race, but the advantage of her daily visibility may diminish as the race accelerates.
Quinn, of course, enjoys a deep reservoir of affection among LGBT voters, as evidenced by the enthusiastic response she receives over and over again at community events. It’s worth noting, though, that those events tend to draw insider-y crowds, and the speaker is not without critics among queer New Yorkers; in fact, she often faces LGBT picketers at public appearances.
The criticism she draws is the flip side of her visibility — both are products of her close relationship with Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Expect her Democratic rivals, who have their own bona fides on LGBT issues, to play on progressive impatience with some parts of the Bloomberg legacy. And also with lingering resentment over the critical role Quinn played in allowing him a third term — and giving herself four more years to build her public profile.
The speaker is aware of the risks she faces from defections by progressive voters. She successfully surmounted one challenge from labor when she negotiated a compromise on living wage legislation to require contractors receiving city tax breaks or subsidies to meet at least a baseline level of employee compensation and benefits. Two other major challenges still facing her are demands for paid sick leave legislation covering most private employers and measures aimed at making the NYPD accountable for its stop and frisk policies. Advocates seem upbeat on police reform measures pending before the Council, but the speaker has so far shown no sign she will move paid sick leave legislation — an issue that could spark harsh criticism from labor leaders.
Whoever wins the Democratic mayoral primary — which will take place either in June or in September — could face a spirited contest with a Republican. It’s certainly plausible that either Joe Lhota, who ran the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for the past year and served former Mayor Rudy Giuliani as a top deputy, or billionaire John Catsimatidis, who built his fortune as owner of Gristedes and Red Apple supermarkets, could mount a credible run at the job.
2. A Spirited, Two-Candidate Fight to Succeed Quinn on the Council
Given the storied political tradition of Greenwich Village, one might expect that the end of a 14-year tenure in the Third City Council District would set off a political free-for-all among many contenders. Instead, barring the jolt of an unexpected entry into the race, it seems to be playing out as a contest between two candidates who have worked hard in recent years to establish their own visibility in New York politics.
Civil rights attorney Yetta Kurland, in 2009, mounted what some viewed as an audacious challenge to a sitting Council speaker when she ran against Quinn in the Democratic primary. Garnering a third of the vote in a three-person race, she succeed in keeping Quinn’s share to just over half, a humbling performance for the speaker given the usual pattern of incumbents reliably being returned to the Council year in and year out. Since her last run, Kurland has stayed in the public eye — fighting the closure of St. Vincent’s hospital, defending the rights of Occupy Wall Street protesters to stay in Zuccotti Park, and organizing Superstorm Sandy relief efforts, all the while doing a weekly radio show.
Corey Johnson has also hustled to build a political profile. A member of Community Board 4, which serves Chelsea and Hells Kitchen, since 2005, he became its chair in 2011. The community board route, linked as it is to the City Council and the Borough President’s Office, offers a contrasting path to Kurland’s, which has more often been that of a citizen outsider demanding change from institutional players. Johnson, to be sure, has not always eschewed his own outsider role, twice, for example, publicly confronting now-jailed ex-State Senator Carl Kruger for voting against marriage equality while refusing to acknowledge his own homosexuality. Even as a grassroots activist, though, Johnson has won over gay community establishment figures, as evidenced by endorsements from heavy hitters locally and across the nation.
Johnson and Kurland will duke this one out to the end.
3. Will New York, at Long Last, Enact Transgender Civil Rights Protections?
More than a decade after New York State’s gay rights law was enacted, the transgender community still does not enjoy basic civil rights protections in law, but with marriage equality, a hate crimes statute, and a school anti-bullying law in place, the Empire State Pride Agenda has made passage of GENDA, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, its top priority.
Passed repeatedly in recent years by the heavily Democratic Assembly, GENDA has never received a floor vote in the Senate. LGBT advances in Albany have always been bipartisan — at least to some degree — and gay marriage, gay rights, and hate crimes legislation all advanced in Republican-controlled Senates. Still, Republicans have not shown any public enthusiasm about transgender rights. In 2010, under Democratic control, the Judiciary Committee was expected to advance the measure to the floor for a vote after a brief discussion — a plan thwarted when every GOP committee member, several of whom had privately voiced support, joined with Bronx Democrat Ruben Diaz, Sr., an implacable foe of LGBT rights, in tabling the bill.
All things being equal — though, in Albany, they never are — advocates see a Democratic majority as far more likely to advance an LGBT rights measure, but Democrats will not control Senate this year. They captured 32 seats in November, while the Republicans won, for certain, only 30, with the 63rd seat also likely to go to them. But immediately after winning his first Senate run, Brooklyn’s Simcha Felder, also hostile to gay rights, announced he would caucus with the GOP. Another five Democrats also decided to support Majority Leader Dean Skelos for reelection. Though those five, especially Staten Island’s Diane Savino, are LGBT rights supporters, in a recent meeting with LGBT activists Matthew McMorrow and Melissa Sklarz, Savino indicated no assurances on a GENDA vote had yet been discussed with Skelos, McMorrow, co-president of Brooklyn’s Lambda Independent Democrats, told Gay City News.
So, as with marriage, gay rights, and hate crimes, advocates face the challenge of winning on GENDA in the face of a party not generally friendly to that cause.
4. The federal Defense of Marriage Act Goes Before the US Supreme Court
The Supreme Court has agreed to review a New York-based Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruling striking down DOMA’s ban on federal recognition of otherwise valid same-sex marriages. The case involves the claim by Edie Windsor — who lost her spouse Thea Speyer in 2009, two years after their marriage in Toronto — that an inheritance tax of more than $360,000 (which would not be owed if her late spouse were a man) violated her equal protection rights.
The high court signaled it may yet decide that the Republicans in the House of Representatives — defending DOMA given the Obama administration’s refusal to do so — do not have the legal standing to defend the law (and that the Justice Department also lacks standing since, while seeking review, it is not arguing on its behalf). In that event, Windsor would prevail and a precedent might be established in the states within the Second Circuit, but the issue of DOMA’s constitutionality would remain unresolved nationwide.
If the case is judged on the merits, the Supreme Court will decide whether this law treating gay people differently is subject to heightened scrutiny — under which the government must show a compelling public purpose unachievable without it — or to the more typical “rational basis” review, where the government need merely rebut the plaintiffs’ claim there is no reasonable argument for the discrimination. In the Windsor case, the Second Circuit found that her claim merited heightened scrutiny, but the First Circuit, hearing a suit from same-sex couples who married in Massachusetts, struck down DOMA even applying the more lenient rational basis standard.
The court is also likely to examine the federalism issue as it was raised by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts — in an accompanying First Circuit suit — that DOMA forces that state to discriminate against same-sex married couples in certain joint federal-state programs in contravention of its own laws. Federalism arguments typically find favor among conservative judges.
Constitutional scholars contacted by Gay City News, including the newspaper’s own legal correspondent, New York Law School Professor Arthur S. Leonard, voiced cautious optimism that DOMA could fail before the high court. A verdict on merits would come by June.
5. California’s Proposition 8 Goes Before the US Supreme Court
The 2008 voter referendum that stripped same-sex couples of the right to marry recognized earlier that year by the California Supreme Court finally makes it to the high court in Washington in March. As with DOMA, there is a question of standing — one likely to be more difficult to sort out. The State of California has not defended DOMA in federal court — that has been left to a group known as the referendum’s Official Proponents. The Supreme Court must first decide whether they have the legal right to bring an appeal in the case. If they don’t, the plaintiffs would win by default, restoring marriage equality in California.
If Prop 8 is heard on the merits, the high court could consider the narrow Ninth Circuit decision that struck the referendum down on the grounds that California had no legitimate non-discriminatory basis for depriving gay and lesbian couples of a right they already enjoyed. The original district court decision by was more sweeping — finding that gay people have a right to marry under the US Constitution’s equal protection and due process provisions — a finding that would give marriage rights to all same-sex couples in the US if affirmed.
Many observers believe the high court will decide the case using the narrower frame — and may allow a ruling that applies only to California to stand. Should the Supreme Court take on the bigger question, there is far less comfort that the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which brought the case, bet correctly on delivering five justices prepared to say such a constitutional right exists.
6. A Prospective Executive Order on Federal Contractors
House Speaker John Boehner has no interest in moving the decades-stalled Employment Non-Discrimination Act providing job protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Advocates in the past several years have instead pushed President Barack Obama to issue an executive order requiring businesses with federal government contracts to comply with nondiscrimination regulations. When the White House last spring said the administration was not moving forward on such an order, some advocates, particularly Tico Almeida from the Freedom to Work Advocacy Fund, were harshly critical. Almeida, though, agrees with the assessment of other advocates like Mara Keisling, leader of the National Center for Transgender Equality, who believe that with reelection behind him, Obama will act this year. Support for administration action has become the consensus position among congressional Democrats — due, no doubt, in no small measure to the fact that they lack the power to get the job done themselves.
7. A Real Opportunity for LGBT-Inclusive Immigration Reform
Meaningful reform of the nation’s immigration system has been stalled since President George W. Bush’s second term. After the Republicans’ abysmal performance with Latino voters last year, however, advocates hope both parties in Congress may now be willing to act.
After the election, the Hispanic Congressional Caucus, in announcing principles guiding its reform push, called for legislation that “protects the unity and sanctity of the family, including the families of bi-national, same-sex couples.” According to Immigration Equality, which advocates on behalf of LGBT and HIV-affected individuals, 36,000 couples are impacted by the inability of Americans to sponsor a same-sex partner or spouse for US residency. DOMA’s demise would enable couples who marry in states where it is legal to protect an immigrant spouse, but those who live elsewhere would still face obstacles to staying together. Even though the Obama administration already includes LGBT families under the definition of “family” when applying “prosecutorial discretion” to focus deportation efforts instead on criminals and security threats, nobody believes there is any adequate substitute for permanent statutory reform.
8. Will Republicans on the National Stage Step Up for Equality?
When marriage equality passed in the New York State Senate, four Republicans joined 29 Democrats in pushing the measure over the top. In fact, the bill only got a vote because the GOP majority allowed it to advance to the floor, something those in control of either the Senate or Assembly in Albany rarely do when their side opposes legislation. When marriage equality opponents attempted to repeal New Hampshire’s marriage law after Republicans gained overwhelming control of the Legislature there, the effort didn’t even gain majority support, never mind the amount needed to override a certain veto by Democratic Governor John Lynch.
Republican politicians and their families off the public stage — like former Vice President Dick Cheney and Laura Bush and her daughter Barbara — have come forward in support of marriage equality, and even Newt Gingrich recently signaled he could live with it
DOMA’s original sponsor, former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr, long ago recanted that law. Even major donors to right-wing politicians — hedge fund manager Paul Singer and billionaire industrialist David Koch, among them — have funneled big bucks into the marriage equality cause. And, of course, the Republicans’ favorite Supreme Court litigator, Theodore Olson, has for nearly four years been one of two lead attorneys on the challenge to Prop 8.
So where are the GOP officeholders in Washington? The threat of Tea Party primary challenges seems to spook nearly all Republicans in DC — and the recent experience of two GOP state senators in New York who supported marriage equality being defeated and a third choosing not to contest his primary likely is not helpful in changing their minds. Still, an upstate New York Republican, Richard Hanna from the Utica area, recently became one of several GOP House members who have moved on gay rights, throwing his support to Manhattan Democrat Jerrold Nadler’s bill to repeal DOMA, which previously enjoyed the support of only one Republican — Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of South Florida.
Hanna has also signed on to another of Nadler’s bills — the Uniting American Families Act, which aims to correct the immigration inequality facing same-sex partners. UAFA formerly had the support of only one Republican — Senator Susan Collins of Maine. Like Hanna, Charlie Dent, an Allentown, Pennsylvania Republican, now co-sponsors UAFA. The Log Cabin Republicans also trumpeted the recent endorsement for DOMA repeal by Congressman Charlie Bass. The New Hampshire Republican, however, lost his reelection bid in November. The challenge facing LCR and the LGBT community at large is to prevail on Republicans in Washington to step up while still in office.
9. Films the LGBT Community Will Talk About
Chris Colfer, the out gay star of “Glee,” writes and stars in “Struck By Lightning,” a high school comedy-drama about an ambitious teen who blackmails his fellow students — including a pair of secret gay lovers — into writing for his literary magazine. (Jan. 11 release)
“Yossi” is the sequel to “Yossi and Jagger,” a heartbreaking 2002 Israeli film about a pair of soldiers secretly in love. Yossi is now a cardiologist who comes to terms with himself — and may even find a new lover. (Jan. 25)
Filmmaker and frequent Warhol collaborator Paul Morrissey appears at a Film Forum Q&A after the Jan. 26 5:30 p.m. screening of “Trash.” “Women in Revolt” is also on that day’s program. And check out “Scorpio Rising” and “My Hustler” along with “The Queen” on Jan. 25.
“Koch,” a documentary on the former New York mayor, scorned for his early inaction on AIDS and his resolute refusal to come out, is searching in its examination of his life, but will not put to rest every question. (Feb. 1)
Out filmmaker Su Friedrich’s documentary “Gut Renovation” shows how Williamsburg, once a haven for artists, has become unaffordable thanks to gentrification. (Mar. 6)
Lesbian filmmaker Kimberly Peirce (“Boys Don’t Cry”) remakes “Carrie,” the classic horror film based on Stephen King’s novel, starring queer favorite Julianne Moore in the juicy role of the mom from Hell. (Mar. 15)
The third film by young, gay Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan, “Laurence Anyways,” concerns the title character (Melvin Poupaud) telling his girlfriend he would like to live as a woman. (Spring)
Joao Pedro Rodrigues, one of the world’s most talented gay filmmakers, gets an American release for “The Last Time I Saw Macao,” an adventure in discovering a city and one’s one childhood memories. (Summer)
“300: Rise of an Empire” is a prequel to 2007’s “300.” Buff, beefy, and nearly naked gladiators will fight about something, but it’s all Greek to us. Hunky Brazilian Rodrigo Santoro, who camped it up in the first film, returns — and that may be enough. (Aug. 2)
“Elysium” is Neil Blomkamp’s new sci-fi flick about immigration and class differences on the title space station, and it sounds like a knock off of his “District 9.” But because it stars Jodie Foster, we’re interested. (Aug. 9)
The astonishing out gay Cannes-winning Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul (“Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” and “Tropical Malady”) returns with “Meekong Hotel,” an exploration of moviemaking that mixes drama and documentary. (Release TBA)
10. Upcoming on the Stage
“Kinky Boots,” a musical based on the 2005 British film of the same title, has a score by Cyndi Lauper, a book by Harvey Fierstein, is directed by Jerry Mitchell, and stars Billy Porter and Stark Sands. Forced to step in to save his family’s shoe factory, Charlie Price gets help from the unlikeliest angel — Lola, a fabulous drag performer. (Al Hirschfeld Theatre; previews Mar. 5; opens Apr. 4)
Douglas Carter Beane’s “The Nance,” stars Nathan Lane stars as Chauncey Miles, a burlesque performer who plays the stock stereotypically camp homosexual character on stage, even as he navigates the dangerous underground gay world of 1930s New York. Jack O’Brien directs. (Lyceum Theatre; previews Mar. 21; opens Apr. 15)
“Far From Heaven” is Richard Greenberg, Scott Frankel, and Michael Korie’s musical based on the Todd Haynes film about a woman and her closeted gay husband in 1957 suburban Connecticut. Michael Greif directs. (Playwrights Horizons Mainstage Theater; previews May 18)
“Hit the Wall” is Ike Holter’s rock-infused drama about the birth of the gay rights movement at the Stonewall Inn. (Barrow Street Theater; previews mid-Feb.; opens Mar.)
“Breakfast At Tiffany’s” is Richard Greenberg adaptation of the Truman Capote novella. Set in 1943 New York, we revisit good time girl Holly Golightly (Emilia Clarke) and hope that her friend Fred (Cory Michael Smith), a young “writer” from Louisiana, will not be the gigolo to older women he was in the film adaption, but rather the homosexual of Capote’s original intent. Sean Mathias directs. (Cort Theatre; previews Mar. 4; opens Mar. 20)
11. Fiction You May Want to Keep an Eye Out For
In Alex Espinoza’s “The Five Acts of Diego Leon: A Novel,” a young man, escaped from his war-torn home in Mexico, finally arrives in Hollywood in 1927, when “Latin lover” types were sought out — and looked down on — both in front of and behind the camera.
Angelina Anderson’s “Bright Like Neon” is the story of Jody Louden, a 17-year-old aspiring roller derby star experiencing her first crush on a girl — the DJ at the roller rink. When a classmate goes missing, Jody and her friends are forced to reckon with adulthood sooner than they hoped.
Man Booker-shortlisted author Philip Hensher has now released his novel “Scenes from Early Life” in the US. It’s the story one family and a nation — Bangladesh — narrated by a young boy born into a brutal civil war.
“Astray” is full of fascinating characters who roam through Emma Donoghue’s stories — emigrants, runaways, drifters, lovers old and new — all of whom have gone astray. From Puritan Massachusetts to a Toronto highway, Donoghue lights up four centuries of wanderings.
Manil Suri’s “The City of Devi,” set in a Mumbai emptied under the threat of nuclear annihilation, follows Sarita, a 33-year-old statistician, as she searches for her lost physicist husband, Karun, accompanied by Jaz, nominally a Muslim, but whose true religion has always been sex with other men.
“Tongue in Cheek” is a collection of JC Etheredge’s sexy, funny, charming, and outright provocative drawings that fill the book with absurd situations, hilarious anecdotes, and romantic dreams.
Lesbian comedian Kelli Dunham’s “Freak of Nurture,” is a collection of serio-comic essays.
12. Nonfiction Reading on the Way
In “White Girls,” Hilton Als examines an expansive category of public figures that, for him, includes Truman Capote, Louise Brooks, Malcolm X, and Flannery O’Connor. In the process, we learn a lot about Als.
In “Scotch Verdict: The Real-Life Story That Inspired ‘The Children’s Hour,’” Lillian Faderman examines, with impressive original research, an early 19th century case in which a Scottish girl accused her school mistress of having an affair with another woman. The book has a lot to say about how class and gender have historically marginalized women.
“Calling Dr. Laura: A Graphic Memoir” is Nicole Georges’ account of what happens to you when you are raised in a family of secrets, and what happens to your brain — and heart — when you learn the truth from an unlikely source.
“The Best-Kept Boy in the World” is Arthur Vanderbilt’s biography of Denham (Denny) Fouts (1914-1948), the 20th century’s most famous male prostitute — a boy who grew from humble Florida origins to enchant gay social lions including Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, Christopher Isherwood, and Somerset Maugham.
“L Is for Lion: An Italian Bronx Butch Freedom Memoir,” is Annie Rachele Lanzillotto’s story of becoming a poet, a lyricist and vocalist, a solo theater artist at the Actors’ Theatre of Louisville, and a teacher in theater outreach at Sarah Lawrence College.
B. Ruby Rich, who branded a new film genre, the New Queer Cinema, in a 1992 Village Voice article, presents her new thoughts on the topic in “New Queer Cinema: The Director’s Cut.”
13. Festivals to Look Out For — In a Good Way, Of Course
Tribeca Film Festival, Apr.17-28; tribecafilm.com
Human Rights Watch Film Festival, Jun. 13-23, Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center & IFC Center, 323 Sixth Ave. at W. Third St.; hrw.org
Fresh Fruit Festival of LGBTQ Arts & Culture, Jul. 8-21, The Wild Project, 193 E. Third St., near Ave. B.; freshfruitfestival.com
The New York International Fringe Festival, Aug. 9-25; fringenyc.org