Civil Rights
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The Topic
Civil rights refers to the basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled, and to the laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, creed, gender, age, sexual orientation, and many other criteria.
The Context
New York is the most diverse city on the planet, home to people of every race, nationality, language group, religion, sex, and sexual orientation, and to some of the world's premiere human rights groups. There have been intense intergroup conflicts throughout the city's history, from the Draft Riots of 1863 to the Crown Heights riots of 1992. But more amazing is how well such varied peoples have gotten along for hundreds of years.

Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia created a Committee on Unity after some race riots in 1943, in order "to make New York City a place where people of all races and religions may work and live side by side in harmony and have mutual respect for each other, and where democracy is a living reality." Eventually, the city and state governments passed laws against discrimination and established agencies to enforce them.

The Reporter
Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly Gay USA on Channel 35 on Thursdays at 11 PM.
The Archives
See past monthly updates for Civil Rights.

by Andy Humm

Gay Scapegoating; Also, Transgender Rights Bill Passes

From the most visible pulpit in New York, St. Patrick's Cathedral, Monsignor Eugene Clark, late last month called gay people "disordered," blamed homosexuality for the current crisis over sexually abusing priests, and called it a "grave mistake" to have ever admitted gay men to the priesthood.

Some saw Clark's anti-gay remarks as the latest attempt of church officials in several dioceses around the country to shift the blame for the crisis from themselves and the abusers who they often protected. A week after his remarks, the sidewalk outside the cathedral was the scene of a protest by some 100 demonstrators

"Gay men are not disordered," said Richard Haymes, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, "What's disordered is the cover-up by the church hierarchy. These are criminal acts."

Clark's choice of words harkens back to an October 1986 Vatican document on homosexuality that not only condemned sexual relations between people of the same sex, but also stated that "the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder." This papal pronouncement was issued at the urging of New York's Cardinal John O'Connor who often did battle with the gay community, including over the City Council bill that passed earlier that year banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Using this kind of inflammatory language against gay people has some civil rights leaders calling for sanctions against the archdiocese. Dennis de Leon, the former City Commissioner for Human Rights (now director of the Latino Commission on AIDS), said that the statements of Clark and some bishops were an attack on "putting gay people in an environment working with children." De Leon demanded that "the church assume responsibility for future discrimination based on sexual orientation."

Councilmember Christine Quinn said, "The church needs to admit its wrongdoing and to get help to solve its problem. It needs to apologize to the gay community." She noted that Council Speaker Gifford Miller would be meeting with Cardinal Edward Egan soon and that Miller intended to raise this issue with him. Depending on Egan's response, Quinn said she would consider bringing a resolution in the Council on the matter. She is "disgusted" that more civil rights leaders have not spoken out against Clark's anti-gay remarks.

The Archdiocese of New York through its hospitals and social services receives hundreds of millions of government dollars. When the Rev. Louis Farrakhan made anti-Jewish remarks some years ago, his Nation of Islam lost some government contracts providing housing security in Brooklyn. Longtime gay activist Allen Roskoff thinks the same standard should apply to the archdiocese. "The church's promotion of bigotry is unacceptable," he said, "and hatred should never be subsidized."

Some Catholics are taking matters into their own hands and not waiting for the government to move against the church. "As a Catholic, I'm not going to support the church with another penny until they apologize and straighten out their position on homosexuality," said Richard Klinsky, at the protest outside the cathedral. "My wife and I are not giving to collections, but I will give to the missions. If more people cut off their contributions, the church will listen."

Haymes of the Anti-Violence Project said that if a daycare agency or school had been the site of as much child abuse as has been reported in the Catholic priesthood, politicians and district attorneys would be falling all over themselves to shut them down. "This is the largest abuse of the separation of church and state ever," he said. "They've put themselves above the law."

Cardinal Egan has not commented on Monsignor Clark's sermon against gay people, but neither has he condemned it.

Queens gay activist Ed Sedarbaum was of two minds. "The archdiocese never should have gotten public funds in the first place," he said "No religious groups should." But then he praised the work of Catholic Charities, which is the social service arm of the Archdiocese of New York. The question for these tax-subsidized church groups is, Should people their religion considers "disordered" be expected to seek services from them?

"Why isn't there a mass uprising?" said Rev. Pat Bumgardner, pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of New York, serving mostly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered parishioners. "Why are we taking it?" As the rhetoric against gay people from Catholic leaders heats up, she worries "about our right to exist."

Transgender Rights Bill Passes Council

The human rights law of the city was amended to expand the definition of gender -- already a protected category -- to include a person's "gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior or expression, whether or not that gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior or expression is different from that traditionally associated with the legal sex assigned to that person at birth."

The human rights law protects New Yorkers from bias in jobs, housing, and public accommodations. "Too many of our brothers and sisters are forced to live on the streets," said Bali White of the New York TransGender Coalition. "Too many are dying."

No one testified against the bill, Intro 24, before the General Welfare Committee led by Councilmember Bill Di Blasio on April 23, while gay and transgendered leaders spoke of the decades of abuse of gender variant people, sometimes at the hands of police and city services. The bill passed 7-1, with only Republican Councilmember Dennis Gallagher dissented. The next day, the full Council voted 45-5 to pass the bill. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he will sign it.

Among those testifying for the bill were the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy, the Empire State Pride Agenda, and the Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project.

Councilmember Bill Perkins , a prime sponsor of the legislation, told the transgendered people on hand that the new law "dignifies your humanity and will empower you to continue your struggle."

Councilmember Christine Quinn marveled how the bill passed with "no people here calling you horrible names or blaming you for the end of the world" as was common two and three decades ago at hearings on the lesbian and gay rights bill.

Recommended Links:

  • New York City Commission on Human Rights - 40 Rector Street, New York, NY 10006; (212) 306-7500 The Commission enforces the City's Human Rights Law which prohibits discrimination based on race, creed, color, age, national origin, alienage orcitizenship status, gender (including sexual harassment), sexual orientation, status as a victim of domestic violence, disability (including HIV/AIDS relatedconditions), lawful occupation, arrest or conviction record, marital status, family status, and retaliation. The Law prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations, as well as bias-related harassment.
  • New York State Division of Human Rights - One Fordham Plaza, 4th Floor, Bronx, New York 10458; (718) 741-8400 The State Division of Human Rights serves as an alternative to the court system for resolving discrimination claims--in employment, in places of public accommodation, resort or amusement, in educational institutions, in commercial space and in credit transactions and to take other actions against discrimination. The agency is responsible for developing civil rights legislation and policy for the State of New York, and for promoting awaren essof civil rights issues and remedies.
  • American Civil Liberties Union - 125 Broad St., New York, NY 10004 "The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is our nation's guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States."
  • Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund - 99 Hudson Street, 12th floor, New York, NY 10013; (212) 966-5932 is "the first organization on the east coast to defend and promote the legal rights of Asian Americans through litigation, legal advocacy, community education, leadership development and the position of free legal assistance to low-income and immigrant Asian Americans."
  • Human Rights Watch - 350 Fifth Avenue, 34th floor, New York, NY 10118-3299 USA; (212) 290-4700 "Human Rights Watch is dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world. We stand with victims and activists to prevent discrimination, to uphold political freedom, to protect people from inhumane conduct in wartime, and to bring offenders to justice."
  • Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund - 120 Wall Street, Suite 1500, New York, NY 10005-3904; (212) 809-8585 The nation's oldest and largest legal organization working for the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV/AIDS.
  • NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund - 99 Hudson St., New York, NY 10013; (212) 219-1900 "Committed to staying on the cutting edge of the movement for racial justice."
  • National Organization for Women/NYC - 150 W. 28th St., #304, New York, NY 10001; (212) 627-9895 NOW/NYC "works towards equality for women with a focus on several key issues: battling racism and violence against women, guaranteeing reproductive rights, advocating lesbian and bisexual rights, fighting for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, and generally working towards economic, educational, and political equity. The chapter provides educational outreach and takes part in political lobbying, zap actions and demonstrations in response to various social situations. The Service Fund of NOW-NYC also offers referrals, support groups, and clinics for women in need."
  • New York Civil Liberties Union - 125 Broad St., New York, NY 10004; (212) 344-3005 The NYCLU is "a statewide organization dedicated to the protection and enhancement of New Yorkers' civil liberties as enumerated in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of the State of New York."
  • Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund - 99 Hudson St., 4th floor, New York, NY 10013; (212) 219-3360 "Through litigation, policy analysis and education, the Puerto Rican Lega lDefense and Education Fund works to secure, promote and protect the civil and human rights of the Puerto Rican and wider Latino community."

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