Gotham Gazette

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Democratic Mayoral Candidate Forum: Gay and Lesbian Issues

• Gifford Miller: The Right Choices for the City's Future

• C. Virginia Fields: A Mayor Needs to Listen

• Anthony Weiner: Democrats With a Big and Small “D”

On April 6, 2005, the four Democratic candidates for mayor - Gifford Miller, C. Virginia Fields, Fernando Ferrer, and Anthony Weiner - spoke at the Greater Voices mayoral forum, organized by several gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender groups in the city. The following is an edited transcript of the candidate’s opening remarks and a sample of some of the questions from the audience.

Fernando Ferrer: Human Rights for All

It was looking forward to this forum and saying hello to people with whom I have been working for over 20 years. It has been 22 years since I first cast my vote [for gay rights legislation] in the City Council. It was the first landmark piece of legislation, guaranteeing lesbians and gays civil rights and human rights. After that I have talked to the issues of HIV and AIDS treatment and prevention. [I have worked] to take the fight out of the press releases and into the Board of Education, into our hospitals and non-profit organizations, to stand up for domestic partnerships, to stand up for marriage equality. I left the City Council in 1987 to become Bronx borough president, but my activism did not stop there. I was proud to sit on the first LGBT task force in the borough, to fund the first Lavender Center in the borough, and to help organize the first gay pride parade down the Grand Concourse, which I led as the grand marshall.

Sometimes people have told me over the years, “You don’t make an awful lot about your record.” Well I don’t think you deserve gold stars for doing the right thing.

I know what it is to come from a community that does not enjoy its full civil and human rights and have them denied from time to time. I know what it is to sit in the City Council and hear others try to make false distinctions between the someone else’s civil rights and their own. There is no distinction. If you believe in human rights, you believe in human rights. There is no gold star for that. You do what you must do, forge the coalitions that you must.

Whether it’s a discharge motion, or the extension of domestic partnership rights to those you do business with the city, or the rights of the transgendered - for me it fits into same category. You cannot believe in some human rights and not for all.

There was a tragic murder that took place in the city a few weeks ago. Rashawn Brazell was not only murdered, but dismembered, simply because he was gay. It is a stark and sobering reminder to all of us, that while this can happen in this city, we can’t stop talking about human rights. I won’t say anything more about that particular murder, but I will say the following. There are some who say, “I can’t do this, because we are not prepared for it,” but I do believe that people who believe fervently in human rights make the world ready for them.

That is what I tried to do as the borough president of the Bronx for 15 years - make the Bronx ready. You have to make people ready for human rights, and I prefer to lead on that issue rather than follow.

QUESTION: In March 1986, the gay rights bill passed out of committee by a vote of 5 to 1. On March 20, it passed [the full council] by 23 to 9 to 3. It was a historic vote, and it took 16 years to get that bill through. You did not sponsor the bill. There were 15 sponsors and you would not sponsor it. I would like that addressed.

Second, [in May 1986] there was a bill introduced into the City Council that decimated the gay rights bill in terms of housing. Ruth Messinger was quoted as saying that that bill would make our community into second-class citizens. You were one of the people who voted to weaken the gay rights bill. Ed Koch vetoed that bill and it didn’t become law. I would like you to explain that vote.

Last, our enemy number one is [Bronx State Senator] Ruben Diaz, Sr. and last year you did cable TV commercials in support of his State Senate campaign. Can you explain that one?

Ferrer: Let me take the third one first because that is the easiest one to address. When it is between him and a former criminal defendant [Pedro Espada Jr.] who was charged with ripping off poor people and especially individuals with AIDS in the Bronx - it was easy for me! It was easy for me! Choices are seldom perfect, but you make them.

To get back to 1986, I am so delighted that you mentioned it. But you failed to mention that was on the General Welfare Committee [that voted in favor of it] and you failed to mention that I debated the bill in spite of having my sexuality questioned and threats of fire bombing on my house. But I proudly debated and voted for that bill in 1986, because, as I said then and today, you can’t be for some human rights and not all.

As for your second question. Just so we all know what this question is all about, it concerns a side agreement to that landmark anti-discrimination law that I helped pass 19 years ago. That amendment was part of a keeping together a fragile coalition that we needed in order make that law a law. I want to call your attention to an editorial in the New York Times on May 3, 1986 that said exactly that. I have a copy here, and I will quote “a fragile coalition for passage was thus preserved.” Choices aren’t only perfect, but I am proud to have played a role not only in the coalition, but preserving that coalition.

If this about a record that goes back 22 years, then that is more than most people have spent in public service. I have been at this fight a long time. And I am serious about making progress on human rights. And if you are serious about making progress, you have to focus on what matters. And those are things I have been working on beginning 22 years ago.

I know what it is like to be the target of bigots. I recognize it every time I shave in the morning. I know what it is like to get late night phone calls threatening you and your family’s safety in your own home and requiring police protection. Despite that, I would do it again gladly in a second.

Q: I work in social services with LGBT homeless youth. We only have 22 emergency beds in the city and 15 to 20 transitional beds. But the city funds a very large Catholic organization where our youth are harassed physically, sexually, and verbally. They would rather sleep on the train than go to this provider. If you become mayor, how would you help this population?

Ferrer: Today, homelessness in general is approaching the record numbers we saw in 1986 and 1987. It’s approaching what we saw during the Great Depression in this city. As I said when I was borough president and Mayor Dinkins had a commission to discuss homelessness, we can’t treat homelessness and homeless individuals and families as one amorphous blob.

People have different needs and different reasons for being homeless in the first place. LGBT youth need to be supported. You can’t put them in the same facilities as so many others because it will only compound their problems and compromise their safety. The city owes them more.

I believe in differentiated and supportive housing. By the way, it isn’t only LGBT youth who are at risk at the Franklin Avenue Armory. It’s everyone. There are a great number of people who refuse shelter, not because they are not crazy, but they fear for their safety. This city isn’t doing enough to keep them safe and secure. As mayor, you can count on me.

Q: I would like for you to clarify your characterization of the Amadou Diallo case? It is my simple interpretation that it was a sort of retreating from your original position that it was a criminal matter but that now it is civil.

Ferrer: First of all, it was no retreat. Second, in spite of what you might read in some newspapers in daily circulation that have a point of view - one of them especially has a point of view and it is far right of anyone in this room - I acknowledged already that I used some careless words and I have taken responsibility for that.

But I also acknowledged in the same remarks before police audiences and civilian audiences that the reason I got arrested with cuffs behind my back, was because I believe that divisive policies by the police commissioner and the mayor contributed to the police failures that night. The extension of the Street Crimes Unit and all of the other things that we know happened on Wheeler Avenue that night. And I have addressed those issues.

I have come here to talk about the things that New Yorkers really need to focus on - full human and civil rights, decent and affordable housing, good schools without excuses, the gargantuan waste of our money for a West Side Stadium when we should be dealing with the crisis of affordability in this city.

And while we are talking about the police, there are 6,000 fewer police in our ranks today than at the end of 2000, and we’re wondering if this city will be ready to face the next problem - God forbid we should face it at all. Those are the things we need to talk about in this city.

Q: Follow up question on police. I submit that we are wasting huge amounts of money on the last Friday of every month with the police surrounding Union Square Park…. Will you change the existing policy of the mayor and police commissioner in working with the group Critical Mass?

Ferrer: I think the theory of preemption is as bankrupt in New York as it has proved to be in Iraq.

Other Candidates Speeches:

• Gifford Miller: The Right Choices for the City's Future

• C. Virginia Fields: A Mayor Needs to Listen

• Anthony Weiner: Democrats With a Big and Small “D”


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