Gotham Gazette

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Civil Rights

St. Patrick's Day Parade

New York City has been the scene of a St. Patrick's Day parade or procession since 1762. Sometimes there have been as many as three on the same day due to splits within the Irish community.

The most prominent split in recent years began in 1991, when the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization first applied to march in the Fifth Avenue St. Patrick's Day Parade run by the Ancient Order of Hibernians. They were put on a waiting list, supposedly because the city limited the length of the parade. When Mayor David Dinkins offered to let the parade run longer to include all on the waiting list, the Hibernians refused the gay group's application. Their argument, eventually made in court, was that the parade is a Roman Catholic celebration and that homosexuality violates Catholic teaching. After some furious negotiations, the more liberal Division 7 of the Hibernians agreed to play host to the gay group within their contingent. Though the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization was not allowed to carry their banner, they were joined by the mayor, who usually marched at the front of the parade. They were cheered along the parade route but mostly jeered. A beer can was launched at Mr. Dinkins head and he wrote in a New York Times op-ed that it reminded him of marching through Birmingham, Alabama on a civil rights protest.

The United States Supreme Court ruled in 1995 that parades are protected by the First Amendment and can include whomever they wish. In 1998, the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization lost a federal suit against Mayor Rudy Giuliani over the right to demonstrate up Fifth Avenue prior to the parade. The court said that the police department's contention that such a demonstration was a threat to public safety was not unreasonable. So the cops have to handle the arrest of scores of protestors trying to march instead.

The Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization is still excluded from the Manhattan St. Patrick's Day march. Parades in the Bronx, Staten Island, and Brooklyn also keep Irish gay groups out. But a St. Patrick's Parade and Irish Fair was started in Queens in 2000 that welcomes all comers. This year, it will be held on March 3.

At one time, a politician's place in a St. Patrick's Day parade was an indication of his or her status in the Irish community. Now, given the gay boycott of parades that exclude gay contingents, a politician is judged by whether or not he or she marches at all.

As mayor, David Dinkins stayed out of the parade after his 1991 experience. But in 1993, his police commissioner, Ray Kelly, ordered the arrest of over 230 demonstrators supporting the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization on St. Patrick's Day.

There was a time prior to his mayoralty that Rudy Giuliani himself stayed away from the Manhattan parade because of its anti-gay policy. But as mayor, he proudly marched up Fifth Avenue with the Hibernians, often going over the route several times.

Candidate Mike Bloomberg boycotted the Manhattan parade in 2001, but plans to march this year. His spokesman, Ed Skyler, told the Daily News that "the mayor believes the best way to change an organization is from within," which raises the question why Bloomberg resigned from discriminatory private clubs just before running for mayor.

Councilmember Christine Quinn, an out lesbian who has been arrested supporting the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization, said, "If the mayor actually analyzed the history of the struggle, he would see that his decision is wrong. Many people have tried to work with the Ancient Order of Hibernians from within and it has been proven that it doesn't work. Well-respected Hibernians have tried and couldn't. No reason to believe this mayor can."

New York's US Senators are split. Chuck Schumer boycotts exclusionary parades. Candidate Hillary Clinton marched in both the inclusive and the exclusive St. Patrick's Day parades in 2000 and found a reason to be out of town last year on March 17.

Gov. George Pataki marches in the Fifth Avenue parade. State Comptroller H. Carl McCall, who wants Pataki's job, hasn't marched in a St. Patrick's Day parade up until now ("I haven't been invited," he told Gotham Gazette), but said, "I haven't made up my mind," about this year's parade.

Aine Duggan, a spokesperson for the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization, said that hers is a "hopeful" group, but they do not even communicate with the Ancient Order of Hibernians. "We understand Bloomberg's interest in marching because we share it," she said. "But we will only march in it if it is inclusive. If they discriminate we would ask him not to march. We need to give them the motivation to work with us." Her group is asking sponsors to withdraw from the parade and is forming a coalition with Razem, a Polish gay group that is excluded from October's Pulaski Day Parade.

The Manhattan and Queens parades are both dedicated this year to the fallen heroes of September 11th. The Fifth Avenue parade, on Saturday March 16 this year, has as its grand marshal Catholic Cardinal Edward Egan, an opponent of civil rights protections for gay people. The Queens parade is highlighting the life of Father Mychal Judge, the fire chaplain who died at the Trade Center, who was a gay man who supported gay and AIDS causes. Brendan Fay, a lead organizer of the Queens event, said that a contingent of fire fighters from Drogheda outside of Dublin is coming over for his parade. While he is disappointed with Bloomberg's plans to march on Fifth Avenue, they welcome the Mayor's participation in the Queens event.

The Fifth Avenue parade has had its share of internal controversy this year. Its president, William Flynn, a former grand marshal, resigned in frustration in August over resistance to his attempts to bring order to the group's fiscal dealings. He also favored resolving the dispute with the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization. State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's office is conducting an investigation of the parade committee.

Detention of Demonstrators Reversed

The Giuliani administration had a policy in recent years of detaining anyone arrested in a demonstration for at least 24 hours. A lawsuit from private civil rights attorney Jonathan Moore, joined by the New York Civil Liberties Union, led to the reversal of that policy. Moore says that those unreasonably detained within the last three years can sue and expect a settlement.

City Bar Association Report on City Human Rights Commission

The Bar Association of the City of New York issued a scathing report in December chronicling the decline of the City Commission on Human Rights over the last ten years and making recommendations on how to breath some life into it. The report can be read on the Bar Association's website.

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 Civil Rights Agendas in 2002

Civil rights advocates are hopeful about the changeover in city government. They see an outgoing mayor who became involved in lawsuits on everything from the content of museum exhibits to the right to hold press conferences on the steps of City Hall. They note an incoming mayor who has already indicated that he hopes the city will get involved in fewer such lawsuits during his tenure.

And they see a new City Council that is itself full of members with roots in civil rights movements. Robert Jackson of West Harlem's District 7, for example, was the plaintiff in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity's lawsuit against the state seeking more funding for City schools; Hiram Monseratte of Jackson Heights' District 21 who is a board member of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

"We hope that the City Council and new administration will usher in a new era in government policy," says Donna Lieberman, who just officially became the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union . (She had been the acting director since Norman Siegel departed to run for Public Advocate). Lieberman has a full agenda for New York's new elected officials. "There are issues about policing, Civilian Complaint Review Board effectiveness, ending racial profiling, and openness in government," she said.

Esmeralda Simmons, longtime director of the Medgar Evers Center for Law and Social Justice, said that their priorities going into 2002 include fighting tuition vouchers, "participating in the freedom and security debate," criminal justice issues, and seeing to it that adequate funding is maintained for lawyers for indigent defendants. "We have our work cut out for us."

The Empire State Pride Agenda, the biggest gay and lesbian lobbying group in New York, will continue under new executive director Joe Grabarz (a former state senator from Connecticut) to pursue two immediate objectives -- a transgender rights bill and another to require contractors to provide domestic partner benefits."Bloomberg supports both bills, but he has spoken out for exemptions for religious groups "and possibly others" on the contractors issue.

Most of these issues will be tackled by Bloomberg's new deputy mayor for policy, Dennis Walcott, the longtime head of the New York Urban League, whose organization was in the thick of the civil rights movement under Whitney Young in the 1950s and '60s, but has become "more service oriented" in recent years, as Walcott explained on the day of his appointment. "We've always been involved in police-community issues," though, he added.

But the members of the City Council say they will pursue a civil rights agenda of their own as well - and not just the representative from the Upper West Side, though certainly her. Gale Brewer, from district 6, is pleased with Bloomberg's choice of police commissioner, Raymond Kelly. "I think there'll be a different relationship between the police and the community." Brewer, a veteran of the women's movement, also has concerns about gay issues, domestic violence, and the availability of safe abortion in City hospitals.

Simcha Felder is the new representative from Borough Park's District 44 in Brooklyn and said, "Despite being very much in favor of police, the Gideon Bush issue taught us that we have to resolve the way the police handle the emotionally disturbed." Bush, an orthodox Jew, was shot dead by police when he brandished a hammer as they tried to arrest him several years ago.

Michael McMahon of district 49 on the north shore of Staten Island, is proud of the community policing in his district, but did cite "complaints about real estate brokers refusing to show people of color houses in certain neighborhoods," a matter for investigation by the Human Rights Commission.

Other issues cited range from environmental racism to racial profiling to workers' rights.

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.

Immigrants Under Attack


Like so many people throughout the world, Attar Singh was deeply saddened by the attacks on the World Trade Center, so the evening of September 11th, he went to a temple in Richmond Hill, Queens and prayed for the victims. It was a temple for Sikhs, the followers of a religion wholly separate from Islam but whose members also wear turbans and long beards. Singh, 66, who is from New Delhi, was in New York visiting his sons and grandchildren. As he walked back to their home, four men jumped him, apparently thinking he was an Arab. They shot him with a BB gun and then beat him with a baseball bat.

The next day, police stopped an Amtrak train bound for Penn Station and took ten passengers in for questioning. All but one were eventually released; the one was held on charges unrelated to the hijackings. Meera Kumar, who works for the Ford Motor Company, was among the passengers held. "We're in a terrible emergency," Kumar told a reporter later. "But I'm a full-fledged tax-paying United States citizen. I shouldn't have been subjected to this, nor should anybody else."

A new Middle Eastern restaurant just blocks from St. Vincent's Hospital, the closest trauma center to the site of the World Trade Center, began putting American flags in its window and displaying a blackboard calling its cuisine Israeli, after several ominous incidents; in one, a customer told a waitress that he had a gun.

Inocencio Tecalero, an 18-year-old deliveryman for Candy's, a restaurant in the financial district, has additional worries after the terrorist attacks. The restaurant may be closed for months, and he is the sole supporter of his seven brothers and sisters in Mexico.

The events of September 11 have had a sharp impact on many Americans. But for immigrants and members of some minority groups, including Arab Americans and Muslims, the effects have been extreme enough as to make them in some ways the other victims of the terrorist attacks. A few have been the targets of hate crimes, harassment, or racial profiling. Some face difficulties getting disaster relief because of their status, or are especially vulnerable financially. Many worry that changes in national immigration policy may negate the freedoms that brought them to the United States, and New York, in the first place.


No immigrant group has been more affected by the attacks than the estimated 200,000 Arab Americans who live in New York and New Jersey. Almost immediately after the attack, Arab Americans, other Muslims, and some who simply looked as though they might be, became victims of harassment.

In the week after the trade center tragedy, the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee reported some 200 violent incidents against Arab Americans, Muslims and South Asians across the nation. New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik said there were 56 bias incidents in New York City against Arabs, most of them verbal harassment. (A Gotham Gazette reader posted a list of about 50 incidents on the our 9/11 message board).

"The bigoted acts of a small minority are creating an atmosphere of apprehension and fear in the American Muslim community," said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Across the country, there have been some shocking incidents -- the killing of a Sikh owner of a gas station in Arizona; the murder of a Pakistani Muslim storeowner in Dallas.

Nothing compares to this in New York so far, but the city's immigrants have had their share of trouble. A Sikh man reported that three men pounced on him and yelled "terrorist" in Manhattan. In the days after the attacks, a group of teenagers vandalized Middle Eastern stores on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn and police were called in to protect the store's owners. And Islamic students across the city expressed fear of going to school.

In response, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has established a hot line for people to report such crimes (800 552-6843 ). And the Council on Islamic Relations has a place on its web site for people to file similar reports.

While the Council on Islamic American Relations has called upon President George W. Bush and other elected officials to make more and stronger statements against anti-Muslim bias, many Arab groups have praised the support they have received.

In a newspaper column, James J. Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, wrote, "The president has spoken out against this [anti Arab] bigotry, as have almost all other public officials. The Department of Justice has been active in organizing a national outreach program to combat hate crimes against Arab American and American Muslims." He added that the emails his offices received have been "20-to-1 supportive of our community."

There have also been strong local demonstrations, both symbolic and practical, of support for Arab Americans and Muslims in the city in recent weeks. Programs have been set up to escort Arab students to school, political and religious leaders of many faiths have visited mosques and Muslim leaders, and rallies for inter-ethnic unity have been held across the city.

On October 6 in Flushing Meadows Park, a group of students from 50 schools will meet to speak out against hate and paint a large mural dedicated to unity between immigrant and non-immigrants in the city. "It's a way to give young people a creative outlet in response to the bias attacks," said Bryan Pu-Folks, president of New Immigrant Community Empowerment, one of the groups that helped organize the event.

Even local Middle Eastern restaurants like Zaytoons in Boruem Hill, Brooklyn have seen small signs of support from neighbors. When Zaytoons re-opened several days after the attack, the owner Ahmad Samhan found a stack of letters and notes from neighbors. "When you reopen, I will be the first one in line for chicken shwarma," one patron wrote. "You are an important part of this neighborhood."


While few would publicly support incidents of harassment, there is a wider acceptance of a heightened suspicion from police, airline security, and immigration officials of people with dark complexions, Islamic clothing, or unfamiliar sounding names.

The week after the attack, according to the New York Times, observers reported that police at checkpoints on the bridges into Manhattan appeared to be singling out drivers who looked Arab or Muslim, a charge the officers denied. Others reported similar incidents by security at Kennedy Airport. "Anyone with dark skin or who spoke with an accent was taken aside and searched. And they went to any male with too much facial hair," a passenger told the Times.

Before one flight, several Arab American men were removed because other passengers refused to fly with them. Hearing of the incident, the Arab American Anti Discrimination Council asked the Federal Aviation Administration to issue guidelines saying that passengers cannot be excluded from a flight simply because of their ethnicity. "It is unacceptable that passengers are expelled from aircraft because someone, even the pilot, just doesn't like the way they look," said committee president Zaire Assail.

Groups fighting such profiling have an uphill struggle. According to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll taken shortly after the terrorist attacks, almost 60 percent of Americans now favor requiring people of Arab descent to undergo more intensive security checks than other passengers on U.S. airlines. Further the public is divided over whether Arabs living in the U.S. should have to carry special identification, although only a third said they would support putting Arabs in the U.S. under special surveillance.

Some 125 people of Arab extraction across the nation were detained by law enforcement between September 11 and September 24, the Los Angeles Times reported. Hundreds, if not thousands, have been questioned.

This practice is in stark contrast to the recent view of racial profiling of blacks and Latinos. By last year, 13 states and hundreds of local governments passed laws designed to study or reduce such profiling. And in the months prior to the events of September 11, the New York Police Department had been a subject of investigation for racial profiling. The U.S. attorney made the city turn over its stop-and-frisk data and a new stop-and-frisk form was initiated, requiring more detailed information on why police officers decided to stop a particular person on the street.

But while some elected officials like Representative John Conyers and Senator Russell Feingold have said they would press ahead with federal legislation to stop profiling, the tone of the debate has changed. Even some civil libertarians support singling out Arabs in an effort to combat terrorism. Floyd Abrams, a prominent New York First Amendment lawyer, said, "The difficulty we must now address is a situation in which all the hijackers are from abroad, all are from the Middle East, and all are Arabic speaking. In those circumstances, it seems entirely appropriate to look harder at such people."

"Would anyone think it unfair for airport security personnel to target a group of male, Arabic passengers traveling with little luggage who were seeking one way tickets?" asked Stephen J. Singer, former president of the Queens Bar Association, in a recent opinion piece in Newsday. "Clearly not ... The irony is that this practice has truly evolved into the exact form of racial profiling we were trying to suppress." Singer added, "How sad that this is among the peripheral results the Arab terrorists have achieved."


Incidents of harassment and racial profiling have been well publicized, but there are other lesser-known ways the attacks have affected immigrant communities in New York.

To date, relief organizations have raised more than $500 million, the Governor has proposed free tuition to State and City universities for the children of victims, and, there are plans to give tax breaks to businesses so they will not leave the city.

But some immigrants are having trouble getting disaster benefits, according to immigrant advocates. Margie McHugh of the New York Immigration Coalition said there are many police and Immigration Naturalization Service officers at relief centers, which intimidates both legal and illegal immigrants.

"There is also a randomness in terms of the information being given out right now," said McHugh. "Some are being told that citizenship status may be required to receive benefits in some programs, and there is confusion about eligibility and the rules."

In an effort to fight fraud as millions of dollars are donated to relief efforts, the State Attorney General has proposed creating a database to match up recipients and donations, an idea that relief agencies say will scare away some people, particularly new arrivals to the country, who need help. "People will not come to us if they think we are going to put their names in some big database," said Dr. Bernadine Healy, the Red Cross president.

And many non-profit groups who usually cater to the needs of new immigrants, particularly in Manhattan's Chinatown, have been hit hard by the attacks as well. Organizations that help residents get unemployment, deliver hot meals to the elderly, and provide translation and legal services are simply struggling to rebuild their organizations, get their phones up, and open their doors again.


Much of the nation's economic focus is on the airline industry, on Wall Street, and on the financial corporations that lost their offices in the World Trade Center. It is clear, though, that the terrorist attacks will also have a devastating economic effect on many immigrants, particularly those who work in low-paying jobs in the service industry.

There were 350 employees from two dozen countries who worked at the Windows of the World restaurant. There are also 1,820 janitors, elevator operators, security guards, window washers and tour guides displaced by the attack, represented by the Service Employees International Union. There are also employees who worked for hotels in and around ground zero, who will have trouble finding work elsewhere. About 600 members of Local 6 of the Hotel and Restaurant Workers were laid off before the attacks, and 1,200 more have been let go since, said John Turchiano, a union spokesman

While some efforts are being made to help employees in the hotel industry and get World Trade Center janitors hired elsewhere, some workers may not be even eligible for unemployment because they work as independent contractors or change jobs frequently.

It is estimated that 100,000 New Yorker in low-paying service positions will lose their jobs as a result of the attacks.

"The day they destroyed the World Trade Center, they destroyed our business," Steven Ellis, the sales director of a car service based in Park Slope, Brooklyn said.

In addition, some computer infrastructure for getting welfare, food stamps, and Medicaid was damaged in the attacks, leaving thousands without public assistance. And many illegal immigrants, who work as construction workers, landscapers, and migrant farm workers in the New York area and support families in their home countries, fear that if they try to return home they will face tighter security at border checkpoints and may not be able to return.


Some newspapers have run stories and headlines that could be seen as fueling anti-Arab sentiment; the Village Voice cover the day after the attacks read simply, "The Bastards!" But much of the coverage is not stoking the fires, but simply reporting on them; some 120 articles posted on the South Asian Journalists Association web site are "backlash" stories. These are the numerous reports of hate crimes, bias crimes, and general outbreaks of prejudice.

To the ethnic press in New York, this is not good enough. "While the press has done a good job of covering the dangers posed to Arab Americans," said Jyoti Thottam, president of the South Asian Journalists Association, "there still is not enough awareness of the fact that South Asians are being lumped together with Arabs by the media and the general public."

Mohammad Farooqi, publisher of the Pakistani Post, a national paper run from Jamaica, Queens, said there is another way that coverage has been limited: "They're talking about people being arrested and detained, but I don't see anyone talking in the mainstream press about why this [incident] has happened."

Reza Delghari, editor of the Iranian Community Newspaper, a national paper based in Manhattan, agreed. "There is little focus on why it happened. Such a violent action reflects an extreme in those countries that is also a degree of desperation."

Despite his criticism of the mainstream press, Delghari said that his own newspaper has not been given over to September 11 coverage. "Like many Iranian publications, we're trying to stay away from focusing too much attention on this. The Iranian community is so divided and opinionated about issues that deal with the internal politics of the U.S. and at home [Iran]." But Delghari added that most of his Iranian readers "have no sympathy for those terrorists or the fundamentalists."


Increased security and suspicion in the nation could also bring about changes in immigration law that would have a profound effect on New York, a city where 40 percent of the population is foreign born. Some legislators want to decrease the number of visas given to millions who come to the U.S. each year to study, work, and visit. There is also a move to provide more government monitoring of foreigners once they arrive.

Another immediate effect is that the debate about whether to legalize the estimated eight million illegal immigrants currently in the country may be delayed for years to come. Just a week before the attacks, President Bush met with the President Vincente Fox of Mexico to discuss the issue.

The last major revision to immigration and refugee law came in the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1996, a law inspired by the 1993 bombing in the World Trade Center and the Oklahoma City bombing. The law resulted in less mobility for those seeking asylum, who are now more likely to be held in Immigration and Naturalization Service detention centers while their cases are decided. It also made it easier to deport foreigners suspected of terrorism without trial and based on evidence that does not have to be disclosed.

"The 1996 bill had a lot of measures that beat up on immigrants without really going after terrorists," said Margie McHugh, director of the New York Immigration Coalition. "We are watching Washington closely to see what comes out of this event."

Last year nearly 4.2 million people were granted visas for tourism and business, another 284,000 received student visas. Many of those people came to New York City, and if it becomes more difficult for them to visit, it will undermine the tourism industry.

"We are still in the first few weeks of this," said McHugh. "The economic and political reverberations will be felt in a ripple effect across the city for a long time to come."

This story was reported and written by Mark Berkey-Gerard, Gail Robinson, and Alex Viado.

Under Assault And On The Ballot

At a time when human rights concerns are on the minds of many in the city, particularly Arab Americans, the main office of the New York City Commission on Human Rights at 40 Rector Street, three blocks from the Trade Center catastrophe, has been out of commission. The agency has been operating out of its field offices in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and upper Manhattan, plus a makeshift headquarters at 2 Lafayette Street, on the 14th floor (telephone 212-676-2031).

Randolph Wills, the Deputy Commissioner for Law Enforcement, said that no windows were knocked out of the Rector Street office, but that incoming calls were still not being received there. As a result, despite the increase in Anti-Arab bias incidents that have been widely reported, the human rights commission has not seen a great rush of complaints coming in, according to Wills.

The Community Relations Bureau of the commission has, through the field offices, been doing outreach to merchants and religious groups in Muslim communities, to tell them about their rights and how to file complaints, Wills said. They are working closely with Community Boards 13 and 15 in Brooklyn, as well as with the police precincts in these areas with a visible Muslim presence, on how to use the laws for protection against bias-related harassment.

Three weeks after the catastrophe, a walk down Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, famous for its Middle Eastern restaurants, confirmed a heightened uniformed police presence -- and whatever protection multiple American flags in store windows can provide. These windows also sport signs from the Arab American Family Support Center offering volunteers to run errands for or accompany Muslims fearful of reprisal when going out. The center has set up a hotline at (718) 643-8000 for those who need help or can volunteer to provide it.

Emad Meagoub, a Syrian who is a partner in the Waterfalls CafĂš at 144 Atlantic Avenue, said that business is down about 60 percent. On a Saturday night in his restaurant that can seat 40, there were four people dining. The non-Middle Eastern restaurants were doing much better, but nowhere near normal business in a period that has caused many New Yorkers to cling more to home.

The Middle Eastern restaurants in Manhattan, however, have been doing well in recent weeks, with liberal types eager to show that our quarrel is with terrorists, not Muslims. The owner of Ariana Afghan Kebab House on 9th Avenue between 52nd and 53rd confessed that his place had taken a rock through a small back window in the wake of September 11, but that business had not suffered since.

Schools Chancellor Harold Levy has emphasized that anti-Arab incidents have been few in the schools, and none have been violent. Anti-harassment curricula to head off such problems were quickly disseminated in a school system that has often agonized in the past about how to address intergroup relations.

(The broader issue of Immigrants Under Attack was laid out last week in a Gotham Gazette.)

Charter Issues on Ballot in November

In this period of tremendous fears and concerns about bias, voters will decide at the polls on November 6 whether to grant charter status to two city bodies that address human rights and immigrant rights. Among the proposals from this years Charter Revision Commission is one to make the Commission on Human Rights a permanent agency, with its powers of enforcement spelled out in the charter. Another would elevate the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affiars to a mayoral agency under the charter.

When charter revision was last voted on in 1999, these proposals were part of a big package that voters rejected two to one. Now they are separated out along with three other items for consideration.

Gene Russianoff of the New York Public Interest Research Group, which fought the package of charter revisions two years ago, calls these changes innocuous, but his group has not taken a stand on them.

Harvey Robins, the former director of the Office of Operations under Mayor David Dinkins, once proposed getting rid of the city human rights commission and letting its functions be taken up by the state commission. He has since abandoned that position, convinced by arguments that the city law covers more categories (such as sexual orientation and immigrant status) than the state and is, in general, a stronger statute. But he warns that putting any agency into the charter gives the next mayor less flexibility in shaping government.

Matt Foreman, director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, a gay rights group, had not heard about the proposed charter reform, but the idea appeals to him. Human rights should be a charter agency, he said, adding that elevating it would mean no one can play politics with it. He said that even if state law did line up more with the city human rights law, we are better off dealing with an agency that is closer to home.

Art Eienberg, who deals with charter issues for the New York Civil Liberties Union, said that they had not taken a formal position. It reduces executive authority, he said, "and I am not sure that is a bad thing. In a symbolic sense, it elevates the stature of the agency, but it may make reform more difficult." He said that administrative agencies require flexibility to address new issues. This may reinforce a structure that might work in 2001, but not in 2003.

On the matter of making the Mayors Office of Immigrant Affairs a mayoral agency through the charter vote, Margie McHugh of the New York Immigration Coalition said that her constituent groups are divided. Some are happy with what we have now, others would like to solidify the access that a mayoral agency can provide. But her real concern is that while this office is the one that voters will be asked to focus on in November, the most important issues for immigrants in the city, such as language access, are so complex that this office has not been able to address them.

Ready or not, voters must decide on these proposals on November 6. And nobody does seem ready. Despite the crises that face those concerned with these issues, few have gotten it together yet to take a stand.

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.

Asian New Yorkers

New York City is home to more Asian Americans than any other city in the country. As the fastest growing segment of the city population -- over 50 percent since 1990, according to the census -- Asian Americans are now seeking to receive their fair share of attention on the myriad issues that affect their community.

The problems affecting Asian New Yorkers are not that different from the city's other minority communities: Hate crimes, racial profiling and police-community relations, the state of public education, a low wage workforce, and a large immigrant population, many of whom face poverty. Yet somehow Asian Americans are often forgotten and excluded from public discourse on these matters.

The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, a non-profit civil rights organization based in New York, states on its website that "despite our community's size and growing economic clout, however, we frequently are ignored by elected officials, left out of important policy decisions, and overlooked in dialogues about key issues, such as affirmative action, police brutality, and race relations."

How is it that with a population of almost 800,000, Asian New Yorkers are given the cold shoulder? One such reason is a serious lack of representation. Despite such a large presence, there has never been an Asian American elected to any citywide or statewide office. "The fact that no Asian American has ever been elected is an issue," says Margaret Fung, executive director of AALDEF. That will probably change this year with some thirteen Asian American candidates running for seven city council seats. While electing an Asian American to the city council will not bring about changes overnight, Jessica Lee, executive director of the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, believes that an "Asian American council member would give more visibility to Asian American issues as well as give more access to the city government for all members of the Asian American community, even those outside of the district." Even if only one or two win "it's good that a lot of Asians are running," says Fung. "Hopefully it will spark greater participation and voter turnout among the Asian population."

Low civic participation among Asian-Americans has historically always been a problem. Recent studies seem to indicate a change, with Asians becoming more involved in the political process, thanks in large part to organizations like AALDEF. According to a study by John Mollenkopf, director of CUNY's Center for Urban research, Asian Americans were just as likely to vote in last November's election as were other New Yorkers. The problem is that just about one in five eligible Asian New Yorkers are registered to vote. This should come as no surprise, though, considering the United States' history of discriminatory immigration and naturalization policies.

The Chinese have the distinction of being the only nationality to have been specifically prohibited from immigrating to the United States by federal law.

New York's residents were some of the strongest supporters of the 1882 Chinese Exclusionary act that prohibited Chinese laborers from entering the country. During the 1882 congressional debate, United States House Representative Roswell Pettibone Flower from New York City, a future governor of NY, expressing the will of his constituents, echoed popular sentiment against the Chinese. "Shall we protect our labor, or shall we allow it to be degraded to the coolie standards? Not like the European immigrant, who brings us wealth and love of liberty, he [the Chinese] comes to take wealth away, and to stamp upon labor the servile characteristics of his race." It wasn't until 1943 that Chinese Americans were allowed to become citizens, and it took another nine years until Japanese Americans and other Asians gained that same right. After being denied admission to the country for well over half a century, Asian immigrants began coming in record numbers after 1965, when the immigration laws were changed. Still, some argue, the xenophobia and discrimination that were built into American law continue to have their effect.

Even though Asian Americans are now covered by city, state, and federal civil rights laws, anti-Asian violence and discrimination remain serious problems. As the perpetual foreign "other," Asian Americans are constantly ridiculed and singled out for persecution.

The murder of Queens restaurant worker Jong Rim Lee is a deadly example of such a case. The Korean father of four was bashed over the head with a ten-pound cobblestone last September for no apparent reason other than his race. But the New York Police Department decided not to categorize it as a hate crime, though his attackers did not take his wallet full of cash.

A serious problem is the underreporting of anti-Asian violence. Police statistics show only seven hate crimes committed against Asians in 2000. Advocates and the police themselves agree the actual numbers are much higher. Barbara Sicilia, a commanding officer of the New York Police Department's Hate Crime Task Force told the Daily News, "clearly, they are underreported." Narrow definitions of hate crimes as well as problems with police-community relations all contribute to underreporting. The issue gets compounded when victims of hate crimes or discrimination do not feel that anyone cares or is paying attention.

The New York City Commission on Human Rights has received 155 complaints of discrimination filed by Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Filipino residents (they categorize by national origin) over the past three years in the areas of employment, housing, and public accommodations. Though not a lot as compared with other groups, it is still a cause for concern for members of the Asian American community.

Another incident involving bias against Asians occurred at Lafayette High School in Brooklyn. Last September, at the beginning of their senior year, 5 Chinese immigrant students were told they had to leave school because they had already completed all of their requirements for graduation. Feeling like they were not yet prepared to leave, and still not having completed college applications, the students protested. They were eventually escorted back into the school by a delegation including two members of the Board of Education and allowed to complete their senior year, but not before accusations of racial discrimination were levied at the school's administration by students, parents, and even teachers. Mark Talo, a former teacher at the school told the Times, "It was like being in the Deep South during Jim Crow."

The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund is investigating the incident and considering filing a civil rights lawsuit in Federal District Court. "I hope that it is one of the more extreme incidents because of the wide range of discrimination that it represents," exclaims Fung. "This reflects some of the challenges in the public education system of how to address the needs of a very diverse population." Indeed, according to a 1996 report by the NYC board of education, 36 percent of Asian American students in city public high schools drop out or do not graduate on time, contradicting the model minority myth and indicating that Asians too are at risk of failure.

What are some ways the city can be more responsive to its Asian-American residents? "I'd like to see the city government support more services for Asians," says Lee. Asian Americans make up close to ten percent of the city population, yet according to her organization, Asian communities only receive about 2 percent of the city funding for social services. "Funding has to change to match the changing demographics of the city."

James Wong writes frequently for the Village Voice.


When New York was predominately Protestant in the mid-nineteenth century, overt anti-Catholic persecution was common. Thomas Nast cartoons then often reflected a breathtaking anti-Catholic bias. Irish Catholics were drawn as monkeys; bishops wore miters that were really crocodiles. But even the Know-Nothing Party's attacks on Roman Catholics nationwide were tempered somewhat in New York City by the concentration of Catholics here and the formidable leadership of Archbishop John Hughes.

Today, 43.4 percent of city residents are Catholic, with Baptists (10.7 percent) and Jews (10.9 percent) in a tie for a distant second. The city has a Catholic mayor, Rudy Giuliani. The Speaker of the Council, Peter Vallone, is Catholic, and attends mass daily. The state's last four governors (Wilson, Carey, Cuomo, and Pataki) have been Catholic. There was a Catholic governor, Thomas Dongan, way, way back in 1684, who passed the colony's first religious liberty law. Cardinal John O'Connor was presented the Congressional Gold Medal just before his death last year, and was honored posthumously last month at St. Patrick's Cathedral by George W. Bush in his first appearance in New York as President, when most of the city's powerful turned out in force.

But in the last decade, Catholics, particularly those who adhere strictly to their faith, are coming forward to say that anti-Catholicism is back. "It seems to me that Catholics are welcome in society until they start talking about their beliefs, particularly on life issues and human sexuality," said Claudia McDonnell, a self-described orthodox Catholic who works in Manhattan.

"My faith is regularly denigrated in the mainstream press," said Austin Ruse, President of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, citing the New York Times and Washington Post in particular (charges the papers vigorously deny). "On a personal level, in social situations when you talk about your faith you get the curling of the lip and questioned about how you could believe these things. Someone actually moved away from me with a look of horror."

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, based in the city and with a high profile nationwide over the last decade under its president, William Donahue, states on its website that "anti-Catholicism is more virulent and pervasive than ever before in American history." The League has been able to enlist such prominent advisory board members as conservative columnist Linda Chavez and philanthropist and former Domino Pizza CEO Thomas Monaghan.

According to Patrick Scully of the League, it goes beyond social snubs, citing examples such as "annual events at the Brooklyn Museum" like Chris Ofili's picture of "The Holy Virgin Mary" using elephant dung and "Yo Mama's Last Supper" featuring the artist, Renee Cox, as a nude Jesus. These works famously drew the ire of Mayor Giuliani and sparked huge debates over public funding of the arts. "There is a sense of unfairness and double standard," Scully said. "You would not see a display ridiculing the gay community or African Americans or Jewish people."

The majority of the League's complaints are against media portrayals of Catholics, from TV shows like "Ally McBeal" to movies such as Kevin Smith's "Dogma." But Scully is also concerned about legislation in Albany that, he said, "would have required Catholic institutions to violate their core beliefs by providing medical coverage for contraceptive procedures that the Church is against." Indeed, this is one of the few high-profile issues that Cardinal Edward Egan has taken up in his first year as Archbishop of New York.

Scully also cites the desecration of a series of statues outside Catholic churches last year, particularly in Brooklyn.

Ruse of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, which works to educate United Nations delegates and the public about the "family as the fundamental unit of society" (among other issues), believes that there is "an anti-Catholic elite in the United States Senate." He said that given the way Attorney General John Ashcroft's religious beliefs were treated during his Senate confirmation hearings, "I feel that as a believing, practicing Catholic, I need not apply for certain government positions."

But Philip Nobile, a New York journalist at and a former editor of the lay Catholic magazine Commonweal with a pontifical degree from the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, disagrees. "Catholic bashing is a very misused term because you do not bash Catholics when you criticize certain beliefs. Beliefs are fair game.

"Anti-Catholicism is not in the same league as anti-Semitism," said Nobile, a non-practicing Catholic. "Catholics in New York are now the 'overdog' and have no minority status whatsoever." It is some Catholic organizations, indeed, who have been accused of doing the bashing, against gay people, who are excluded from marching in the St. Patrick's Day parade in Manhattan.

Catholics are, like people of all religions, protected by city, state, and federal human rights laws. Randolph Wills, deputy commissioner of the City Commission on Human Rights, said that though there are some 1,100 complaints of discrimination they receive annually, there have been a total of just 27 complaints since 1995 where the person has indicated that his or her Catholicism was at least part of the reason for suffering bias -- 22 employment cases, three concerning housing, and two in public accommodation. Creed as a whole makes up three percent of their complaints.

Scully said that the League handles numerous complaints from Catholic individuals. "In New York, we helped some people who were in rehab who were not being allowed to go to mass and had trouble getting to reconciliation confession," he said. They contacted the state and it was rectified. "I remain convinced," he said, "that anti-Catholicism remains the only acceptable bigotry."

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.

Transgender Rights

"We are human beings," one transgender activist repeated over and over at a recent vigil in Sheridan Square. Hundreds had gathered to remember Amanda Milan, 25, a transgendered woman who had been stabbed to death outside the Port Authority one year ago as some bystanders cheered their approval. The trial of Dwayne McCuller, Milan's alleged murderer, and his accomplices, is under way in Manhattan Criminal Court under the watchful eyes of the city's transgender rights groups, energized as never before by this brutal killing. They are now seeking inclusion in city and state human rights and hate crimes laws, fairness in the criminal justice system, increased social services, and more of a voice in the movement that they helped found.

While some of these goals are slow in coming, one of the community's largest institutions, the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center, just officially added "Bisexual and Transgendered" to its name in time for its grand re-opening on July 12.

Transgendered people like Sylvia Rivera were among those who led the fight at the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion that sparked the modern gay movement and that is commemorated with a Fifth Avenue parade each year on the last Sunday in June. But for many years, "the gay and lesbian rights movement found us an embarrassment," said Diana Montford, a transgendered activist who has been the host of her own cable show (on Time-Warner's channel 57, Wednesdays at 3 PM) since 1990. "Now we're fed up," she said, "just like at Stonewall."

Montford said that she still gets "dirty looks" from some people, including gay men. But she was recently honored by Public Advocate Mark Green at his annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride ceremony at City Hall. At his pride fest, Comptroller Alan Hevesi honored Melissa Sklarz, the first transgendered person elected to public office in New York -- judicial delegate -- in 1999.

Rivera has reactivated Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries, born right after Stonewall, to provide some shock troops for the revived movement. She remembers when "cross-dressers" were cut out of the city's gay rights bill in 1974. That legislation became Local Law 2 in 1986 and added "sexual orientation" to the human rights law, defining it as "heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality."

While cities like Washington and Minneapolis included transsexuals in the term sexual orientation when they passed their ordinances in the early 1970s, New York activists (including myself) went with a safer definition in 1986, thinking that is what was needed to get the bill passed.

The New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy is working to see that protection for transgendered people is written into law, but must win over gay lobbyists as well as legislators. The state finally enacted a hate crimes law last year, but did not explicitly include transgendered people in it. "We're pushing for an amendment to it," said Pauline Park of the association.

Transgender activists also want an amendment to the city human rights law that would add the category of "gender identity and expression." Hearings were held on Intro 764 in May, but despite the fact that the bill has 27 sponsors, no vote is scheduled. Mayor Giuliani opposes the bill, saying that his Corporation Counsel has opined that transgendered people are covered under the existing categories of "gender" and "disability," a view shared by City Council Speaker Peter Vallone. But the bill is supported by all the Democratic mayoral contenders and Republican Mike Bloomberg who said "If it's already covered, there is no harm in spelling it out." A leading sponsor of 764, Council Member Christine Quinn (D-Chelsea) is hopeful that a vote will be held before the end of the year. Park is impatient: "We're faced with pervasive discrimination," she said, "including by the city and especially by the New York Police Department and the Human Resources Administration. Transgendered women, if legally male, are held in men's cells in jails. And in homeless shelters, they are forced into the men's shelters."

The state bill proposing to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is said, after being stalled for 31 years, to be near passage in the Republican-dominated State Senate, after overwhelming approval in the Democrat-controlled Assembly. But it, too, does not include gender identity.

Matt Foreman, director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, said: "If we could get gender identity into the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, we would," but wants to avoid last minute changes in order to "move it along and not open it up to any negative amendments." The strategy is to help get gender identity into local ordinances -- something that Rochester did in June -- before trying for it at the state level.

Park has accepted this strategy, but said, "It may be time to revisit that approach given the enormous amount of support in the City Council." Rivera, now 50, asks "Am I supposed to wait until I'm 80 to see my community achieve its rights?"

Dennis deLeon, chair of the City Commission on Human Rights under Mayor Dinkins and now director of the Latino Commission on AIDS, said, "There is so much misunderstanding of transgendered people' So many groups now covered under the human rights law have been misunderstood. And people cannot assume that because you do include the category in the law that they will exercise their rights. Very few gay cases have been filed over the years. There is tremendous need for community education, especially at places of employment. It's about educating equal employment officers in corporations."

The 7th Annual Gay & Lesbian Values Report of Best and Worst Company Employers just released by Out & Equal Workplace Advocates found only four of the Fortune 500--Apple,Avaya, Lucent and Xerox--in complete compliance with their standards, and that was because they include "gender identity" in their non-discrimination policies."

Nevertheless, progress has been made. Paul Schindler, editor of LGNY, the lesbian and gay biweekly,said, "It's amazing that in two years transgender activists have gone from a situation where Bill Bradley said, 'I don't know what you're talking about,' to Mike Bloomberg very casually saying he is against discrimination against transgendered people."

The most common complaints of transgendered people are job security, respect at places of public accommodation, and safety on the streets--things that would be addressed by inclusion in human rights and hate crimes legislation. Darren Rosenblum, a New York attorney, wrote of the plight of transgendered prisoners in the Michigan Journal of Gender and Law (volume 6, Issue 2) last year. He found incarcerated transgendered people "at society's bottom rung," and wrote that "their everyday survival" was a series of "heroic acts." Some are denied the hormone treatments that help them maintain their desired gender. Others are cast into brutally unsafe environments with other prisoners who have nothing but contempt for their status. "Their condition demonstrates flaws both multiple and fundamental in the hierarchization of gender, sexual orientation, race, class, and deviance," he wrote.

Some of the newfound acceptance of transgendered people has come about due to the success of people like Tony-nominated playwright Charles Busch ("The Tale of the Allergist's Wife") who said " never wanted to be a woman, I just wanted to be an actress." He noted that Ru Paul has had "an enormous influence," taking cross-dressing mainstream on TV. While Busch and Paul are not transgendered, they express themselves in ways not considered culturally typical for their genders.

In the absence of explicit legal protections, human rights lawyers like Tom Shanahan do their best to defend the rights of transgendered people in court. He is suing the Twilo nightclub on behalf of two transgendered dancers who were fired, they say, because the club wanted "real women." And employees of Toys R Us in Manhattan are alleged to have chased two transgendered clients out with baseball bats earlier this year.

The Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project recorded a doubling of reports of incidents of violence against transgendered people in the past year, a rise that Clarence Patton attributes to "greater awareness" in the transgender community that if these crimes are reported they will be taken more seriously. The Anti-Violence Project has been pressing the Manhattan District Attorney's office to handle the Amanda Milan case with greater sensitivity than some past cases. Last year, project director Richard Haymes said, the defense attorney for a man accused of murdering Fitzroy Green, a transgendered man, pointed to the transgendered witnesses in the case and told the jury that if they could not trust these people to baby-sit for their kids, they should not credit their testimony. The DA did not object and the defendant walked.

"Who the victim is often determines whether or not there will be justice," Councilmember Quinn said at a rally for Amanda Milan.

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.

Anti-Violence Project Urges Gays and Lesbians To Take Offense

(Nov-Dec '00) Four loud and boisterous young men, probably college age, were on the number 4 train shouting back and forth to each other across the aisle, oblivious to the stares from the other passengers. Then, suddenly, the inevitable.

"He's a faggot," one of them said, about someone they knew.
"A faggot," another repeated loudly.
"Faggot," the third said. And they said it again and again, like a chant.

Is there any slur more common? Is there any practice more prevalent among young men, than ridiculing gay people? Is this harmless, or does it lead to harassment, and violence?

"Don't Just Take It," announces a recent advertising campaign of the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, with the picture of an angry mouth in the background spewing epithets. "Take Offense. Call AVP."

With a 24-hour confidential and bilingual hotline, the Anti-Violence Project documents bias incidents that range from simple verbal harassment to murder. Celebrating its twentieth anniversary, the Anti-Violence Project is the only victim services organization serving the gay and lesbian community in the state, offering crisis intervention, counseling and other services for victims of hate crimes, rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, HIV-related violence, and police abuse and misconduct.

Harassment, Intimidation And Violence
The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs released a report earlier this year documenting incidents of violence against lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual people in 25 communities across the country. In New York City, there were 499 incidents reported in 1999. This included 6 murders, 210 assaults, 18 sexual assaults and rape, 299 reports of intimidation, 241 incidents of harassment, and 66 reports of telephone or mail harassment.

Typical anti-gay harassment, according to the report, involves the use of slurs. Harassment alone is not a crime, but is monitored because "it is often accompanied by, or escalates into, more violent types of behavior." Intimidation is defined as when speech or gestures are used to threaten an individual; most often, intimidation is illegal. Many of the numbers were down from the previous year (although not sexual assaults and rapes, which increased), but it is possible that the decrease only reflects less reporting due to cutbacks last year in outreach and advertising.

"There is also concern that because of high visibility cases like the murders of Billy Jack Gaither and Matthew Shepard," said Clarence Patton, Director of Community Organizing and Public Advocacy of the Anti Violence Project, "people experiencing a single harassment or minor violence feel they don't deserve to report it." AVP hopes the new advertising campaign will encourage more people to contact them.

The report also profiles people committing the offenses: 86 percent were male, almost two-thirds were under the age of 30, and another third were between 30 and 44 years old. Although there were fewer reported incidents in 1999, the number of offenders rose from the previous year. What this means, the report explains, is a sharp increase in the incidents perpetrated by groups of ten or more individuals.

New Layers Of Protection
The New York State Hate Crimes Act of 2000, signed into law in July went into effect a few weeks ago. The measure, which increases penalties for bias related crimes, includes protection for lesbians and gay men for the first time in the history of the state. There was also hope for passage of the Federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act, but that has yet to happen.

The city recently transformed the police department's Bias Unit into the Hate Crimes Task Force, and increased the budget. Getting anti-gay incidents classified as hate crimes, however, has sometimes been a problem. Clarence Patton recounted the story of a few men walking down the street when a van almost hit them. They cursed the driver and the van stopped, the occupants jumped out shouting anti-gay epithets, chased the pedestrians down the street, caught up with one of them, and beat him with a beer bottle which resulted in his losing an eye.

"Even though the incident may have started as a traffic violation," said Patton, "it escalated because the perpetrators thought these people were gay. It should be classified as bias."

The Anti-Violence Project fought for a year and finally succeeded in getting it classified as a bias crime. "There is some sense of justice," said Patton, "for the police to say, yes, what happened to you was a bias crime."

Deal With It
"All of us have been called things and we just kept walking," said Patton. "We heard X number of things in a day and said, I can't deal with it." But the Anti-Violence Project is urging everyone to stop and deal with it.

"By documenting all of these incidents, we can say to the community, to government, to leadership, look, this is what is happening, how it is happening, and the effect it is having on the victims."

What about preventing anti-gay sentiment and violence?

"You have to get to people while they are young," said Patton, and he recommended programs in the schools to teach tolerance.

"Some queer young people stop going to school or can't do the work any longer because all day, every day, they hear things," said Patton. Community and religious leaders, too, says Patton, have an obligation to talk about this. "A lot of faiths have come under bias attacks: the Catholics, Jews, black churches, all have been victims of bias. You can't parse it out and say I'm only going to deal with anti-Semitic or anti-black crimes. We need everyone to deal with this, come up with real strategies and make it a priority."

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