Saying, “There is much, much more to be done,” Nathan Schaefer, the newly named executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA), declared that the immediate priority of the group is passage of a transgender civil rights law in New York State.
“We must pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act,” or GENDA, he said in a video message posted on the Pride Agenda’s website at the time his appointment was announced on September 15. “That’s our next victory.” He noted that polls have shown that more than three-quarters of New Yorkers support the principles underlying GENDA.
Schaefer, who is 31, lives on the Upper West Side, and shares parenting responsibilities with his boyfriend for their dog Taggert, will assume his new post on October 15, four days after the group’s Manhattan fall dinner. He succeeds Ross Levi, who was abruptly fired in March just eight months after the state’s marriage equality law took effect. Lynn Faria, the group’s deputy executive director, had acted as its leader on an interim basis since then.
Schaefer most recently served as the director of public policy at the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), the city’s oldest and largest AIDS services and advocacy group. He also worked in Washington for the AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth, and Families, a group established in 1994 that does both advocacy and partnership-building work.
In the video message, Schaefer said he led GMHC’s advocacy for the HIV Testing Law signed by then-Governor David Paterson in 2010. The measure ended years of controversy over how to expand testing and make it part of routine health care without curtailing longstanding requirements for informed consent to such a test and for the right of patients to opt-out. The law was sponsored by Chelsea Senator Tom Duane, the only openly HIV-positive member of the Legislature, and Assemblyman Dick Gottfried, also a Chelsea Democrat.
When Paterson signed the law on July 30, 2010, Duane issued a statement saying, “This year I was able to bring together concerned legislators, HIV/ AIDS advocates, as well as many medical and public health professionals, who recognized that our collective failure to confront this public health crisis is unacceptable. We put an end to past divisiveness and coalesced around a series of measures we can all support.”
In its statement regarding the new law, GMHC noted that, while mandating that testing be offered in all health care settings, it preserves the requirement for written consent to a test –– something AIDS groups fought hard to protect –– in all cases except when somebody is seeking a rapid HIV test. Speaking to the need for wider testing, the group pointed to statistics from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that 20 percent of those living with the HIV virus are unaware of their status. City data suggest that percentage is significantly higher in communities of color. GMHC also cited studies that indicate that more than half of all new infections involve HIV-positive individuals unaware of their status and who have been infected themselves for less than two years.
Schaefer also pointed to his advocacy, at GMHC, for the end of the ban on immigration by those with the HIV virus, which occurred in January 2010, and his work in the ongoing fight to lift the prohibition on gay men donating blood.
His efforts in Washington and at GMHC and his experience in social work, as well, Schaeffer said, “taught me passion and compassion, which stand at the very core of who I am.”
Among other key priorities he identified for ESPA are ensuring that schools are “safe, respectful, nurturing zones,” that LGBT seniors find opportunities to age “in comfort, security, and dignity,” and that shelters for homeless youth, LGBT and otherwise, “are fully funded.”
Recognizing the ongoing challenge that professional advocacy groups face in maintaining support and legitimacy among those they seek to represent, Schaefer closed his video remarks by saying, “My vision is not only to drive policy and advocacy, it’s to work hand in hand with LGBT community leaders across the state… and to communicate with and listen to constituents.”
The ESPA release included a statement of praise from Dr. Marjorie Hill, GMHC’s chief executive officer.
“I have proudly watched Nathan grow and evolve during his nearly five-year tenure as our director of public policy,” she said. “He is a strong leader, passionate health advocate, and innovative thinker.”
Pam Barres, a transgender activist from the Rochester area who is an ESPA board member and served on its search committee, said, “I was struck by and pleased with Nathan’s knowledge of the transgender community and his understanding of the issues we face in New York.”
In opening his video remarks, Schaefer, explaining he had grown up on a farm, said that despite having a “loving and supportive family,” he understood “the fear of embarrassment and bullying” faced by LGBT youth.
“I never engaged athletically out of fear of teasing and ridicule,” he said of his childhood and teenage years, adding that last year, he ran in the New York City Marathon.