With Manhattan’s massive Pride Parade just two days off, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn appeared outside the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center on the morning of June 28 to announce a host of LGBT initiatives she pledged to purse if elected mayor in November.
Chief among those proposals were establishment of a Mayor’s Office of HIV/ AIDS Policy, funding of shelter beds for homeless youth to eliminate the current waiting list that averages 350 per night at such facilities, and capital spending for senior housing that would serve the needs of LGBT New Yorkers.
Quinn described the HIV/ AIDS office as playing both a coordination and policymaking function, in an effort to centralize efforts made by city agencies including the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) and the HIV/ AIDS Services Administration. It would approach issues of prevention, treatment, and housing in a “holistic” fashion, she said.
The speaker suggested that the special mayoral office could control a portion of the funding spent on HIV/ AIDS in the city budget, though she said how its spending would compare to that of departments like DOHMH “has to be determined.” The office, she said, would also play the primary lobbying and advocacy role on policy questions regarding the epidemic in Albany and Washington.
One of Quinn’s AIDS priorities is the establishment of a 30 percent rent cap for New Yorkers living with AIDS who receive public support and live in private housing. That cap applies to others living in government-supported housing programs, but an anomaly in state law has prevented that benefit from being extended to AIDS tenants. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has consistently opposed that rent cap and lobbied Republicans in the State Senate to block it.
In what was a campaign appearance, the speaker also vowed to fund shelter beds for homeless youth currently on waiting listings at the handful of facilities that provide appropriate space. Advocates peg the average number of homeless youth at about 350 a night, and Quinn said between $10.5 and $12 million annually would be needed to make beds available for them.
A recent study from the Empire State Coalition and the New York City Association of Homeless and Street-Involved Youth Organizations estimated that 3,800 youth are homeless each night, approximately 40 percent of them LGBT, with 1,600 actually sleeping on the streets and about 150 getting through the night by staying with a sex work client. Asked whether adding beds would in turn increase the demand for beds, Quinn acknowledged that possibility but said, “The immediate issue is no waiting list.”
She also said it was time to stop the “budget game” about funding homeless youth programs. In recent years, the Bloomberg administration has reduced such spending in its budget and the Council has fought to restore it. State spending on homeless and runaway youth was also reduced in the past several budgets. Prior to Anthony Weiner’s entry into the mayoral race, all of the Democratic contenders had pledged to hold that budget harmless. Quinn’s proposal would roughly double the commitment currently in place.
In an emailed statement, Carl Siciliano, the founder of the Ali Forney Center, which serves homeless LGBT youth, said, “I have been in discussions with Quinn's office about this, and am thrilled. For the 20 years that I have been working with homeless youth in NYC, it has always been accepted as a given by city government that many homeless youth must sleep on the streets because of an inadequate youth shelter supply to meet the need. Finally a leader is articulating a plan to make sure that all homeless youth are provided shelter.”
The third major piece of Quinn’s June 28 announcement involved her pledge to use the city’s capital budget to fund at least one senior housing facility with services and cultural opportunities suited to LGBT residents. Saying the housing would “obviously be open” to any resident, regardless of whether they were LGBT, she noted that similar facilities already exist in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Senior housing advocates have told her that if the city funds construction out of its capital budget –– which Quinn described as “strong” –– they could operate it without any need for ongoing government subsidies.
Michael Adams, executive director of SAGE, Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders, in an emailed message, said, "There is a tremendous need on the part of LGBT older New Yorkers for welcoming and affordable housing –– there is no concern we hear about more often at SAGE. Every project like this takes innovation and leadership to get off the ground –– that's why there are so few across the country. It's encouraging to see that innovation and leadership in Speaker Quinn's plan."
The speaker also committed to a more robust response to hate crimes and to make the city a more vocal advocate on LGBT issues in Albany and Washington. A key state priority in her view is enactment of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, a transgender civil rights measure stalled for more than a decade since the passage of the gay rights law. State Senator Brad Hoylman, an out gay freshman member of the Legislature from Manhattan, said the city could be helpful on issues such as GENDA and the 30 percent rent cap, the latter of which he is the lead sponsor on.
Quinn’s announcement coincided not only with LGBT Pride Weekend but also with polls showing that her frontrunner status in the race is now in question. Weiner is running either right behind her or just ahead of her in several recent polls, and former Comptroller Bill Thompson, the 2009 Democratic mayoral nominee, has also improved his standing.
All of the Democrats have strong LGBT records, but Quinn has wracked up endorsements from most of the lesbian and gay elected officials and political clubs, as well as the Empire State Pride Agenda, the Human Rights Campaign, and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which works on behalf of out LGBT candidates nationwide. Thompson won the endorsement of one LGBT club, the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has gotten support from a number of high profile gay and lesbian celebrities, including Cynthia Nixon, Alan Cumming, Charles Busch, and Michael Musto.
Weiner, who was one of just seven House Democrats who voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in 2007 to protest the lack of protections for transgender workers, recently faced questions over two occasions at which he failed to speak out against homophobic statements made in his presence while he was campaigning.
In the biggest LGBT endorsement of the week, Quinn was backed by Edie Windsor just hours after she prevailed at the Supreme Court in her challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act.