One of the most hotly contested Democratic primaries on September 13 is in central Queens’ 16th State Senate district, pitting pro-LGBT 17-year incumbent Toby Ann Stavisky against a return challenger, immigrant advocate S.J. Jung, who the Daily News revealed this week told a Korean-language audience that he would “fight to bar pictures of same-sex couples from appearing in school textbooks.”
“I pray Jesus Christ’s love to spread and his message speak through this election and your prayer of faith to make me a warrior clad in armor,” he told the religious group, according to the News.
Jung also opposes same-sex marriage, which Stavisky voted for in a tight Senate showdown, when it was enacted in 2011.
“That Friday night was the most memorable legislative day I have ever had,” she told Gay City News, “because of its significance and the tremendous tension” over the outcome.
“It’s hard to believe in this day and age that a guy who represented an immigrant rights group for years holds these views,” said out gay City Councilnember Daniel Dromm whose Jackson Heights district overlaps with Stavisky’s Senate district. “You have to wonder what he did for LGBT immigrants when he was at MinKwon,” the social service agency Jung has led.
Dromm, head of the Council’s Education Committee, said he has worked with Jung on immigrant issues. But Dromm is also a leader in pushing for the integration of LGBT issues into the school curriculum.
“What he is attempting to do is make us invisible again,” Dromm said. “And invisibility is our greatest oppressor. His trying to push us back in the closet by not allowing LGBT representation in textbooks is egregious.”
Allen Roskoff, veteran gay activist and president of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, said, “The remarks by Jung were quite alarming. It takes us back to decades ago when homophobia was more obvious and transparent. Toby Stavisky has always stood up for the LGBT community. We can’t afford to go backward.”
Pauline Park, a Korean American who has lived in Queens for 20 years just outside the district and is the chair of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (NYAGRA), said, “S.J. Jung’s comments on LGBT people and same-sex marriage are completely unacceptable. Jung seems to think that he can win his primary race through homophobic appeals to Christian fundamentalists in the 16th Senate district, including the most right-wing and homophobic elements of the Korean community in Queens. But a campaign strategy predicated on prejudice will not succeed in doing anything other than discrediting him as a candidate for elective office in the most diverse county in the United States."
Park added, “MinKwon does some good work, but it is known to be overly cautious on certain issues, particularly social issues,” such as LGBT rights.
Subsequent to the original posting of this story, a group of nine Korean-American and Asian and Pacific Islander LGBT and allied groups responded to Jung’s comments, writing, “S.J. Jung’s backwards remarks about LGBTQ people are out of sync with a place as diverse as Queens, which has a vibrant LGBTQ immigrant community. As LGBTQ Korean Americans, their family members and their allies, we are deeply disappointed to see a man who has done such important work in Korean American communities express such bigotry around LGBTQ communities, marriage and public education. His harmful wish to literally erase LGBTQ people from school text books ignores the existence of people like us and our families, who live every day at the intersection of LGBTQ and Korean identities. When community leaders like Jung make homophobic and transphobic remarks, it is absolutely devastating to young people in their communities who are struggling to come out. As a community leader, Jung has a moral responsibility to be a voice for these LGBTQ young people–not a megaphone for outdated bigotry. We urge Jung to think long and hard about the damaging impact of his words, reevaluate the positions he has taken, and meet with the organizations that have signed onto this statement.”
The organizations that signed on to the statement were the Dari Project, Korean Americans United for Equality, Korean American Rainbow Parents, Korean Americans for Political Advancement, the Asian Pacific Islander Project of PFLAG NYC, the National Queer Asian American and Pacific Islander Alliance, Gay Asian and Pacific Islander Men of New York, Q-WAVE, and the Asian Pride Project.
“S.J. Jung's views are appalling and offensive,” wrote Victoria Ng, Stavisky’s campaign manager via email. “His intolerance has no place in the State Senate or in our community.”
Jung has sought LGBT support in past races for the City Council and the State Senate, but does not seem to have this round. He got 43 percent of the primary vote against Stavisky in 2014 in the district that winds through parts of Flushing, East Flushing, Murray Hill, Queens Borough Hill, Woodside, Elmhurst, Corona, Bayside, Forest Hills, Rego Park, Fresh Meadows, Oakland Gardens, Pomonok, Electchester, and Middle Village.
“It’s an increasingly Asian district,” said Dromm, who has built strong alliances with Asian communities, “but we need to head off any possibility that somebody with these viewpoints could achieve elective office.”
Stavisky, who has been endorsed by the Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens and the Stonewall Democrats as well as the Owles Club, was the lead co-sponsor on the same-sex marriage bill as early as 2009 and is a co-sponsor of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, a transgender civil rights measure, as well as a bill banning so-called sexual orientation “conversion therapy” for minors. A former high school social studies teacher, Stavisky said LGBT issues “should be a part of the curriculum. It ought to be taught as part of American history.”
Stavisky’s biggest concern, though, is Jung’s position against abortion rights.
“He is not pro-choice,” she said. “His position is to the right of Trump and Bush. He would not make exception in the case of rape,” only if the life of the mother were endangered.
Jung’s campaign website says he is running on his experience building a community organization and small business, calling himself “a fearless reformer” who “has the courage and conviction to reject politics as usual and finally change the culture of corruption in Albany.”
Jung did not respond to Gay City News’ call for comment on his stances on LGBT issues. Per his request, his campaign manager was emailed a list of questions on a range of issues and there was no response by press time.
In comments to the Daily News, Jung insisted that his Bible-based opposition to same-sex marriage represented a “distinction, not a matter of discrimination.” He explained that his comments to the Korean group warned of “the dangers faced by groups who are not in agreement with the Supreme Court’s ruling upholding gay people’s rights to marry.” He asserted that in raising the issue of same-sex couples shown in textbooks, he was lamenting “a general trend” and he was concerned about protecting “the rights and freedoms of all, regardless of their views on this matter.” Jung did not respond to Gay City News’ question as to whether he would work to repeal New York’s marriage equality law or challenge last year’s Supreme Court ruling.