BY ANDY HUMM | Governor Andrew Cuomo’s state budget allocated a million dollars for his proposed memorial to the victims of the 2016 Orlando Pulse nightclub massacre and other hate crimes to be sited in Hudson River Park west of Greenwich Village. A design competition has already been conducted for the memorial, though no winner has been announced.
The Democratic-led Assembly approved the funding, but Senate Republicans eliminated it. That led an incredulous and outraged Senator Brad Hoylman, an out gay Democrat who represents the West Side district where the memorial is to be, to offer an amendment to restore it.
All the Senate Republicans and their allies in the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) voted against Hoylman’s amendment, as did Senator Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, a nominal Democrat whose vote for Senate Republican Leader John Flanagan has kept the Republican minority in control of the Senate agenda for the past two terms, thwarting numerous progressive reforms coming out of the Assembly — from transgender rights to universal health insurance for all New Yorkers.
“This action speaks to a deeper pattern of intolerance for LGBT issues by the Senate Republicans,” Hoylman said. “They won’t touch anything explicitly LGBT-related with a 10-foot pole. Since same-sex marriage, there hasn’t been a stand-alone bill that is LGBT-specific passed nor brought to the floor — not GENDA, not the ban on conversion therapy, not LGBT data parity, nothing.”
Republican Leader Flanagan’s office did not return a call for comment.
[Editor’s note: Subsequent to the publication of this story, Candice Giove, the IDC’s director of communications, contacted Gay City News to say that while the IDC members support funding for the memorial, Hoylman’s effort was a “hostile amendment” and the IDC was already assured the money would be in the budget. “Hostile amendment” is one that is not in line with the intentions of Senate leadership, which had not responded to Gay City News’ query to Leader Flanagan on the matter. Giove pointed to an IDC release from April 9 – not shared at that time with the newspaper – that stated, “The LGBT memorial is an IDC priority which was included in our one-house that the entire minority Democratic conference voted against. This funding is included in this year’s budget and it’s absurd to use this tragedy as a talking point.” Giove’s outreach to Gay City News was the first time the newspaper was able to get comment from the IDC, whose leader, Klein, had previously uniformly failed to respond to the newspaper’s queries over the life of the conference. In response to the Giove’s statement, Mike Murphy, a spokesperson for the Senate Democratic Conference, said, “The IDC has allowed the Senate Republicans to control the Senate and in that time they have blocked almost every piece of pro LGBTQ-legislation including specific funding for this crucial memorial. Secret promises made behind the scenes are not good enough. Hopefully the highlighting of this issue will ensure that this memorial is fully funded.”]
The LGBT memorial is an IDC priority which was included in our one-house that the entire minority Democratic conference voted against. This funding is included in this year’s budget and it’s absurd to use this tragedy as a talking point.
“The viciousness, the malicious intent behind that is astounding,” Hoylman said. “The Senate acted cowardly to strike back at victims and their families in the dark of night and it is despicable.”
Hoylman’s speech on the floor of the Senate condemning the Republican action can be seen at the end of this article.
In the case of transgender protections sought in GENDA, or the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, and the proposed ban on conversion therapy on minors, Cuomo has taken executive action to put in place the advances spelled out in both measures, but these actions could be rescinded by a future governor — just as the Trump administration in Washington reversed the Obama era policy on transgender students’ access to bathrooms consistent with their gender identity.
In the end — after Hoylman’s effort to restore funding fell short — the governor used his control over portions of the budget to add back the money for the memorial, which he had announced at a public gathering at the Stonewall in the wake of last year’s Pulse massacre that left 49 dead, mostly Latinx and African American LGBTQ people and their non-LGBTQ friends. The Orlando tragedy was the worst such shooting by a single gunman in American history.
The governor’s press office said the governor will “suballocate” to the Hudson River Park Trust $1 million from a $200 million pot allocated to the “NY Works EDF,” or the state Economic Development Fund.
One of the submissions for the memorial design came from the late Gilbert Baker, who proposed a 70-foot pole flying his Rainbow Flag, similar to the installation in Harvey Milk Plaza in San Francisco.
Cuomo, the head of the Democratic Party in New York, will not go after the renegade IDC senators led by Jeff Klein of the Bronx, and the party itself has taken no action against them, such as trying to expel them — though some new members of the IDC, including José Peralta of Queens, Marisol Alcantara of Washington Heights, and Jesse Hamilton of Brooklyn have faced protests from constituents for their treachery, including a movement to expel Peralta.
The IDC members gain perks for themselves from the Republicans whom they empower, while claiming to have the leverage to pass some reforms, such as raising the age of criminal liability.
In other budget news, a million dollars was appropriated for a statewide Hate Crimes Task Force that Cuomo proposed to be made of up of representatives from the State Police, the Division of Human Rights, and the Division of Criminal Justice Services “to mitigate recent incidents of bias-motivated threats, harassment, and violence in New York” that have sharply increased in the wake of the election of Donald Trump. It is tasked to work with local officials and schools to “identify and investigate hate-motivated crimes and bias-related trends, community vulnerabilities, and discriminatory practices.”