Don’t let a sea of blue seats fool you: There are members of the New York City Council actively working against gay rights — including one in southern Brooklyn, where Councilmember Chaim Deutsch has long shown hostility toward LGBTQ causes.
Deutsch, a Democrat who represents Brighton Beach, Sheepshead Bay, Trump Village, Manhattan Beach, Luna Park, Brightwater Towers, and Midwood, has spent years voting against LGBTQ rights and voicing comments about the community that would make most New Yorkers cringe. But much of it has gone unnoticed as he customarily remains publicly tight-lipped about his views.
Deutsch’s anti-gay sentiments extend as far back as 2013 when he attacked Democratic primary opponent Theresa Scavo during a debate simply because she was backed by a gay-friendly group.
“I have to say that, Theresa, you have the National Organization for Women’s endorsement, which, I don’t know how you could represent this community when they have an agenda with gays and lesbians,” he said as documented on a video posted on YouTube.
Long after that debate, Deutsch continued to show he wanted no part in advancing LGBTQ rights.
He was especially busy with his anti-gay votes in 2017. In April of that year, he voted against a resolution calling upon the Department of Education to provide curricular and other support to protect LGBTQ and gender nonconforming students, and to inform them that they have a right to convene and participate in gay-straight alliances.
Two months later, Deutsch was the only councilmember to vote against Int. 1638, a law requiring the Department of Education to report on whether schools have gay-straight alliances and whether teachers and administrators have received trainings related to supporting LGBTQ students.
Deutsch capped off his year of homophobia in November of 2017 when he voted against a no-brainer bill that would have banned the practice of so-called gay conversion therapy, which has been rejected by the American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and other professional groups. The bill passed anyway, with Deutsch and former Brooklyn Councilmember David Greenfield being the only lawmakers opposing it. Bronx Councilmember Andy King abstained.
Most recently, Deutsch avoided attending a hearing pertaining to LGBTQ rights for veterans — despite serving as the chair of the Veterans Committee on the City Council. He didn’t show up for a November hearing on Intro 479, which would require the city’s Department of Veterans’ Services (DVS) to offer assistance to veterans discharged from the military due to their sexual orientation during the era of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The legislation would direct DVS to help the veterans upgrade their discharge status when possible.
Even a mass shooting of gay folks wouldn’t get Deutsch to budge. According to journalist David King, who currently is managing editor of The Collaborative, an Albany-based publication, Deutsch was among three councilmembers who refused to participate when the City Council placed rainbow flags on their desks following the 2016 massacre at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando where a gunman killed 49 people and wounded 53 others.
Deutsch has, on multiple occasions, refused to publicly comment on his stance toward LGBTQ rights issues. Deutsch continued that trend this week when his office did not respond to an inquiry from Gay City News regarding his votes in opposition to LGBTQ rights, his comments during the 2013 debate, or his no-show at the hearing on legislation pertaining to discharged LGBTQ service members.
The 49-year-old lawmaker was first elected in 2013 after narrowly defeating current 45th Assembly co-district leader Ari Kagan in a Democratic primary race. He cruised to re-election in 2017. Deutsch, an Orthodox Jew, represents a district that consists of a large Russian-speaking population as well as Orthodox communities, which traditionally have taken conservative stances on LGBTQ issues.
Lyosha Gorshkov, who serves as the co-president of a southern Brooklyn-based Russian-speaking network called RUSA LGBT, said Deutsch told him that he voted against the ban on conversion therapy because he believed people should have a “choice.”
“He said, ‘If a person wants to be cured from homosexuality, he should have an option to go with conversion therapy,’” Gorshkov recalled. “I said, ‘Excuse me?’”
Gorshkov said he invited Deutsch to the annual Brighton Beach Pride celebration in the past, but he never showed up — and now he’s done trying to convince him.
“I don’t have any confidence in him,” Gorshkov said. “Now I’m not even going to bother to invite him anymore. If he doesn’t care about us, why should I?”
The gay community in the district has become fed up with Deutsch, according to Gorshkov, who said “a lot of people are calling him an ignorant bigot.”
Gorshkov added, “They’re not supporting him.”
In his conversations with Deutsch, Gorshkov said the councilmember told him that he does “not support same-sex marriage because it’s against my religion,” but claimed he has no problem with gay people and took the stale I-have-gay-friends approach by saying “my best friend is Corey Johnson,” the out gay city council speaker.
Johnson and Deutsch have appeared to be close allies, with the pair often pictured together on social media and praising one another.
When asked, Johnson refused to directly address Deutsch’s stances on LGBTQ issues, instead telling Gay City News on Tuesday morning that, as speaker, “it is my job to collaborate with all councilmembers and demonstrate a good working relationship — whether we agree on everything or not.” He added that “it is my hope that all my colleagues” would treat everyone with respect.
Other city councilmembers have also shied away from showing public resistance to Deutsch’s positions on gay rights or his past comments, despite often criticizing elected officials from other parts of the country for similar actions.
The Brooklyn Community Pride Center, which does not endorse or oppose any elected officials, said in a statement that it finds Deutsch’s statements and political positions to be “troubling and out of step with our neighbors in Brooklyn.”
“Councilmember Deutsch should join us in building a network of support for LGBTQ+ Brooklynites rather than engaging in dog-whistle politics to satisfy a minority of intolerant people,” the center said.
The most recent action on LGBTQ issues in City Council was on November 28 when Queens out gay Councilmember Daniel Dromm introduced a resolution reaffirming — at a difficult moment in national politics — the city’s commitment to civil rights protections of all minority groups, including women and members of the LGBTQ community. That resolution remains in the Committee on Civil and Human Rights.
Another resolution, also introduced in November, calls on the city’s Department of Education to implement curriculum and acquire textbooks that include key moments in LGBTQ history and portray the contributions of LGBT individuals in US history.
On November 14, Dromm introduced a bill that would include in anonymous surveys of those seeking jobs with city agencies questions about their sexual orientation and gender identity.
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