Equality New York Appoints First Co-Chairs

Cathy Marino-Thomas and Tanya Asapansa Walker copy
Cathy Marino-Thomas and Tanya Asapansa Walker have been named co-chairs of Equality New York.

Equality New York (EQNY), a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group, has appointed activist Cathy Marino-Thomas, who served as executive director and later board chair at Marriage Equality New York, and New York Transgender Advocacy Group (NYTAG) co-founder Tanya Asapansa Walker as the organization’s first co-chairs.

Marino-Thomas and Walker will embark on three-year terms with the four-year-old organization as they aim to build up EQNY’s presence and influence across the state.

Four-year-old statewide advocacy group marks new era with pair of experienced activists — Cathy Marino-Thomas and Tanya Asapansa Walker

Their appointments come in the aftermath of a 2020 election season that ushered in a new president but also saw some warning signs for Democrats in both the House of Representatives and in the New York State Legislature, even as queer representation expanded. Advocates will also have to contend with a reshaped judiciary on the federal level that was shoved to the right during the Trump era.

Tanya Asapansa Walker.Donna Aceto

Still, the organization recognizes there are opportunities for positive change, including locally and on the criminal justice front, especially after a major protest movement emerged over the summer and placed an overdue spotlight on racial injustice. Among other top issues looming at the statewide level is the question of decriminalizing sex work, and advocates have, for now, prioritized the movement to repeal a discriminatory loitering law known as a ban on walking while trans. Improving healthcare access is also a critical challenge — in New York and nationwide.

“State level laws are more important than ever,” Marino-Thomas said in a written statement announcing the new appointments. “I am thrilled to be working with Tanya, [executive director] Amanda Babine, and everyone at EQNY to ensure NYS is a place for everyone.”

Walker said the pair is determined — even during a pandemic — to continue building on the achievements in the queer community, and she underscored the importance of electing “equality-minded” individuals to office in the state.

“The road ahead will not be easy but we will prevail,” Walker noted in a written statement.

The new leaders bring many years of experience to their new roles. Marino-Thomas spearheaded Marriage Equality New York, later known as Marriage Equality USA, and has played a key role at Gays Against Guns, which emerged in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando. Walker, a military veteran, established a long track record of influential activism in her role with NYTAG and has brought urgency to addressing the needs of transgender individuals of color. Most recently, she took on the Trump administration in court for gutting gender identity protections in the Affordable Care Act.

Cathy Marino-Thomas.Donna Aceto

The months and years ahead will indeed present prime opportunities to elect what Walker described as “equality-minded” candidates to office across multiple levels of government. A robust slate of queer candidates are vying for seats in the New York City Council next year and the 2020 elections brought historic breakthroughs for LGBTQ candidates in the state.

In the State Legislature, queer incumbents were re-elected and schoolteacher Jabari Brisport of Brooklyn became the first out LGBTQ person of color elected to the State Senate. At the federal level, out gay congressional candidate Ritchie Torres of the Bronx became the first out gay Afro-Latinx member of Congress while Mondaire Jones of Northern Westchester and Rockland County became the first out gay Black representative. They grew the state’s LGBTQ representation in Congress as they join out gay four-term Congressmember Sean Patrick Maloney of the Hudson Valley, who appears poised to survive a tough challenge for his seat this year pending absentee ballot tallies.

Other EQNY members welcomed Walker and Marino-Thomas in their new roles. EQNY’s co-founder, Gabriel, Blau, described the pair as “the leaders our state needs” in order for the organization to continue growing and making an impact on queer issues statewide.

“There could not be a clearer endorsement of EQNY’s model than the transfer of leadership to two highly respected community leaders,” Blau said in a written statement.

EQNY board member Teri Wilhelm also heaped praise on Marino-Thomas and Walker, describing them as among the “finest advocates” for the community.

“Given the importance of our recent gains on the line and our persistent efforts for full equality far from over, we shouldn’t be more pleased to have such inspiring people lead Equality NY,” Wilhelm stated in a written statement. “It will be my personal pleasure to work with them, to support them, and for us all to welcome them to the largest, progressive stage for LBGTQI rights in the Nation.”

The organization will host a virtual meet and greet with Walker and Marino-Thomas on December 9 at 7 p.m.

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