Concluding an election cycle in which most other out LGBTQ candidates hailed from the Democratic Party, two out gay Republicans emerged victorious in Staten Island: One of them is an incoming city councilmember who has worked for anti-LGBTQ lawmakers and the other is a soon-to-be State Supreme Court justice who voted against transgender rights legislation as a state lawmaker.
Out gay City Council candidate David Carr defeated Democrat Sal Albanese in a lopsided general election race to succeed Steven Matteo in Mid-Island’s 50th District, while out gay Civil Court Judge Ronald Castorina, Jr., won his competition to become a New York Supreme Court justice in the 13th Judicial District. Carr and Castorina are the first out LGBTQ individuals from Staten Island to win elections for City Council or State Supreme Court, respectively.
Prior to becoming a Civil Court judge, Castorina — formerly the chair of the Staten Island Republican Party — worked in private practice, served as a Republican commissioner of the city’s Board of Elections, and represented Staten Island’s District 62 in the State Assembly. As an assemblymember, he voted against the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), which eventually passed in 2019 and added gender identity and expression as a protected class in the state’s human rights and hate crimes laws.
Castorina did vote in favor of some other LGBTQ measures, including a ban on conversion therapy in 2017 and a trans-inclusive bill requiring single occupancy restrooms in state-owned buildings to be designated as gender neutral.
In an email and subsequent phone interview with Gay City News, Castorina said he was unable to “speak about politics or past votes in any way… as much as I’d like to,” citing the need to maintain impartiality as a judge — but he nonetheless touched on his approach to voting.
“Suffice to say that I represented one of the most conservative and Republican Assembly districts in the state, and that my votes represented the values and opinions of the community,” said Castorina, who once made headlines during his stint in Albany when he referred to abortion as “African-American genocide” in response to out lesbian Assemblymember Deborah Glick’s 2016 effort to codify Roe v. Wade.
Speaking of his rise to the State Supreme Court, Carr noted that he hopes closeted LGBTQ conservatives will look to him “as an example, that they too can achieve, and not have to shed or modify their beliefs.” He expressed gratitude to LGBTQ people who have paved the way for others in the community, but when pressed for specific names, he did not mention anyone in particular.
“Not anybody individually, but going back to Stonewall and forward, there have been pioneers who have paved the way that I am grateful for, and I stand on their shoulders,” Castorina said.
The judge also heaped praise on the Staten Island Republican Party for being “a haven” for him and other “gay conservatives” — and said he has found lasting friendships and acceptance there “without bigotry.”
Contrary to Castorina’s experiences, however, many Staten Island Republicans have continued to be on the wrong side of the fight for LGBTQ rights. Earlier this year, Republican Staten Island Republican Congressmember Nicole Malliotakis voted against the Equality Act, a long-stalled federal LGBTQ non-discrimination bill, and Staten Island Councilmembers Matteo and Joe Borelli and have repeatedly voted against queer rights legislation. In 2016, for example, Matteo and Borelli both rejected a city bill requiring single-occupancy bathrooms to be designated as gender-neutral, and in 2018 they opposed a measure allowing folks to update the gender designation on their birth certificates. Like Castorina, Borelli also voted against GENDA when he was in the State Assembly.
In fact, Carr — who will be the lone out Republican to join the City Council — is no stranger to these lawmakers. He serves as Matteo’s chief of staff and previously worked in that same role for Borelli when he was a member of the State Assembly.
Carr’s political platform is largely consistent with many others in his party. Billing himself as a “law and order Republican,” Carr has expressed opposition to vaccine mandates and “non-citizen voting,” campaigned with Republican mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa, and was backed by politicians like Borelli and GOP Assemblymember Michael Reilly — a former cop who strongly opposed a legislative effort aimed at eliminating a discriminatory loitering law commonly known as a ban on “walking while trans” because of the way it was used to target transgender women of color.
Carr cruised to victory in the general election after eking out a win in a much tighter GOP primary competition earlier this year when he won by just 44 votes in a ranked-choice format. He trailed Republican Marko Kepi after the first round of ranked-choice votes, but closed the gap in the subsequent rounds to pull off a narrow victory.
The Log Cabin Republicans, a group of LGBTQ Republicans who became embroiled in internal strife during the Trump era, supported Carr and campaigned for him to boost his candidacy ahead of the election.
In an interview with the Staten Island Advance, Carr downplayed the significance of becoming the first out city lawmaker in his borough.
“I’m proud of who I am, but my being among the first gay Republicans elected to public office in New York State is only a good thing if it brings us closer to the day when identity politics no longer matters and the focus is where it should be, which is on how well a candidate will do the job of serving their community,” Carr told the Staten Island Advance.
Carr joins six other out members of the incoming City Council — Erik Bottcher and Kristin Richardson Jordan of Manhattan; Crystal Hudson and Chi Ossé of Brooklyn; and Lynn Schulman and Tiffany Cabán of Queens — leaving the Bronx as the only borough without LGBTQ representation in the City Council.
Carr did not respond to Gay City News’ request for comment for this story.