Around 100 people assembled at City Hall Park on February 24 for a fiery and emotional demonstration denouncing Mayor Eric Adams for hiring three anti-LGBTQ pastors to serve in his administration.
More than a dozen speakers delivered direct and consistent messages to the mayor demanding that he immediately rescind the appointments of Fernando Cabrera, Erick Salgado, and Gilford Monrose. Cabrera and Monrose were assigned to faith-based roles and Salgado was tapped to serve in the Office of Immigrant Affairs. All three of those appointees have documented anti-LGBTQ records.
“We are here today in response to a stinging insult and to prevent a real danger,” out gay Councilmember Chi Ossé of Brooklyn told the crowd at City Hall. “The tax dollars of LGBTQ New Yorkers are about to begin paying the salary of a man who waged war on our rights and dignity at home… Respect for the humanity of fellow New Yorkers must always be a prerequisite of public service. Fernando Cabrera has failed that most basic test.”
Out gay Councilmember Crystal Hudson, also of Brooklyn, pointed to the diversity of the new City Council and said the people of New York did not go to the polls last year to usher in “bigots” to City Hall. The Council’s LGBTQ Caucus condemned the appointments in a joint statement February 21.
The speakers represented a diverse cross-section of New Yorkers of all backgrounds, including faith leaders, immigrants, activists, non-profit organizations, and multiple out LGBTQ elected officials in city and state government. Speakers were joined by activists who held signs emblazoned with messages such as “Mayor Adams keep your God out of our government” and “Rescind homophobic appointments now!”
Adams has insisted that the views of his appointees have evolved — and Cabrera issued a lengthy statement on Facebook apologizing for his history of homophobia. To this day, however, Cabrera’s church, New Life Outreach International in the Bronx, continues to have a homophobic statement of faith — and multiple speakers cast doubt on whether the appointees have actually changed their beliefs.
“As a marriage advocate for years, pardon me if I need a little more concrete proof of evolution,” said Cathy Marino-Thomas, who serves as the board chair of Equality New York and was a leader in the fight for marriage equality. “What I’m hoping for after you hear us today, Mr. Mayor, is that you will think back to the days when you supported marriage equality, freedom, and bodily autonomy, and you will reconsider these appointments.”
There was also a sense of exasperation over the re-emergence of problematic figures the community has long fought against. Out trans district leader Melissa Sklarz of Queens pointed out that queer folks mounted resistance to Cabrera when he was a member of the City Council — and yet he’s back in city government.
“Like a bad seed, he keeps sprouting back up,” Sklarz said.
Out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman of Manhattan, who recently discussed the appointments with Adams, echoed the demands voiced by activists.
“Mayor Adams, rescind these appointments immediately,” Hoylman said.
Hoylman’s predecessor, out gay former State Senator Thomas Duane of Manhattan, was also on hand and described the appointments as “despicable.”
Moreover, multiple speakers warned that the hiring of three anti-LGBTQ individuals showed a troubling pattern in a city that is supposed to be known as a hub for the LGBTQ community.
“This is not something we can balance out,” activist Cecilia Gentili said, drawing applause from the crowd. “There is no, ‘Oh, I’m going to put three LGBTQ people in another place.’ You are a homophobe or a transphobe or you are not… At this moment, let’s make it very clear. Eric Adams is appointing homophobes and transphobes — and that makes him a homophobe and transphobe.”
Other speakers included Allen Roskoff, the president of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, who said the mayor’s appointments amounted to a middle finger to the LGBTQ community. In response, Roskoff turned his face to City Hall and gestured his own middle finger to the mayor.
With growing frustration, speakers urged the mayor to meet with them after they said he disregarded their concerns.
“These appointments indicate to us that our lives do not matter, that our voices are not worthy of being heard even when we speak up and say, ‘No, this is not just,’” said Shéár Avory, a New York City community organizer for the New Pride Agenda.
The mayor’s hiring decisions even prompted some speakers to question whether he would be welcome at the city’s annual Pride March in June.
In the face of widespread outrage, there were those who emphasized that the mayor can still redeem himself. Out lesbian Councilmember Kristin Richardson Jordan of Manhattan accused the mayor of carrying out an agenda that is “looking an awful lot like white supremacy,” but said it is not too late for the mayor to “do the right thing” and change course on his appointments.
The mayor, however, appears to have no plans to reverse the appointments. In a written statement provided to Gay City News, Adams said he appreciates the concerns of those who protested at City Hall but will stand by his hires.
“Throughout my career, I have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the LGBTQ+ community, through thick and thin, and always will,” Adams said following the demonstration. “At the same time, I believe that banishing people who hold views that I personally disagreed with sends the wrong message and in the long run is counterproductive when the real goal is to help people grow and evolve. If we want to make progress, we have to be willing to meet people where they are and take them where we want them to be. Our team will show, through our actions and deeds, that we are committed to serving all New Yorkers equally and fairly, regardless of who they love or how they identify.”
Among other demands, advocates called on the mayor to prioritize funding for NYC Unity Project, a workforce development initiative for runaway and homeless youth.
Others on hand at the event included Reverend Elder Pat Baumgardner of the Metropolitan Community Church of New York; Jacqui Painter of the Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn; Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City president Justin Sanchez; LGBT Community Center director of advocacy and community engagement Trevon Mayers; Housing Works organizer Jason Rosenberg; If/When/How legal defense fund director Rafa Kidvai; Immigrant Community Empowerment executive director Diane Moreno; out Assemblymember Deborah Glick of Manhattan; and out Councilmembers Erik Bottcher of Manhattan and Lynn Schulman of Queens. Gay Officers Action League (GOAL) president Brian Downey was unable to attend but issued a statement in support of the demonstration.