LGBTQ Groups Warn Hochul Against Bail Reform Rollbacks

David Geffen Hall in New York City
LGBTQ groups are asking Governor Kathy Hochul to keep reforms in place.
REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

More than a dozen LGBTQ groups are sending a warning to top officials in state government: Don’t roll back the progress made on bail reform and other related policies.

Statewide LGBTQ advocacy groups, city-based political clubs, attorneys, and others delivered a joint letter on March 25 to Governor Kathy Hochul, State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to discourage them from caving in to pressure over bail reform and other changes enacted in recent years.

LGBTQ groups are the latest among a wide range of voices — including youth groups and family members of incarcerated individuals — to speak out following a New York Post report indicating that the governor created a 10-point plan to revisit parts of the reforms related to bail, discovery, and Raise the Age.

“We applaud Governor Hochul and both houses for passing several bills and funding initiatives that support LGBTQ+ New Yorkers,” the letter noted. “That is why it is particularly disturbing that Governor Hochul would propose eviscerating critical criminal legal system reforms less than two weeks before the budget is due, thereby capitulating to misinformation, fear-mongering, and overt racism from law enforcement and some elected officials. We urge the governor and the legislature not to adopt these proposals, and to invest in evidence-based solutions to ensure safety for all New Yorkers.”

Among the groups on the letter included Equality New York, Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, GAPIMNY — Empowering Queer and Trans Asian Pacific Islanders, Gender Equality New York, Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens, Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn, New Pride Agenda, NYCLU, Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City, the LGBT Community Center, and Bronx Defenders’ LGBTQ Defense Project.

The letter reminds the state’s leaders of the many ways in which members of the LGBTQ community — especially trans people of color — have been impacted by overpolicing and overcriminalization, including the late Layleen Polanco, who was left alone to die of a medical emergency in her cell at Rikers after she was unable to afford bail. The letter also cited a National Center for Transgender Equality report noting that 47 percent of Black trans people have been incarcerated.

Advocates who spoke to Gay City News expressed concern that such rollbacks would erase years of organizing that brought the reforms to life — and they are particularly worried about potential changes to the “Raise the Age” policy, which allows certain 16 and 17-year-olds to bring their cases to Family Court and prevents youth from having criminal records before reaching adulthood.

“Giving up on the potential of a child and subjecting them to criminal court and lifelong criminal convictions increases the likelihood that child will be rearrested as an adult, not reduce it,” the letter noted.

Chai Jindasiurat, who is on the steering committee of GAPIMNY, stressed that queer youth of color would be among those impacted by such rollbacks.

“We know LGBTQ youth and LGBTQ youth of color are overcriminalized,” Jindasiurat told Gay City News in a phone interview. “They are disproportionately represented in the criminal legal system and they need support and services. They don’t need criminalization. We’re very concerned about the harm that will potentially happen.”

In the face of widespread calls to turn back on reforms, New York City Comptroller Brad Lander on March 22 published an analysis that found the percentage of people rearrested while awaiting trail has remained largely unchanged since the reforms were enacted in the state. Lander’s office recommended that the state prioritize strategies to confront the root causes of violence.

Jared Trujillo, policy counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), said the budget process represents a prime opportunity to invest in solutions to address violent crime — such as survivor-based programs — but he said folks are instead getting carried away with discussions over reforms that he said have nothing to do with increases in crime.

Trujillo pointed to the state’s existing victims’ compensation fund, but he said it is underutilized due in part to the reluctance of many victims to engage with authorities as part of that process.

“There are LGBTQ people of color who are not comfortable cooperating with law enforcement,” Trujillo told Gay City News.

Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club president Allen Roskoff offered strong words for the governor’s apparent plan, saying she “is shoving a mass incarceration plan down New Yorkers’ throats.”

“This plan is simply unacceptable,” Roskoff said in a written statement. “Her proposals will not promote safety, but they will land more people needlessly in jail and disproportionately harm members of the LGBTQ and people of color communities. It’s bad policy, a bad process, and disastrous to our community, which has a long history of victimization by law enforcement. Instead of the governor promoting mass incarceration, I am impatiently waiting for her to grant clemency to those who have been rehabilitated, are no danger to society, have been over-sentenced and are remorseful for past actions. I ask ‘Why Governor, are they still dying in cages?'”

Hochul, Heastie, and Stewart-Cousins did not respond to Gay City News’ requests for comment on March 25.