LGBTQ New Yorkers and electeds urge CB5 to condemn anti-trans education council resolution

Former State Senator Thomas Duane speaks during a Community Board 5 meeting on April 11.
Former State Senator Thomas Duane speaks during a Community Board 5 meeting on April 11.
Zoom/Community Board 5

One by one, LGBTQ New Yorkers and elected officials spoke up during Manhattan Community Board 5’s meeting at Xavier High School on April 11 to urge its members to formally condemn an anti-trans sports resolution approved by Community Education Council District 2 (CEC2) last month.

The meeting represented the latest development in the aftermath of CEC2’s widely-criticized March 20 resolution, which called for a new committee that could review and potentially oppose trans inclusion in school sports. The resolution was non-binding and New York education officials have reaffirmed that students can play sports in accordance with their gender identity, but the vote nonetheless sparked concern that the national backlash against trans athletes could gain steam in New York — especially after Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman fueled outrage with an executive order barring trans athletes from using sports facilities in the county. 

Community education councils, which are separate from the Department of Education, are meant to give members of the public an opportunity to speak out about school-related issues — and some CEC2 schools are located in the same district as Community Board 5, which stretches from 59th Street down to 14th Street between Eighth Avenue and Lexington Avenue. Community boards also play an advisory role and consist of 50 members appointed by the borough president and city lawmakers.

The Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City, a citywide LGBTQ political club, and the statewide education and advocacy non-profit New Pride Agenda showed up in force at Community Board 5’s meeting to encourage members to pass a resolution of their own condemning the education council’s resolution. 

“I’m here to profess my profound disappointment in the actions of CEC2 and the resolution that seeks to keep transgender kids from participating in sports aligned with their gender identity,” said Cathy Marino-Thomas, a member of Stonewall and a longtime LGBTQ activist who previously served as the executive director and later the board chair of Marriage Equality NY. 

Marino-Thomas called on the board to “take a stand against discrimination” by issuing its own resolution in opposition to the CEC2 vote.

“As a queer mother, I understand the importance of creating an inclusive and supportive environment for our children regardless of their gender identity,” Marino-Thomas said. “Allowing transgender children to have the opportunity to participate in sports teams that align with their gender identity is not only a matter of basic human rights, it is also a crucial step toward fostering a sense of belonging and acceptance.”

Stonewall board member Caleb Simmons, who works in the district, also slammed the resolution, saying such a policy would “rob” trans student-athletes of the “crucial childhood experience of fostering connection and a sense of shared belonging.”

“Please do not allow bigots to hijack prestigious bodies such as yours,” Simmons said. 

Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City board member Caleb Simmons.
Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City board member Caleb Simmons.Zoom/Community Board 5

Elisa Crespo, the executive director of New Pride Agenda, joined the meeting virtually to denounce what she described as “a troubling trend that’s happening in our city,” referring to the CEC2 resolution. The resolution, she said, sends a signal to young people — especially trans youth — that they do not belong in sports.

“The fact is that trans youth deserve to play sports that align with their gender identity and the crisis that we’re seeing play out is completely manufactured and not based in fact,” Crespo said. “We in New York City must speak up. We must let anti-trans folks know that it is not OK in New York City.”

Out gay former State Senator Thomas Duane — the first out member of the State Legislature and one of two of the first out members of the City Council — delivered impassioned remarks in support of young trans athletes as he called on the community board to take a strong stand against the CEC2 resolution.

“Whoever wrote this hopes they’ll do damaging things to children,” Duane said before pausing and slowing down for emphasis. “Not allowing children to play sports among people of their gender is wrong, unhealthy, and we’re not in Arizona in the 1800s.”

Duane reminded attendees that he sponsored the Dignity for All Students Act, a law which protects LGBTQ students in New York State, and he pointed to the great deal of research affirming transgender youth as he made his case. 

“Every scientific, every psychological association, every psychiatrist, the medical associations, the NIH… all say that those who participate in sport should participate with the gender in which they feel most comfortable,” said Duane, who added that “this issue has been studied to death.”

Duane said he would be in attendance when the board opts to vote on the issue in the future. Samir Lavingia, the chair of Community Board 5, told Gay City News the board does not have a position on CEC2’s resolution and will need to discuss it and vote on it before taking a stance.

“I am speaking to the chair of the relevant committee to discuss the path forward on this item and we are hoping to get this onto the Budget, Education & City Services Committee meeting agenda at the end of the month on April 30,” Lavingia said. 

The controversy has brought renewed attention to the backgrounds of some CEC2 members, including Maud Maron, who spoke at a Moms for Liberty event in January and was a sponsor of CEC2’s anti-trans sports resolution. Craig Slutzkin, who is listed as the second vice chair of Community Board 5, is also listed as a member of CEC2. Although the vote breakdown on the anti-trans sports resolution has not been posted publicly, Queens Chronicle reported that Slutzkin, who is president of Townsend Harris High School’s alumni association, has faced backlash from students at that school who signed a petition criticizing his vote in support of the resolution. According to Queens Chronicle, Slutzkin defended his vote by saying that the resolution sought to give “families a safe forum to have respectful yet difficult conversations about how school sports are organized” and that “there was no call for any bans.”

Gabriel Lewenstein, who was elected president of Stonewall earlier this year, told Gay City News on April 12 that members of the political club and New Pride Agenda felt it was important to attend the meeting to ramp up pressure on the board to take action against CEC2’s resolution, which he is concerned could contribute to bullying and harassment against trans youth.

“In Manhattan, the heart of New York City, the birthplace of the modern LGBTQ rights movement, this community supports LGBTQ people and supports trans kids,” said Lewenstein, who added that advocates wanted the board to send a message to trans kids that they are “welcome and allowed to be who they are.” 

Elected officials who spoke out against the CEC2 resolution during the meeting included Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, Manhattan Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, and Manhattan Councilmember Erik Bottcher.

Other community boards are also in the process of developing a response to the CEC2 resolution, including Manhattan’s Community Board 2, which told Gay City News that its Arts, Culture, Education, and School Committee on April 8 voted to recommend a letter in opposition to the resolution. Bottcher also noted that Community Board 4 is working on a resolution in response to CEC2. Community Board 4 could not immediately be reached for comment on April 12.