No Unity Yet on ESPA-Clinton Flap

City gay political clubs fail to agree on response to criticism of senator

Six days after the leak of a confidential memo written by Alan Van Capelle, the executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, recommending that LGBT New Yorkers not contribute money to the re-election campaign of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, gay clubs in the city failed to reach consensus on a statement in reaction.

But the political clubs have made progress in their efforts to set up a meeting with Clinton—according to activists from the groups, gay leaders close to the senator, and her office—at which they hope to address concerns Van Capelle raised about her views on marriage equality. Clinton supports civil unions and as early as 2000 told this reporter that she would endorse federal recognition of such partnerships, but she opposes marriage equality and continues to support the Defense of Marriage Act signed in 1996 by her husband, the former president.

Representatives of at least six LGBT political clubs met on Monday evening, but, according to most of those on hand, time constraints derailed efforts to approve a letter to Van Capelle from the Greater Voices coalition of clubs offering the group’s support for his efforts to pressure Clinton. In the memo that ESPA insists was intended as a private message to the group’s roughly two-dozen board members, Van Capelle argued that giving Clinton money would “actually hurt our community… by send[ing] a message to other elected officials that you can be working against us during this critical time and not suffer a negative pushback from the gay community.”

In place of an official statement from Greater Voices, nine individuals plus the Jim Owles Reform Democratic Club signed a letter to Van Capelle expressing “gratitude” and “admiration” for his “courage to demand full equality” and to warn “against the very real social and financial repercussions” of Clinton not proving responsive. The letter’s signers included Alan Fleishman, a Democratic district leader in Park Slope and a former president of Brooklyn’s Lambda Independent Democrats, Bob Zuckerman, a former president of the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City, Gerard Cabrera, co-president of the Out People of Color Political Action Committee, and Pauline Park, co-chair of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy.

Among Greater Voices members who spoke to Gay City News, only Daniel Dromm, long active in the Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens, indicated that his club refrained from signing on over a substantive difference with Van Capelle. After noting that the Van Capelle memo was never intended to be public and was therefore not an official Pride Agenda statement, he also indicated that his group wants to keep pressure on Clinton over the marriage issue, but doesn’t want to do so “in an attacking way.”

“We’re Democrats, and she’s a Democrat,” Dromm said.

None of the signers on the letter to Van Capelle are affiliated primarily with Manhattan’s Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, which is the political base of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a major supporter of a March 10 LGBT fundraiser for Clinton planned at Diane von Furstenberg’s Studio on West 12th Street. H. Torrence Allen, the club’s president who works for the City Council, did not return a call requesting comment.

Several LGBT leaders, including Emily Giske, a vice chair of the state Democratic Party, and Jonathan Capehart, a Democrat and former journalist who was an early supporter of Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg, criticized Van Capelle in comments last week to Gay City News.

This week, all sides—ESPA, the gay political activists, and Clinton staffers—were at pains to emphasize that progress was being made in opening up dialogue between the senator and the LGBT community. Gary Parker, the president of the Brooklyn Lambda club and coordinator of Greater Voices, said he is in communication with Clinton’s office to set up a meeting, though the format, venue, and timing have not been worked out. Jennifer Hanley, a Clinton spokeswoman, agreed with that assessment.

Ethan Geto, a longtime gay activist who is close to Clinton and last week voiced willingness to mediate an effort to bring the two sides together, said that after conversations with political staffers in the senator’s office, he was “absolutely confident that a meeting will take place in the next four to eight weeks.”

And, the Pride Agenda said that Van Capelle on Tuesday received and accepted an invitation to join national LGBT leaders in Washington at a meeting Clinton will convene on March 16 in her role as chair of the Democratic Senate Steering and Outreach Committee. Hanley, the Clinton spokeswoman, said plans for the meeting, including Van Capelle’s participation, had been in the works for months.