Other 2006 Pride Agenda Priorities

Beyond marriage, more incremental partnership rights and health care, meth

While Alan Van Capelle readily conceded that marriage is dominating the queer community’s agenda in New York, the executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA) said that in the coming year his group would be moving forward on other issues with the state government.

“What we’re going to try to do this year is try to pull together a bucket of rights, maybe four, five or six bills as a package and try to move those bills as a package,” Van Capelle said of their efforts at the state level regarding more incremental steps on the road to marriage for gay and lesbian couples. “It might include medical decision-making, it might include a bill that gives us access to the family courts.”

Any legislation there, however, is imperiled by the precarious political position Republicans are in. The party has not selected a candidate to run for governor in 2006 while Democrat Eliot Spitzer, the state attorney general, has been campaigning for months.

Republican Jeanine F. Pirro, the Westchester county district attorney, wants Hillary Clinton’s U.S. Senate seat, but some Republicans, such as Joe Bruno, the State Senate majority leader, have publicly urged her to quit that race and run for Spitzer’s open seat.

The State Senate, which is currently controlled by the Republicans, looks like it could possibly be won by the Democrats. Lacking a strong candidate at the top of the ballot could make that more likely.

“Joe Bruno’s number one priority is making sure the Republicans stay the majority in the Senate,” Van Capelle said during an interview that ran to nearly two hours with Gay City News last Friday. “They are facing a Republican ticket with no heavyweights and no one to help pull the bottom of their ticket in. That’s a real issue for them when they don’t have a superstar running for governor and a superstar running for U.S. Senate.”

That might mean that in 2006 legislators will want to finish the state budget, which is an often contentious and drawn out affair, and head home to their districts to campaign.

“I think one of two things will happen next year,” Van Capelle said. “There is one prevailing thought that the Legislature gets nothing but the budget done and they go home and they focus totally on reelection. There is another thought where they try to figure out what are the few pieces of legislation they need to do to keep their seats.”

It is unlikely that Van Capelle’s “bucket of rights” would be on that list. Still, the statewide gay lobbying group has 2006 goals for the state Legislature. One is to play a significant role in next year’s state elections.

“One of the things that we’re really committed to doing next year is spending upwards of $200,000 in political action contributions, which will be probably one of the largest amounts the Pride Agenda has ever spent,” Van Capelle said. “We are aggressively building up our PAC war chest to be able to support people who have been good on our issues.”

Another “major priority” is to pass the Gender Expression Nondiscrimination Act (GENDA), a law that would ban discrimination based on gender identity or expression, in the State Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats. GENDA is generally understood as a measure to protect the civil rights of transgendered New Yorkers. A vote on that measure in the Senate is unlikely.

“I don’t think we have the votes to pass it,” Van Capelle said.

ESPA would also like to increase the funding for its Health and Human Services Network, a group of 53 organizations that get state dollars for non-AIDS health issues.

“Suffice it to say, next year you will probably see us asking for upwards of five to six million dollars,” Van Capelle said.

Funding for that initiative has remained at roughly two to three million dollars per year for several years.

Then too ESPA wants more state money to battle meth.

“One of the things we are very concerned about is crystal meth funding in particular,” Van Capelle said. “I think the state gave $300,000 for crystal meth funding. Only $150,000 was earmarked toward the gay community.”

ESPA has been organizing in local communities and at churches in its Pride in the Pulpit program to advance queer community issues.

“We spent the past two years or so building an organizing apparatus and a foundation for LGBT people to win politically in New York State,” he said. “Two years ago there wasn’t an organized response to the religious right in New York and today there are almost 500 members of Pride in the Pulpit, religious leaders representing 285 congregations and 20 different denominations across New York.”

Generally, Van Capelle felt that New York had become more hospitable to queer issues. That greater acceptance is shown in statewide polls that the group has done.

“Our polling for the past two years has shown New Yorkers moving in the right direction,” Van Capelle said. “The last poll… had 51 percent in favor of marriage… and 72 percent in favor of civil unions. When you talk about the individual rights like medical decision-making and hospital visitation, you’re in the 85th percentile. When you talk about adoption, you’re in the 79th, 82nd percentile.”

ESPA’s plans for any city legislation are not so well formed. The group, presumably, will be among those invited to City Hall for a January meeting with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, that the mayor talked about in an interview last week with Gay City News.

“We haven’t sat and had our full planning session on what our ask with the city is going to be,” Van Capelle said. “We’re settling out our year, we want to see who the new speaker of the Council is going to be, we are going to be planning meetings in January and February with the new Council members and the new chairs of the committees.”

And then, acknowledging the political and symbolic importance of initiatives undertaken by the City Council, he added, “When New York City moves on something… it helps moves things in other parts of the state and also the country.”