As a New Yorker and a member of the LGBT community, I have always taken great pride in the fact that our city has been at the forefront of the community’s struggle for justice and equality. In fact, it was in my very district that brave New Yorkers resisted discrimination at the Stonewall Inn and sparked the national gay rights movement more than 30 years ago.
Today, we may be a little older, but let there be no doubt: our movement is gaining strength with each passing day. In 1991, there were only 41 openly gay elected officials nationwide. Today, 350 openly gay elected officials serve their communities.
I am proud to be one of them, the first openly gay Speaker of the New York City Council. Elected officials in Albany have joined the fight, recently passing legislation to permit domestic partners to control the remains of their deceased partners in the same manner as spouses. And in an extremely important ruling in February of last year, State Supreme Court Judge Doris Ling-Cohan ruled that the state Constitution requires same-sex couples to have equal access to marriage.
All of us should rejoice in this progress. But we cannot stop. In fact, the 4 to 3 ruling by the New York State Court of Appeals against the Equal Benefits Law several weeks ago shows us we need to redouble our efforts. The ruling reminds everyone who has joined our community’s fight for justice that we cannot let up—not even for a single moment—and that we will have many more battles to take on before we win basic civil rights for all New Yorkers.
The Equal Benefits Law is simple. It bars the City of New York from contracting with companies that do not provide equal benefits to all of their employees. It’s bad business for the city to support companies that unfairly treat their workers—regardless of whether those workers are men or women, black or white, gay or straight. Simply put, this law ensures that New York City obtains the best quality goods and services at the best price from responsible contractors.
The Court’s failure to demand that the City hire companies that treat their workers fairly and equally deeply troubles me. That’s why, as Speaker, I can guarantee you that the Council will continue to fight to make the Equal Benefits Bill the Equal Benefits Law in the City of New York. We are exploring and pursuing any and all available options for achieving the goals embodied in the Equal Benefits Law. We will not be deterred by this ruling; we will overcome it and see this bill enforced as law.
I remain committed to and will focus attention on issues that dominate the community’s agenda. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and especially transgendered people still suffer disproportionately from life-threatening problems such as AIDS and homelessness. That’s why my colleagues and I are working to provide equal access to city services—whether in the foster care system or in our health care system.
We are also working to protect LGBT students and teachers—and all students and teachers, for that matter—from violence and bullying in our schools. In fact, in 2004 the City Council overrode the Mayor’s veto of the Dignity in All Schools Act. The act requires the Department of Education to develop guidelines that will create school environments free of harassment, and train staff and school safety officers to enforce these policies. The bill also protects victims of harassment and those who report incidents from any retaliatory action.
Our community has made much progress over the last 30 years and we face many challenges in the months and years to come. But history shows us that we’re fighting for what is right. As long as we meet these challenges with the same sense of determination and principle that guided those founders of our movement 30 years ago, New York will continue lead the nation in the LGBT campaign for justice and equality.
Christine Quinn is the Speaker of the New York City Council, on which she has represented Manhattan’s District 3 since 1999. Before that, Quinn served as executive director of the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project.