The newest member of Brooklyn’s Community Board 9 made history on June 18 when she became the first transgender person to be sworn into the board — and she is also believed to be the first out trans person on any community board in the borough.
But Alejandra Caraballo, a trans Latina lesbian who lives in Prospect Lefferts Gardens and idolizes Sylvia Rivera, wasn’t so sure she would even be appointed in the first place.
“I had applied but did not hear for four months,” Caraballo said during an interview with Gay City News just minutes before she was sworn in at Borough Hall.
One week before officially joining the board, however, she received a letter in the mail.
“I was with my girlfriend and she heard me screaming. She said, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’”
The rest was history. Caraballo opened the letter and realized she would have a newfound opportunity to help shape hyperlocal politics in the city’s most populous borough and play a role in addressing issues facing the neighborhoods of South Crown Heights, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Wingate, and portions of North Flatbush.
“I am so overwhelmed,” Caraballo said of her appointment.
The 28-year-old Caraballo spends her days as a staff attorney with the LGBTQ Law project at New York Legal Assistance Group and dedicates a great deal of time to assisting on immigration, family, and anti-discrimination issues. She is no stranger to community involvement, and her newest foray into hyperlocal matters is the product of years of intersectional activism in a borough that she grew to appreciate since she arrived here Tampa six years ago.
“I fell in love with Brooklyn, I fell in love with the city, and I fell in love with the community,” Caraballo said.
In addition to her full-time job, Caraballo is making her mark in the LGBTQ community. She’s currently on the board of Lambda Independent Democrats and the Translatinx Network and serves as the service secretary for the LGBTQ Rights Committee of the New York City Bar Association.
Caraballo will now also juggle her role on a community board that consists of up to 50 people nominated by the borough president and city councilmembers. Community boards have very little explicit statutory power, but they play advisory roles in local politics and influence decisions about land use, budgets, and the services provided to local residents.
The boards often put pressure on city lawmakers to prevent greedy developers from running roughshod over a neighborhood — and that’s an issue Caraballo plans to focus on with Community Board 9.
She recalled a time when she was involved with a housing clinic while attending Brooklyn Law School. It was there where she developed a keen understanding of housing issues, most notably gentrification. That has become a major problem around the city but especially in some of the neighborhoods her community board encompasses.
“One of the best ways to address that is to get involved in the community board and make sure people are not priced out of the community,” she said.
She specifically cited the threat of towering buildings overshadowing the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.
Housing and other issues are linked to LGBTQ issues in a myriad of ways, but the lack of queer — and especially trans — representation on community boards means that link often goes unnoticed among the general population. Caraballo appears poised to change that.
“I think queer issues are as much about poverty than anything else, and they’re just universal issues,” she explained. “By working to alleviate poverty issues, I think we can help the LGBTQ community.”
Caraballo noted that Crown Heights “is becoming a very queer area,” and said the emergence of LGBTQ spaces in the area makes having a voice on the community board important.
The growing LGBTQ representation at the most local level of city politics was on full display at the June 18 swearing-in ceremony. Other out LGBTQ people also sworn into their respective Brooklyn community boards on the same day included Peter Fleming, who was named chair of Community Board 6; Wilfredo Florentino, who was reappointed as Transportation chair of Community Board 5; Samy Nemir Olivares on Community Board 4; Genesis Aquino on Community Board 7; and Tom Burrows, who was named chair of Community Board 1.
Caraballo’s appointment to Community Board 9, however, was the evening’s most noteworthy first.
“I think it’s monumental how far we’ve come, and I’m incredible humbled,” she said. “But it shows we need more progress, because I shouldn’t be the first.”
As she stood near the entrance to the courtroom where she would be sworn in, Caraballo offered a final word — a glimmer of hope for the future for trans leadership in the city.
“And I shouldn’t be the last, either,” she said.