Saturday, March 25, 2006

A political experience

On Thursday, I called the Mayor's Office of Special Events and inquired about a message that had been left on my office voice mail. I was then told that I was among a group of gay leaders being invited to have breakfast with Mayor Michael Bloomberg at Gracie Mansion yesterday morning and they needed to know if I was attending. A bit shocked, I said yes before asking for details. I hung up and then quickly proceeded to find out just why and who had put me on the list. After all, I had endorsed Fernando Ferrer in the last Mayoral race.

It wasn't necessarily my affiliation with OutPOCPAC, because I contacted their leadership and they didn't know a thing about the meeting. So the other alternatives were that the Mayor's office noticed my essay earlier this month in Gay City News on funding for LGBT communities of color or, perhaps, that Council Speaker Christine Quinn might have suggested my name. A call back to the Mayor's Office confirmed that the meeting had been called by both the Mayor and the Speaker and that my name was among the Speaker's suggested invitees (though, aparently the Mayor's Office had final say on the list).

I wanted to know if I'd be there with friends so the next logical step was to reach out to Alan Van Capelle, Executive Director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, an agency on whose Board of Directors I served for five years until mid-2005. That's when things got complicated.

Yesterday, Gay City News published this late breaking report on the meeting. Today, the New York Post has this take on it. Aparently, while the Mayor's Office was insisting that an invitation had been extended to the Pride Agenda, the caveat was that it's Executive Director was not welcome to the event. I don't see how the Mayor's Office can claim that banning the director of the largest and most powerful lesbian and gay advocacy organization in New York State is anything but disrespectful, but they stayed on point claiming that the Pride Agenda was the one playing politics.

To Alan's credit, he never asked me not to attend the Mayor's breakfast, but did ask for support in letting the Mayor's Office know that banning him from the event was wrong. Friends, on the other hand, were pushing me to attend so that there would be at least a Latino voice at the table. By late Thursday, I called the Mayor's Office once more, in light of the developments, and said that I had to withdraw my RSVP unless things changed. They said they would keep my name on the list just in case I changed my mind. I spent the evening thinking about it some more and had yet another brief conversation with Alan late Thursday night. Based on that call, I changed my mind again and woke up early Friday morning to make my way to Gracie Mansion.

Now, the meeting itself was billed as a "legislative" breakfast to discuss strategies to achieve civil marriage rights for gays. As it turns out, a number of the invited guests were legislative experts from LGBT law associations who truly moved the dialogue into a very productive session, at least potentially. I say potentially, because the true measure of its success will depend on what the Mayor and his office do in the next months and years regarding the proposed political and legislative strategies.

Gay City News reports that Richard Burns of the LGBT Center, Matt Foreman of the City's Human Rights Commission and fellow Commissioner Jonathan Capehart, Log Cabin Republican Christopher Taylor, Gary English of People in Color in Crisis and yours truly were among the attendees. I also saw Phyllis Steinberg of NYC Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and Ron Zacchi of Marriage Equality - New York. A woman representing Stonewall Staten Islan was there as well but I didn't catch her name. Queens Democratic District Leader Danny Dromm was also invited but he works as a high school teacher and aparently could not attend due to his professional responsibilities.

The Mayor and Ms. Quinn, who sat side by side, were at turns gracious and funny, stern, pragmatic and to the point. But, as the meeting was off-the-record, I will abstain from describing details of what was said by others. I will say that I was glad to be there if only because issues related to the right to marry for same-sex couples and how it plays in minority communities was part of the discussion. I also took the opportunity, once the main strategy session was over, to raise awareness among the top level mayoral staff members of the April 15th rally in memory of Rashawn Brazell in Brooklyn and asked for the Mayor - through his aides - to make an appearance (the Mayor had already left by then).

I will also say that even if Gay City News is reporting that the issue of the Pride Agenda not bring at the table "did not rise to the level of a major issue during the meeting," the point was indeed brought to the table and several of those present, including myself, took time to talk about the Pride Agenda's indispensable work on the marriage issue and on how their abscence left a huge hole at the table.

As GCN reports, it might might have been a positive first step, but unless the Pride Agenda is engaged in future strategy sessions, it might be bound to fail. I am hoping that the Mayor's Office buries the hatchet, stops playing politics on this issue and truly engages the Pride Agenda, which means not blocking its Executive Director from the table.

The last thing I will say is that I am truly grateful to Council Speaker Christine Quinn for suggesting my name to the Mayor's Office. The invite truly surprised me and I will thank her personally the next time I see her.

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