The activists over at Queer Rising, who got arrested again and again and again during the past couple of years fighting for marriage equality, took it to the streets yesterday and initiated their first encounter of 2012 with handcuffs in front of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s midtown office.
According to a press release, this time Queer Rising was protesting a lack of increase in funding for homeless youth in Cuomo’s budget.
“Hours after New York State Governor Cuomo released his 2012 budget proposal — which neglected to add a single penny of additional funding to provide adequate shelter for runaway and homeless youth — outraged members of the LGBT community gathered to protest outside his Manhattan office,” Queer Rising wrote in a press release. They added that about two dozen people participated in the demonstration but only four — Ted McGuire, Natasha Dillon, Jake Goodman, and Melissa Kleckner, pictured below from left to right — sat on the sidewalk in front of Cuomo’s office until they were arrested.
The reason homeless youth funding is receiving so much attention from the LGBT community is because a disproportionate number of homeless young people on the city’s streets are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. One of the most widely noticed people on the Voice’s recent list of the 100 Most Powerless New Yorkers was Tiffany Cocco, an outspoken homeless young lesbian who recently spoke at a rally for the Campaign for Youth Shelter in Union Square last October.
Carl Siciliano, the Executive Director of the Ali Forney Center, had this to say about Cuomo’s budget, according to Passport Magazine:
“Governor Cuomo’s budget proposal is bad news for the 1600 homeless LGBT youth stranded on the streets of New York each night without access to a shelter bed. These youth, who suffer horribly and whose lives are in danger, deserve the attention and concern of their governor no less than the other members of our community. With marriage equality expected to bring in over 100 million dollars in additional economic activity and tax revenue for the state, the LGBT community has a moral obligation to demand that our tax dollars protect the most vulnerable and desperate members of our community.”
‘The Governor’s proposed budget is a mixed bag for LGBT New Yorkers and our families,’ said Ross D. Levi, Executive Director of the Pride Agenda. ‘In these tight economic times, the continued allocation of funds for the New York State LGBT Health and Human Services Network is a victory. Yet the victory is incomplete due to tepid action taken on the budget line dedicated to serve runaway and homeless LGBT youth.’
“46 of the organizations from across New York State that provide care designed to meet the unique needs of the LGBT community have received $5.26 million through the New York State LGBT Health and Human Services Network. The Pride Agenda serves a critical role as the Network’s daily administrator and chief advocate with government.
“In another closely watched development, the Governor proposed that the funds for runaway and homeless youth, the vast majority of whom at [sic] LGBT, remain at current levels even though funding has been drastically reduced during prior years.
“‘The Pride Agenda is concerned that the Governor’s office has failed to adequately address the crisis of LGBT runaway and homeless youth. The need for support for runaway and homeless youth has only grown as the options for safe and supportive housing have diminished,’ said Levi. ‘We are committed to continue working with the Governor’s office and the state legislature to find a way to help these young people, many of who are left with no option but to live on the streets.'”
We were glad to see the Empire State Pride Agenda call Cuomo out on this issue, although we disagree with their hyperbolic assertion that the “vast majority” of homeless and runaway youth are LGBT (research puts the figure closer to 25 to 40 percent). Indeed, judging from our email inbox, our choice to include ESPA on the list of New York’s most powerless was one of our most controversial. Even Brian Lehrer scratched his head about it when we were interviewed on WNYC (though we didn’t have time to answer his question).
The release of Cuomo’s budget is, to us, a validation of the reasoning as to why we included ESPA on our list. The reader’s letters were well reasoned who protested our decision, and people who know LGBT youth homelessness inside and out pointed out that ESPA has publicly asked that “the governor’s office exercise leadership” on the issue. And, of course, as Brian Lehrer pointed out, ESPA was critical in the coalition that successfully pressured the Marriage Equality Act into being last year.
But when we included ESPA, it was with two scenarios (one in the past and one in the present-future) in mind.
The first was that Campaign for Youth Shelter’s rally last fall. There, we saw both Tiffany Cocco speak, as well as a representative from ESPA. The ESPA speaker did not, however, take Governor Cuomo to task for having slashed the homeless budget earlier that year. Instead, he was mum with the name “Cuomo,” most likely (we imagine) because ESPA was honoring him with their leadership award a few nights later. Calling Cuomo out would both embarrass their honoree and possibly hurt their ticket sales at one of ESPA’s most important fundraising events of the year.
The way we read this situation, as there is so little space between them, this relationship does not put ESPA in a position of power. Instead, ironically, it puts them in a position where they are asking for leadership from the person they already gave their leadership award to. ESPA may have big plans to push for increased funding for LGBT homeless youth and to try to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. But to us, it seems, now that Cuomo passed the Marriage Equality Act, he’ll feel like he’s made good to LGBT lobbyists and not feel beholden to their further demands right away.
And that leads us to the present-future situation we’re looking at and the budget we’re reviewing today: there was no increase in funding for homeless youth. Considering there have been years of budget cuts in this area, it’s possible that the most optimistic of LGBT activists could view a mere maintenance of last year’s woeful level of underfunding as a victory. But the truth is, they all know its inadequate, and it’s going to take a Herculean level of activism to bring enough public opinion and pressure onto their side to make a change.
The fight for marriage equality was for marriage, a heteronormative ideal and a state of middle-class being that all straight New Yorker State citizens know about, many aspire to achieve and, by the end of the debate, a majority of supported their fellow gay citizens having the right to enter. There was a defined fight with a clear, articulated goal that eventually cast the right to marry in the kind of civil rights terms that allowed ESPA to have the upper hand.
But in rallying public support for homelessness, something the middle class isn’t especially interested in (and which probably seems even more foreign to them when it’s talked about in terms of sexuality), Queer Rising has their work cut out for them, no matter how many times they get arrested. Similarly, ESPA doesn’t have the upper hand here, especially when they’re in so tight with a governor who seems (in terms of his budget, anyhow) to feel like he’s delivered enough for them for now.
The 100 Most Powerless New Yorkers