Main | Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Empire State Pride Agenda Responds To Criticism On Marriage Equality

After my Saturday post about the New York Times' claim that the Empire State Pride Agenda was in a "quiet period" during the most exciting time for gay activism in decades, the ESPA contacted me to dispute the story. I offered a chance to make a correction to the Times report and below is their response. The author is Josh Melzter, their Director of Communications. I've bolded a few lines which I think are important to the piece.
To set the record straight (so to speak), the Pride Agenda is not in a “quiet period” as was reported over the weekend by the New York Times. As evidenced by articles in Gay City News, EDGE New York, Reuters and Gotham Gazette, we are not shy or quiet when it comes to talking about the work that needs to be done to pass a marriage equality bill in New York State.

Working together, the Pride Agenda and our community did the hard and not-so-glamorous education and lobbying work that needed to be done across the state in Assembly districts before that chamber passed the marriage bill in 2007. We started that year with 35 “yes” votes and, in less than six months, moved that number to 85 (76 were needed) when the bill was brought to the Assembly floor for a vote. We’ve been doing the same thing this year—and will be doing it next year—in targeted State Senate districts across the state so that we can pass the marriage bill in that chamber too.

We will not, however, be drawn into a public conversation with a reporter that seeks to use the issue of marriage and our equality for political gamesmanship. The article in Saturday’s New York Times that described the Pride Agenda as being in a “quiet period” sought only to talk about a timeline for passing a marriage bill and pitted groups and elected officials against each other, all while a fractious leadership race is taking place within the State Senate.

We told the reporter what our priority is, which is doing the actual work it will take to win the votes we need to pass a marriage bill—the education and organizing work it will take in key Senate districts and the work with allies in the faith, labor and business communities. Unfortunately, the reporter wasn’t interested in that. He was more interested in political speculation and, in the words of Gotham Gazette, he “tried to stir the pot.”

The Pride Agenda doesn’t see any gain in speculating about what a legislative chamber or an elected official might do, and we don’t promise they’ll do something before they do it. That’s a surefire way to disappoint our community because at the end of the day we don’t control what either will do.

What we’re responsible for is having an understanding of the political environment in New York and then letting our community know what is possible within that environment if we all do our work. And if the political environment needs to change before certain things can happen (like passing a marriage bill through the State Senate) we work to make that happen.

We did that on November 4. The Pride Agenda and our community spent an enormous amount of time and energy ousting enough anti-LGBT State Senators so that a new pro-LGBT Senate leadership could emerge. And in the Assembly we supported our friends who voted with us on marriage in their re-election efforts and not a single one lost on November 4. This sent a loud message to elected officials across New York that there is no political downside to supporting our community on this issue.

Having done this doesn’t mean the Pride Agenda or LGBT people can now sit back and wait for a marriage equality bill to pass. That’s not how it works. There is no predetermined timeline, although some reporters would like us to say there is. New leadership in the State Senate simply means we’ve removed the block that existed on marriage equality legislation in that chamber. It’s now up to us to get the votes we need to pass the bill.

We work as a partner with our community here in New York. We don’t over-promise, but we do say what’s possible and we try to inspire, focus and motivate the many thousands of New Yorkers to keep working so that the possible becomes the reality. The twenty-five employees of the Pride Agenda can’t do it by themselves. And LGBT New Yorkers unversed in the political process and busy with their lives can’t do it either, but together we can.

We showed it could be done in the Assembly in 2007, even though political pundits and quite a few Assemblymembers said it couldn’t. We’ll do it too in the State Senate by working with our community and our allies to build a strong base of support for marriage equality in targeted Senate districts across the state.

As New York’s statewide LGBT civil rights organization, the Pride Agenda is incredibly excited to see the renewed passion that LGBT and straight people are showing in the wake of the passage of Prop 8 in California. We hope this energy for change will make New Yorkers who are not yet with us realize that marriage equality is an issue that has broad public support. We also hope this energy for change can also be channeled into real strategic action in New York—action that will help us pass a marriage bill into law so that our families can once and for all be treated like all other families in New York.

It takes all of us doing different things to win and we don’t always have to be doing all of them together. We have a strong, diverse and smart community in New York and there’s more than enough work for everyone—and there’s room for many to lead.

This week we’re going to start sending out regular action alerts between now and the end of the year that will let New Yorkers know what they can be doing to move the needle on marriage. There are other groups across New York doing similar things, as well. For us, the ultimate action will be going to Albany on April 28, 2009 to lobby our elected officials and rally in front of the state capitol building. Seeing well over a thousand of us and our allies in Albany when the legislature is in session has a huge impact on legislators. It’s a necessary part of keeping the pressure up on legislators to pass marriage and our other big bills.

There is no one waiting to give us marriage equality. We’ve always had to work hard to win every important piece of legislation that’s passed here in New York. We can make it happen in New York by working together and with our allies (and working separately when need be) in a strategic and smart fashion.

Being strategic and smart includes knowing when not to comment on stories that clearly do not help our progress. But I can promise you one thing: the Pride Agenda is never “quiet” when it comes to winning our equality.

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