One of the nation’s most liberal and diverse cities could soon have zero openly gay City Council members. Term limit rules prevent the five current Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Caucus members of the New York City Council from running for office in 2021.
But there’s a good reason for hope. In 2019, activists launched “LGBTQ in 2021” to recruit LGBTQIA+ candidates to run for office. That effort could bear fruit.
An unprecedented number of openly LGBTQIA+ candidates are expected to appear on ballots in 2021 for City Council.
That group includes several Black and Brown progressives. So far, the crop of candidates includes Wilfredo Florentino, Chris Sosa, Josue Pierre, Elisa Crespo, Kristin Richardson Jordan, and Crystal Hudson.
Currently, just two of the five openly gay councilmembers are people of color.
“We are proud to form a coalition of Black and Brown progressive candidates this Pride Month that offer an historic choice to voters in next year’s elections,” a group statement said. “We represent the complex intersections of identities that embody many New Yorkers who have never before had the opportunity to see themselves reflected on the Council.”
Two of the candidates in the coalition are Brooklynites: Florentino and Pierre.
The growing number of openly gay candidates are coming forward as Americans are increasingly accepting of them. Another sign of the change in attitude came in June with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that federal anti-discrimination laws also protect gay and transgender workers.
“The long-term struggle of progressivism is making sure everyone has a fair shot. Inclusion leads to better outcomes for all of us.”
Pierre told BK Reader that this groundswell of support “reflects how much our society values everyone now.”
There’s a growing recognition that marginalized groups add value to organizations.
“Especially for LGBTQ people of color, every individual has talents. You don’t want to hinder that person’s talent by ostracizing them,” he added. “The long-term struggle of progressivism is making sure everyone has a fair shot. Inclusion leads to better outcomes for all of us.”
Florentino applauds the progress but is disappointed in the slow pace of change.
“I am absolutely honored to be part of that group of folks who represent, especially Black and Brown, LGBTQIA+ community, which is severely underrepresented in government,” he told BK Reader. “But in no way have we arrived.”
Florentino is running in the 42nd Council District (East New York, New Lots, Remsen Village, Spring Creek, and Starrett City). Although this is his entrée into politics as a candidate, Florentino is no stranger to the political arena.
“This is my first time running for elected office. But volunteering and serving are literally in my family’s DNA,” he said.
His mother, an Afro-Latina from Puerto Rico, was actively involved in voter registration drives. Florentino recalled working as a child on the congressional campaign of Nydia Velázquez, who became the first Puerto Rican woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Forentino’s campaign is focused on delivering “equality and justice in all aspects of government” to his district. He pointed to several challenges in the community: gentrification, under-resourced schools, low-paying jobs, insufficient affordable housing, and over-policing.
“I am not necessarily running because I want to. I am running because I need to,” said the longtime community advocate who also serves as Community Board 5 transportation committee chair.
Similar problems afflict the 40th Council District (Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Flatbush, Kensington, Midwood, Prospect Park, and Prospect Lefferts Gardens), which Pierre is vying to represent.
Pierre, a Haitian immigrant raised in Flatbush, said solving the affordable housing crisis in his district would be his top priority if elected. He’s also concerned that the economic recession, brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, caused a budget shortfall that lawmakers may try “to balance on the backs of working-class communities.”
The candidate said his academic background in finance and work experience as a senior finance officer in the city’s Comptroller Office makes him well-placed to tackle the challenges. He has written op-eds on several issues, including budget cuts and protecting tenants.
Looking forward to greater inclusion, the LGBTQIA+ candidates of color recognize that they stand on the shoulders of those who came before them.
“We wish to thank every member of the current LGBT Caucus for both opening the door wider to increased representation and securing historic gains for LGBTQIA+ people across this city,” their statement said.
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