Queer Rising Gets Arrested, Other LGBT Activists Pile on Cuomo Over Homeless Youth Funding in Budget

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Queer Rising
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.

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Queer Rising
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."
And even the Empire State Pride Agenda (#57 on our powerless list) weighed in directly at the governor. From the Albany Times-Union Capitol Confidential blog:
'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.

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sthrasher@villagevoice.com | @steven_thrasher


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5 comments
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napalm2
napalm2

The gay community needs their own island, far out in the middle of the ocean and away from normal civilization.That way they can't bother people with their psychological illnesses and perverted agendas.

Plumeberg
Plumeberg

Please psychological help for your "illnesses and perverted agenda[s]." You're the SICK ONE, not gay people.

Dizzyspins
Dizzyspins

So anyone who worked hard for marriage equality is a traitor? God, you're one of those idiots who figures out to take whatever stance enables them to point fingers and bitch how horrible everyone else, eve people fighting the good fight. I bet you think yr farts smell like roses

Kevi Equality
Kevi Equality

Dear Dizzy,

Only those who did so at the expense of homeless youth.  And for the record, here's what I did for marriage equality:  Participated in MENY's lobbying day in Albany; participated in ESPA's E&J day in Albany; met with my State Senator in District; organized (and paid related expenses out of my own pocket, which came to about $400) a free-to-the-public viewing of "March On, The Movie" in the town where I was living; spent I don't know how many hours at train stations and street fairs with HRC collecting signatures and postcards; phone-banked; wrote checks; co-chaired the Marriage Equality social justice team at my synagogue, participated in the 7th Annual Marriage March, spent the Monday and Thursday of the week the Marriage Equality Bill passed in Albany, in the Senate gallery - oh, and spent a night in jail.

And for the record, my farts smell really, really bad.  Just ask any of my cell mates.

Kevi Equality
Kevi Equality

What is particularly galling is that last year, in the heat of the Marriage Equality battle, so many LGBTQ activists, both inside and out of Albany, were very happy to throw homeless youth under the 'wedding limo.'  Alphonso David, Cuomo's Deputy Secretary for Civil Rights, chastised Carl Siciliano, the Executive Director of The Ali Forney Center, for not toeing the Gay Inc. party line and daring to write about Cuomo's 50% cut in youth services funding; as recently as last week, Mr. David refused to include Mr Siciliano in discussions about this year's budget for homeless youth services; I guess Mr. David doesn't consider forcing a 14 year old to trade sex for a place to sleep an important enough civil rights issue to risk his own position in Cuomo's administration over.  And almost no one in Gay Inc. would even touch the topic - meetings with the HRC field team in NYC led nowhere, and they have yet to get behind this issue, which is a nationwide crisis.  I'm not sure what this says about the LGBTQ community - the 25-40% of homeless youth who self-identify as LGBTQ may represent as many as one in four of our youth.  That we step over their freezing bodies on our way to the alter and say "let them eat wedding cake" is morally reprehensible; as a community, no single issue should be of greater importance than our children dying because of systemic homophobia.

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