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LGBTQ Police Officers Deserve a Place in the NYC Pride March

We have always been deeply committed to structural change within the NYPD. We’re LGBTQ and insist upon a place in our community’s Pride march

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Gay Officers Action League, City of New York P:olice Department (NYPD) Courtesy of Edgar Rodriguez

By Edgar Rodriguez | After learning that the organizers of New York City’s LGBTQ Pride March had banned Gay Officers Action League (GOAL) I felt a deep sense of abandonment.

I am a proud gay, Latino, former president of GOAL, and retired NYPD sergeant. For years, I worked through GOAL to make the NYPD a better place for LGBTQ employees and to change its interactions with the LGBTQ community for the better. We took our inspiration from Black officers organizing to fight racism within the NYPD and the ways in which the department targeted Black communities.

The going was not easy. It is painful to recall what our members went through—abuse, denied promotions, hateful graffiti on precinct lockers, officers wearing gloves when around us for fear of contracting AIDS, not being backed up when we called for help, enduring fist fights, death threats, and being on suicide watch for our members that were in crisis as a result.

Because many in the NYPD felt that LGBTQ officers were a disgrace to the department, they refused to allow us to march in the Pride parade in uniform until we sued them. And when we witnessed the discriminatory ways in which people of color, and people with AIDS/HIV, and trans people were treated by members of our department we spoke up or testified in court, at great risk to our careers and safety. I still experience nightmares from those years.

Nonetheless, we persevered, and in many respects, we made real progress. On-the-job harassment declined, we developed advanced LGBTQ educational training at the Police Academy, and tensions cooled in the policing of HIV and LGBTQ protests. Deeply seated and community-scorching policies and practices were met head on and there was progress. Nonetheless there is still so much work to be done and attitudes against progressive change remain firmly entrenched. We believe that fighting from the inside for change is just as important as grassroots and political pressure from the outside.

We would never have had the fortitude or moral courage to keep pushing without each other and the vocal support of our own community. Time and again, LGBTQ civic, political, and social groups backed us up, demanding more from the NYPD. That support provided a critical shield in preventing systemic punishment of GOAL’s leaders and members.

GOAL’s participation in the annual Pride march—starting in 1980—has been a critical way in which our members have gathered strength and love from our community. The march is where we go to find the energy and resilience to keep pressing forward. I have witnessed a sea change in the officers that for years have lined the parade route for its security. In the early years we were met with cops with scornful looks, spitting on the ground in front of us, many on horseback turning and presenting their horses asses to GOAL. Today many police officers smile, wave, clap, and some literally embrace us with hugs along with the rest of the diversity of our LGBTQ community.

I have also lost count at the number of people I have met, including police officers, many of them people of color, who have broken through decades of internalized homophobia and transphobia and came out of the closet because of the very experience of being assigned to the parade and watching GOAL marching and seeing the exhilaration shared between GOAL and the communities lining the parade route.

To onlookers, I think GOAL represents the courage we all want to have to be out and proud even in the face of systems checkered with ignorance, racism, homophobia, and transphobia. GOAL’s members represent hope that things can change for the better and that the most racially diverse and nonbinary inclusive organization in the criminal justice system is there for them to safely reach out to when they themselves are victimized.

This isn’t hyperbole—the rapturous and mutual reception GOAL always receives is the case in point. We are told the only groups receiving such an amazing response are LGBTQ seniors (SAGE) and parents of LGBTQ people (PFLAG).

This is exactly why the decision to ban us is so hurtful and ungrounded. We are individuals working to make the world a better place and to take care of our families and neighbors. We have always been deeply committed to structural change within the NYPD. We are neither political pawns nor the enemy. We are LGBTQ and, with pride, insist upon a place in our community’s Pride march.

Edgar Rodriguez and an unidentified NYFD firefighter at Pride (Photo courtesy of the author)

Editor’s note: Upon the request of the author, included is the text of an email he received which has been included as part of his viewpoint:

Dear Edgar,

I am Karen Ellen Kavey from long, long-ago- you may remember me, though it’s been a very long time since we’ve seen each other. I hope you are well; our family is fine; I’m now a grandmother of three! I have been thinking about you.  I had originally written (a form of this) for inclusion in the New York Times, but then, the Times has ended the ‘Comments Section’.  However, I still want you to know my feelings. 

Edgar Rodriguez, the former director of GOAL (Gay Officers Action League), has been a major influence in my life. He came to my attention in the early 1990s, when I had no understanding of LGBTQ+ issues. 

He appeared, at that time, in a TV program in which he spoke about his Pride: both in being a member of the NYPD and in being a gay man. Edgar ’stepped up to the plate’ and was courageous during very difficult times; and the positive, long-term results of his Visibility are still being felt today.

I later met Edgar at a GLSEN seminar; in which he told of his experiences as a gay officer; speaking in a powerful, moving way about his struggles, his confidence and his hopes for the future. My husband and I then walked with him, carrying candles, down 5th Avenue, during the vigil for Matthew Shepard. 
We were together, herded west, during the alarming “43rd Street incident” but were able to retrace our steps and continue our peaceful march to Madison Square Park.   

We also sat with Edgar’s parents as he was honored by the Anti-Violence Project for his ground-breaking work in creating community. And with my family: we together attended the Friday evening concert held the night before the LGBTQ+  ‘March on Washington’ in our nation’s Capitol.

We are so honored to have had Edgar as a part of our lives. Having worked as a public health nurse in East Harlem during the 1967 Civil Disorders, walking through the streets during that period of chaos … with snipers on the rooftops and all that fear and confusion, I do recognize the tensions that existed then.

And I know that these same tensions are still very keenly felt today, and with good reason, by all marginalized people. But, to “cast out” those officers, like Edgar, who have helped to bring humanity, vital information, safety, honor and understanding into this tumultuous, fractured world is a grave error.   Edgar opened people’s eyes.  And in doing so, he saved lives.

I am appalled that he is not welcomed to participate in this annual, historic celebration … as an officer.

~ Karen Ellen Kavey

Edgar Rodriguez was born in Harlem, and raised in the Castle Hill section of the Bronx and is currently a Manhattan resident. As a rookie cop he acknowledged that he was gay. He participated in the first recruitment poster ever developed to recruit lesbians and gays into the NYPD.

As the first openly gay police supervisor in NYPD’s Greenwich Village Precinct, he assembled the first racially diversified, team of LGBQ police officers specifically charged to recruit LGBQ candidates for the NYPD.

As Gay Officers Action League President from 1997-2000, he initiated a campaign to disassociate the NYPD from partnerships with agencies that discriminate, like the Boy Scouts of America.

He has received recognition for his work on the Mayor’s Police Council and honored as the recipient of the Puerto Rican Initiative to Develop Empowerment’s PRIDE Award, and the New York City LGBTQ Anti-Violence Project’s Courage Award.

 

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Senators Manchin and Capito: We need your support

Equality Act would protect LGBTQ West Virginians

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Danielle Stewart (Photo courtesy of Danielle Stewart)

I’ll never forget the day the Common Council for the city of Beckley, W.Va., voted to amend our nondiscrimination ordinance to protect individuals from discrimination based on their gender identity and sexual orientation. It was heart-warming to see the freedom and dignity of all LGBTQ people affirmed in my home community. It’s made Beckley stronger and a brighter place to live, work, and visit.

As a transgender veteran, the passage of the ordinance felt especially fulfilling to me. I served my country proudly for 23 years, including three combat tours—two to Iraq and one to Afghanistan—earning three bronze stars for my service, in addition to other awards. 

When I returned home, I was left vulnerable to discrimination in key areas of life. That’s because West Virginia is one of 29 states where LGBTQ people are not protected by either an explicit statewide law, or federal protections prohibiting discrimination in housing, healthcare, and public spaces like restaurants and stores. 

I’m grateful to have protections in Beckley, but when I leave the city or visit a place where discrimination is allowed, I lose that security. It bothers me that I served my country, deployed to places where many people did not want to go, and yet I’m told in most of this country that I don’t deserve to be protected and guaranteed respect and dignity. As service members, we take the oath to protect the Constitution of the United States, and I believe that the Constitution includes and protects all of us; “We the People” means everyone. 

I came out for the first time to anyone in 2010, but it wasn’t until years later, after I retired from the Army, that I came out more publicly. The government policy at the time denied open service to transgender people. The Army spent years and millions of dollars training me, and other transgender people, to protect our freedom and nation; yet we would be discharged if we tried to serve as our authentic selves. I cannot fathom why, in an all-volunteer military, we would turn away qualified people.

My experience in the military gave me a glimpse of anti-LGBTQ discrimination, and I’m glad that categorical employment discrimination is no longer government’s policy. Still, discrimination continues to happen. One of my friends who is transgender got a job after many rejections, but was quickly taunted by her employer and fellow employees using her pre-transition name, intentionally called the wrong pronouns, and generally creating a hostile work environment. A gay male couple in my neighborhood were one of the first same-sex couples to marry in West Virginia; but two weeks later one of the men was fired, supposedly for “performance issues” that had never surfaced prior to his marriage. I personally have been misgendered and harassed at a fast food restaurant nearby, the workers at which repeatedly ignored me when I corrected their use of “sir” and male pronouns. 

It’s well past time that we address this, by taking action at the federal level. Right now, the Equality Act is pending in the U.S. Senate, having already passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support. We need our senators—including Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito—to come aboard and support the passage of comprehensive federal protections. 

Our senators have the opportunity to make bipartisan history, to say, together, “We believe in equality in West Virginia.” With a spotlight on our state like never before, it’s up to our senators to illuminate the path forward, get to work, and ensure everyone has a chance to thrive.

It’s been a scary year to be transgender, as state after state passes demeaning anti-transgender laws. These bills send a pervasive, cruel message that transgender people are not welcome. It pains me to say that right now, I am the most guarded that I have ever been in the United States, nearly as guarded as I was while deployed for combat overseas. That’s a sad reality, and there’s really only one way to fix it.

We need to pass the Equality Act. We need to protect all LGBTQ Americans, including veterans like me. We need to live up to West Virginia’s state motto: “Mountaineers Are Always Free.”

Major Danielle Stewart lives in Beckley, W.Va. She currently serves as the chair of the city’s Human Rights Commission as well as on the board of directors of numerous nonprofits.

Danielle Stewart maybe reached at: [email protected]

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Pledge supporting an Israeli queer film festival a show of solidarity that shouldn’t be needed

Supporters of TLVFest boycott denounced ‘pinkwashing’

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TLVFest (Photo courtesy of Max Rosenblum)

Last year, when I discovered that over 130 filmmakers and artists signed a pledge to boycott Tel Aviv’s TLVFest, a locally sponsored queer film festival, in solidarity with LGBTQ+ Palestinians, my heart broke.

The signatories denounced “pinkwashing,” a term frequently deployed by supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement which falsely accuses Israel of pointing to our respect for LGBTQ+ rights as a way to distract from the government’s denial of rights to Palestinians. 

The news didn’t just hurt because I’m from Tel Aviv, or because I am a gay man. It hurt because rather than lift up queer Israelis or Palestinians, it actually tore us down. 

So I was relieved last week to see more than 200 members of the entertainment industry—including notable names like Mila Kunis, Neil Patrick Harris and Dame Helen Mirren—sign a letter rejecting the cultural boycott of TLVFest. The letter expressed solidarity with “all the participating filmmakers against the divisive rhetoric espoused by boycott activists who seek to misinform, bully and intimidate artists.”

While I commend these brave individuals for taking this stand, the controversy begs the question: How is it that, in 2021, a group of actors, musicians and film executives even needs to vocalize support for artistic freedom while denouncing those who call to boycott LGBTQ+ filmmakers? Such a letter would never have been necessary in defense of a queer film festival in any other country.

While this boycott claims to serve the interest of oppressed minorities, the logic of the pinkwashing accusation effectively delegitimizes any advancements made in Israeli LGBTQ+ rights, weaponizing victories for our community against us. And there are many victories to cite.

In 2019, for example, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled against discriminatory surrogacy laws targeting gay men. Days before that, Israel’s Justice Ministry approved new rules allowing trans Israelis to change their gender on their IDs without undergoing surgery. And of course, gay Israelis including myself have been serving openly in the military since 1993.

Israel is not perfect, but its flaws are not good enough reasons to wholly reject its achievements. When police brutality occurs in the United States, that doesn’t mean we refuse to attend celebrations of LGBTQ+ Americans. Whether in America or Israel, a country’s most marginalized individuals should not be forced to pay a price for the misdeeds of their governments. 

By declining to take part in TLVFest, those crusading against alleged pinkwashing also erase the important work done by queer Israelis who, like LGBTQ+ people around the world, are often at odds with our own country’s government. We too are dissenting voices in Israel, speaking out against the very policies that these boycotting filmmakers detest and working to reverse the status quo in the Palestinian territories. For example, while serving as a humanitarian officer in the Israeli Defense Forces, I helped at-risk queer Palestinians seek asylum under the Israeli Ministry of Interior. 

Perhaps more disturbing than invalidating Israel’s LGBTQ+ progress and diminishing queer Israeli voices is how the activists behind this boycott appear, like most in the BDS movement, to be singularly focused on Israel. Meanwhile, the deplorable treatment of LGBTQ+ Palestinians by their own government gets little to no attention. 

In 2019, Palestinian Security Forces spokesperson, Col. Louai Irzeiqat, described LGBTQ+ activism as “a blow to, and violation of, the ideals and values of Palestinian society.” This followed the Palestinian Authority’s decision to ban a Palestinian gay and transgender rights group from holding events in the West Bank, threatening to arrest any participants. It’s not surprising then that 95 percent of Palestinians believe that homosexuality is “unacceptable.”

The failure to recognize, or at least hold equally accountable, the Palestinian regime for its crimes against LGBTQ+ Palestinians demonstrates a stark double standard that singles out Israel while emboldening the discrimination of Palestinian oppressors. So, to those who claim to truly want to help Palestinians—particularly queer ones—I encourage you to lift up LGBTQ+ Israelis and Palestinians, not boycott us. 

Two hundred celebrities seem to understand that this is a much more effective way to fight for LGBTQ+ rights. It’d be nice if the rest of the activist community could do the same.

Hen Mazzig, an Israeli Mizrahi Jewish writer and LGBTQ+ advocate, is editor-at-large of the J’accuse Coalition for Justice and a Senior Fellow at the Tel Aviv Instituteand. Follow him: @HenMazzig

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Global community needs to help save Brazil’s democracy

Jair Bolsonaro trying to undermine judicial independence, LGBTQ rights

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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro addresses the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 21, 2021.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro used the country’s independence holiday, Sept. 7, to rally his supporters in protests against Brazil’s democratic institutions, particularly the judiciary; basically the only institution at present that checks the president’s authoritarian aspirations. Over the past two decades, the Supreme Court has provided a safe space for human rights protections, specifically LGBTQI+ rights. If the court falls, it would be the downfall of Brazil’s democracy, posing a threat to its diversity.

Over the past decade, the Brazilian LGBTQI+ community has accomplished historical victories through numerous Supreme Court rulings, including a ruling in 2013 to legalize gay marriage. While these victories were celebrated, they were also bittersweet. As the LGBTQI+ community gained ground in equality; Bolsonaro’s far-right party gained political space, and unfortunately, the hearts of some of my dearest family members.

Bolsonaro’s accession to power in 2018 came with a wave of conservative, reactionary and LGBTQI+phobic discourse that shook every aspect of Brazil’s public and private life. As the minds of minorities in the country darkened and as I fought against depression, I saw my friends suddenly rushing to register their partnerships or change their civil names fearing that the rulings allowing for their rights could be overturned. Three years later, with judicial independence under attack, our nightmares are becoming a reality.

Bolsonaro’s government has significantly impacted the LGBTQI+ movement by abolishing the LGBTQI+ National Council and significant budget cuts to Brazil’s once globally recognized HIV/AIDS prevention program. Moreover, policies aiming to fight racism or promoting gender equality are also being abandoned or defunded.

Inflation, hunger, unemployment and extreme poverty are on the rise. In the case of further democratic erosion, we are getting the conditions set for a humanitarian crisis in Brazil.

Brazil’s stability is of interest to the entire region and the world. Considering the country’s influence in Latin America, a coup could generate a domino effect across the continent. Hence, political, social, and economic international stakeholders should raise awareness and pressuring Bolsonaro’s administration

Historically, social minorities are the first ones to be sacrificed in political turmoil. As I wrote this text, news came along that indigenous land rights are being bargained and that Bolsonaro will take this attack on the environment to his speech at the United Nations. As has happened in Poland and Hungary, soon Bolsonaro will turn his gun to the LGBTQI+ community. It is clear by now that Bolsonaro envisions Brazil as a leader of far-right conservatism in the world.

That is why we need the global community to stand with us. As we take to the streets calling for impeachment, Bolsonaro still counts with the support of important stakeholders. Businesspeople are among the president’s most supportive groups, despite the economic disaster we have been through. If they can’t see the obvious internal consequences of eroding democracy, then international pressure should make them see it.

We need clear statements by political parties, foreign media, think tanks, financial groups, etc., that the attacks on Brazil’s institutions and minorities will cost the economic sector money. With this, we can unlock the impeachment process and rebuild Brazil’s legacy as a country that celebrates diversity.

Egerton Neto is the international coordinator for Aliança Nacional LGBTI+ in Brazil and Master of Public Policy candidate at the London School of Economics.

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