Ed Koch: Gay Pride and Rights

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Last Sunday’s Gay Pride Parade was one of the biggest and most successful ever held in New York City. The parade has become not only a show of support for the rights of New Yorkers who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered, but also a Mardi Gras with floats and entertainment. All in all, it was simply superb. The crowds lining the streets were huge, with many out-of-towners applauding the marchers, in addition to New Yorkers, both gay and straight. People were smiling and cheering. The cops in charge of traffic were in good spirits and all was right with the world—at least here in Manhattan.

Without a doubt, NYC is the world capital of commerce, culture, communications and finance. Regrettably, it is not the capital of the world with regard to human rights: Not until the New York State legislature legalizes same-sex marriage will New York be able to claim that distinction—Massachusetts now being the only state which does.

The first gay pride parade was held on June 28, 1970, commemorating the Stonewall riot with the parade starting in Greenwich Village and marching uptown on Sixth Avenue to Central Park. Each year the parade’s size has increased and finally authorized to use Fifth Avenue.

We now live in a city where a majority of citizens and most of its elected officials are supporters of gay rights. In fact, the Speaker of the City Council, Christine Quinn, is an open lesbian. Ms. Quinn is also perceived as a major candidate for mayor in the 2009 election. In my opinion, the battle to gain acceptance and permission to march in the St.
Patrick’s Day parade—a long fought battle—has also been won. I’ve urged the leaders of the gay community to declare that every gay rights supporter—homosexual and heterosexual—should join the City Council members and march with the Speaker up Fifth Avenue. Regrettably, Quinn has declined my suggestion that she march in that parade. I hope next year she will march. If she does, I’ll march alongside her, and I have no doubt that many public officials from all over the country would join her.

Yes, we have come a long way since I signed an executive order in January of 1978 in my first 30 days as mayor prohibiting government discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment and housing. We went even further in 1986 when the city council prohibited private sector discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered in employment and housing.

Governor Spitzer has announced that he supports a change in the state law to allow same-sex marriage. The State Assembly, with the concurrence of Speaker Sheldon Silver, has passed a same-sex marriage bill 85 to 61. Those supporting gay rights, including same-sex marriage—gay and straight alike—should try to persuade the majority leader of the State Senate, Joe Bruno, to pass a similar bill in the State Senate. Bruno was responsible for passing gay rights legislation in 2002 that protects all New Yorkers from discrimination in employment and housing—similar to that which we passed in NYC in 1986. I thanked Senator Bruno by letter on December 24, 2002, writing, “Over the years, we have discussed passage of the gay rights legislation. When you told me that your caucus opposed it and would not permit the bill to be brought to the floor for a vote, I must confess, I did not believe that could be possible. Yet, events established it was true, and it took your major efforts to secure the 13 Republican votes that ultimately were cast in support of the legislation. It would not have happened without you, and I hope that supporters of the legislation—in and out of the Legislature, Democrats and Republicans—give you full credit.”

Joe Bruno replied on January 2, 2003, writing, “Thank you for your very encouraging letter, and for all of the support that you have given the Republican Majority in the past. I am glad that we were able to recognize the importance of the gay rights legislation. It is unfortunate that it took so long to pass, but at least it is done now. The issue of gay rights is one which people often relate to politically, rather than objectively. You have been a staunch advocate of equality and anti-discrimination, which is very much a credit to you in your life.”

The progress we have witnessed and expect to witness on gay rights confirms the continuing validity of Victor Hugo’s observation in 1852, “An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.”

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