What was it like to run for and become the first openly gay and HIV+ member of numerous governmental bodies back in the 1990s?
In 1991, when I ran for the New York City Council, there had not been an openly gay member of the New York City Council and not only was there no member of the City Council who was living with HIV, at least not openly (although I am fairly certain there wasn’t a member living with HIV -- open or not) and there were very few elected officials in the United States who were open about their HIV+ status. I only knew of one official who had disclosed an HIV+ status and that was Brian Coyle, an openly gay member of the Minneapolis City Council, who bravely disclosed his status while in office. Sadly, Brian died on August 20th 1991, before I won my City Council seat. He was very helpful to me as I strategized on how best to disclose my status, as I had decided to disclose being HIV+ as people in my district began to decide who to vote for in the Democratic primary and general election.
Running for public office seemed like a natural next step for me to take. I had been volunteering for various groups and organizations throughout High School (in Queens) and college -- Lehigh University, where I received a degree in Urban Studies and American Studies.
This activism continued when I moved back to NYC after college and I became more and more involved in social justice, community and political organizations and causes, LGBT and non-LGBT.
While I was hired to work for one political campaign and worked briefly in the public sector for the New York City Health Department, my community work was an avocation and my “day jobs” were in the fields of advertising and public relations and for a small family securities and investment banking firm.
Perhaps of particular note, prior to my election to the City Council, I had been elected to be the Democratic (party) District Leader in my Assembly District (1983-1989) and I was the lead community organizer for the campaign to recognize the rights for what at the time were called “non-traditional family members” and extended family members to succeed to rent-regulated apartments. This issue was of great importance because of the AIDS crisis when surviving “life partners” whose name did not appear on apartment leases were being evicted from their homes. This campaign culminated in the New York State Court of Appeals decision “Braschi vs. Stahl Associates” which held that these family members had the right to succeed to and live in rent regulated apartments.
I was elected to the City Council in 1991. This was prior to “Magic” Johnson being “asked” to leave pro Basketball. There was much misinformation, discrimination and stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS. This is certainly less the case now in New York City but sadly, bigotry and stigma have not ended.
I was elected to the New York State Senate in 1998 as the first and only openly gay member and the first and only HIV+ member. I was shocked at the ignorance of my colleagues in both houses of the legislature regarding about how HIV is contracted (one member was reluctant to shake my hand) and disgusted by the misinformation about HIV and the criminalization of those who had HIV and AIDS and those suspected of having HIV/AIDS. Sadly, I spent my first years in the Senate educating too many members on basic AIDS education.
Perhaps it was challenging to be a first and only gay and HIV+ member of a legislative body. However, I could not imagine not being open about who I am. I hope and believe that I was successful in breaking down barriers and opening minds in the New York City Council and in the New York State legislature.
What are some of your proudest accomplishments over the course of your legislative career?
Among my proudest accomplishments in the New York City Council:
-Codification in law, in part in response to former Mayor Rudy Giuliani's attempt to eliminate or destroy this agency, of the then New York City Division of AIDS Services DAS) and now HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) which provides a safety net for persons living with HIV/AIDS
-Passage of New York City’s Domestic Partnership Law
-Adoption of the “Chelsea Plan” which was the first community initiated Land Use and Zoning Plan created and one of the first passed into law. (I had been one of the authors of the plan when I served on my local Community Board in the 1980’s)
Among my proudest accomplishments in the New York State Senate:
-Hate Crimes Legislation, including sexual orientation
-Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA) -- “Gay Rights Law”
-Legislation allowing Work Study/Internship Program participation to fulfill work requirement for access to public entitlements
-Provision of domestic partner benefits to survivors of those killed in 9/11 attack
-Passage of “Timothy’s Law” which provided for health insurance reimbursement parity for Mental Health services
-Law allowing domestic partners access to protections granted by Family Court
-Legislation providing for New York State Department of Health (DOH) supervision over HIV/AIDS and HCV treatment in New York State Correctional Facilities (DOCS) (First oversight by DOH over DOCS provision of healthcare)
-Dignity for All Students Act -- New York State’s safe schools law, which was inclusive of Gender Identity and Expression as well weight
-HIV Testing Modernization Act
-Unmarried persons allowed to adopt a child together
-Family Health Care Decisions Act -- providing guidance for responsibility for medical decisions when patient has not provided for such decision making responsibility
-Legislation allowing once again scope of practice opportunities for Nurse-Midwives
-“Second Chance for Victims of Sex Trafficking” -- legislation allowing removal of felony conviction from trafficked person’s criminal record
-Hypodermic needle prescription and possession reform
-Law forbidding the creation of a Tier V for specialty prescription drugs
-Expansion of Physician Assistants’ Scope of Practice
What attracted you to the Marxe School?
I am excited to be teaching at the Marxe School because I am excited to teach in general, and I am specifically proud and excited to be a part of CUNY and even more so to be a member of the Baruch College family and the Marxe School faculty.
What will you be teaching in your first academic year at the School?
I will be the Instructor for the New York City Council Internship this semester. I previously was an Instructor for the Policy and Politics Course and hope to add again in the future.