Whenever I speak with straight New Yorker friends, they are shocked to find out how many LGBT voters I know are NOT supporting Chris Quinn for mayor. A whole crew of LGBT leaders, political and cultural, not only support other candidates, but have made statements like the t-shirt I saw last night at a Queer Nation meeting saying "Anybody But Quinn." Reading some of the Facebook posts of some of this LGBT anti-Quinn contingent, it seems like they believe their candidate's vision for NY is better, but also that they are reacting against a presumption that LGBT voters would necessarily vote for an LGBT candidate. In an article I wrote in 1995 called Geographically Sexual?: Advancing Lesbian and Gay Interests through Proportional Representation, I argued that lesbian and gay voters may be less likely to vote based on identity than other minorities, and that in any case they were more dispersed and would attain stronger political power through a proportional system. Interests, not identity, would, and should, matter most.
Nearly 20 years later, New York and much of the country are in a different place. Many LGBT voters may think their issues are no longer that urgent, and that other political concerns should play a larger role. For many LGBT voters, voting for the candidate they view as more progressive (on other issues, such as development) may matter more.
I want to make a case for why Quinn is a better candidate for LGBT issues and why those issues still matter. My argument is not that LGBT people should support her for her identity, but for their interests in issues where Quinn's experience and positions would make her a better mayor.
Many issues come to mind but two stand out for me right now. First, violence is a continuing plague for our communities, particularly in my neighborhood, Chelsea. Chelsea is in many ways one of the most challenging places to be gay because it's not that gay anymore but is viewed by homophobes as the place to find gay victims for their hatred. In past years, including under Bloomberg, LGBT community leaders worked back channels to get the mayor's ear. Chris Quinn would not need advisors to direct her; she has worked her whole career on these issues. Chris Quinn served as Executive Director of the Anti-Violence Project when crime was worse and the police department's hostility toward LGBT people was rampant. Now, during a wave of anti-LGBT violence, our safety would best assured by a mayor who will prioritize these issues, not because it's a policy position but because it's been the core of her public service.
Second, NY is facing a huge increase in HIV transmission rates, particularly among younger gay men and especially younger men of color. Infection rates are skyrocketing and the city has not been making prevention and treatment a priority the way it should. Chris has consistently worked to improve the city's response to the AIDS crisis. Indeed, she is one of the few politicians who still consider it a crisis -- for others it seems like an afterthought. I was in ACT UP when Ed Koch was mayor and remember vividly how dismissive he was of the AIDS crisis. We need someone in City Hall who will make the fight against HIV and AIDS a priority.
Chris best represents LGBT interests on a much wider range of issues as well, but I want to move on to another point. I suspect LGBT opponents of Quinn judge her more harshly because they expect her as a lesbian to be the most progressive candidate. Although I believe Chris is that progressive, there is no question that as Speaker of the City Council, she has had to make hard choices and compromises in working with the Council and the Republican Mayor to govern the city. My fear is that this vitriolic LGBT "anybody but Quinn" attitude will pave the way for yet another Republican, self-funded mayor. Chris Quinn knows how to run the city for all New Yorkers -- she knows who the players are and how to manage city government effectively. She will be a great Democratic leader for our (mostly) Democratic city. Having survived the Koch years, when an allegedly closeted mayor consistently ignored LGBT rights and the AIDS crisis, it would be all too sad for me to see New York's LGBT voters play a role in losing this unique opportunity to have a leader in City Hall who knows how to lead for LGBT people and for all New Yorkers.