By Julie Bolcer
Originally published on Advocate.com July 18 2012 3:35 PM ET
New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn asked the city’s controversial horsedrawn-carriage industry to adopt anti-discrimination training in response to tennis legend Martina Navratilova, who presented the lesbian elected official with incontrovertible evidence of an antigay and racist rant from a carriage driver.
The New York Times reports that PETA spokeswoman Navratilova sent a letter to Quinn Monday linking the industry not only to animal cruelty, but also to “aggressive homophobia” and racism. Quinn has been a strong supporter of the industry, saying that it boosts tourism and jobs.
Navratilova wrote about an incident last month during the Pride weekend in which a driver yelled slurs at a “small group of women, mostly seniors” who were leafleting around a line of carriages. In a video of the episode posted by Towleroad, the unidentified man with an Irish accent can be heard calling the group a “little fu**ing dyke convention” and shouting “fu**ing ni**er.” He also flips his middle finger.
“We share a heightened sense of responsibility in fighting the callous disregard that many have for animal suffering because we have experienced a similar disregard for the cruelty that we ourselves have faced,” wrote Navartilova to Quinn. “As evidenced by the hateful, bigoted carriage driver in the video, everything about this industry is stuck in the 19th century.”
“How can you support such a scurrilous industry that spouts racist and homophobic vitriol?” asked the lesbian winner of 18 Grand Slam singles titles.
Quinn responded Tuesday by sending a letter to the Teamsters Local 553, the carriage drivers’ union, in which she called the treatment of the women “truly outrageous and wrong.”
“The behavior depicted in this video is reprehensible and unacceptable from anyone, and is especially unbefitting of an industry the City Council has made sure treats its animals humanely,” she wrote. “Not only should the union take every step necessary to investigate and respond to this incident, but it also should implement anti-discrimination training immediately to help make sure its members are being respectful of all residents and visitors to our city.”
The Times reported that the union immediately agreed to require its members to undergo anti-discrimination training, which will be provided by “an appropriate gay rights organization” selected with help from Quinn’s office.
Quinn wrote a separate letter to Navratilova in which she acknowledged the “unacceptable” behavior of the driver but stopped short of embracing calls to support a bill that would replace the carriages with alternative fuel powered classic cars. Navratilova, who wants the carriage business eliminated, had told the Speaker, “All eyes are on you to make the right move.”
“Given the tough economic times that we are in, we continue to believe that our current regulatory scheme, which does not permit the operation of electronic cars, strikes a fair balance between having stronger regulations in place to protect these horses while allowing an industry that generates vital jobs and tourism for our city to continue,” wrote Quinn.
Copies of both letters were provided to The Advocate by Quinn’s office.
Opponents of the horsedrawn-carriage industry say that the image of romantic rides around Midtown landmarks belies the reality of inhumane working conditions for the horses. In addition to traffic accidents, the animals have been known to collapse and die from exhaustion in heat waves such as the one gripping the city over the past several days.
Animal rights activists form part of a “dedicated band of protesters” with various grievances who, according to the Wall Street Journal, have trailed Quinn at as many as 60 events around the city over the past three years. Dubbed “Quinn’s persistent gadflies” by the newspaper, the group has staked out her appearances including a brunch hosted by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund in May.
Donny Moss, a leader of the protesters, said that a complete end of the horsedrawn-carriage industry remained the only viable solution for the animals.
"Christine Quinn has met with the ASPCA and with veterinarians who have told her in no uncertain terms that several certain conditions in NYC cannot be corrected in a way that would make the operation of horse-drawn carriages humane or safe," he wrote in an e-mail to The Advocate. "The reforms she proposes give the impression of helping the horses while actually hurting them by perpetuating this anachronistic trade."
Navratilova is not the only fellow trailblazer to make a high-profile request of Quinn, widely considered the early frontrunner for the Democratic mayoral nomination in 2013. The Times reports that Gloria Steinem is leading a group of about 200 prominent women who have signed a letter asking the Speaker to allow the City Council to vote on legislation that would require businesses to offer paid sick leave to employees. Supporters of the campaign include Gay Men’s Health Crisis CEO Marjorie Hill, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, and the actress Cynthia Nixon.
Quinn has declined to bring the measure for a vote at this time, citing concerns that it could stifle business in the fragile economic climate.