New York’s first woman governor is promising to do the job in a different manner than her predecessor — and LGBTQ+ activists are optimistic as she takes office. Andrew Cuomo resigned as governor in August after an investigation by the state’s attorney general found that Cuomo had sexually harassed 11 women and unlawfully retaliated against at least one. That meant Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat like Cuomo, moved up to the top spot.
Hochul has been lieutenant governor since 2015. Before that, she was a one-term member of the U.S. House and held local offices in the Buffalo area, including Erie County clerk. She plans to run for a full term as governor in 2022. In an August news conference, Hochul promised that “no one will ever describe my administration as a toxic work environment” and pledged to be “fully transparent” — both assertions marking a break from Cuomo.
Cuomo was, however, an LGBTQ+ ally. Over his tenure as governor, he signed bills into law for marriage equality, transgender rights, and protecting minors from conversion therapy, plus the repeal of an antiloitering law known as the “walking while trans” law, often used to target trans people for arrest as they were presumed to be engaging in sex work when simply walking down the street.
But he also drew on LGBTQ+ advisers to help him respond to the sexual harassment accusations, and that had negative implications for them. Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David and LGBTQ+ rights and feminist attorney Roberta Kaplan both experienced blowback after their involvement in this effort became known. David was fired by HRC, and Kaplan resigned as board cochair at Time's Up, which assists those who've experienced harassment.
After Cuomo’s resignation, LGBTQ+ activists are optimistic about a new beginning with Hochul and expect she will be an advocate, despite some conservative stances in her past.
“Kathy Hochul has been a strong supporter of LGBTQ equality for a while now,” says Sharita Gruberg, vice president of the LGBTQ research and communications project at the Center for American Progress.
“I’ve met [Hochul] a couple of times,” says Cathy Marino-Thomas, cochair of Equality New York’s board of directors. “She seems like a very capable, focused individual.”
“She’s been a dedicated public servant, and she is a friend to the LGBTQ community,” adds Trevon Mayers, senior director of advocacy and community engagement at New York City’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center.
About the only anti-LGBTQ+ blemish on Hochul’s record is that in 2012, she and her husband, lawyer William Hochul, gave $250 to the ministry of antigay, antichoice Texas preacher Charles Swindoll. She has said she was unaware of his positions on these issues, although she has not explained why she made the donation.
But she has been a strong LGBTQ+ ally in her elected offices, and as lieutenant governor she supported all of Cuomo’s pro-LGBTQ+ actions. She also has veered from conservative positions to progressive ones on immigrants’ rights and gun control.
Of Hochul’s past stances, Marino-Thomas says, “As an optimist, I have a basic theory about that, which is that we have to give people the room to grow.” Gruber adds that Hochul has taken progressive stands despite being from a conservative part of the state.
While New York has many laws in place to support LGBTQ+ equality, there’s still more to be done, and advocates say they’ll hold Hochul accountable for doing it. Their priorities include enforcement of these laws, support for LGBTQ+ youth and seniors, and addressing the community’s economic disadvantages. “As we look to the future, we’re not taking anything for granted,” Mayers says.
They express confidence in Hochul, though. “She is going to be a really great governor on issues of importance to LGBTQ New Yorkers,” Gruberg says. They likewise are excited that the nation’s fourth most populous state finally has a woman as its chief executive. “I would always think that’s awesome,” Marino -Thomas says. Gruberg adds, “I’m sad that it’s taken this long, but I’m hopeful for the job she will do as governor.”
This story is part of The Advocate’s 2021 Film and TV issue, which is out on newsstands October 5, 2021. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.