David Paterson, who will assume the responsibilities of
governor of New York on Monday, March 17, is viewed by gay
and trans activists alike as the staunchest of
supporters for the LGBT community. Paterson will be
the first African-American and legally blind governor of
been there in every critical fight over the last two
decades," said Matt Foreman, executive director
of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, naming
hate-crimes legislation introduced in 1987
and passed in 2000, the Sexual Orientation
Nondiscrimination Act (SONDA) passed in 2002, and the
ongoing fight to legalize same-sex marriage.
Though SONDA was
not trans-inclusive, transgender activist Melissa
Sklarz, director of New York Trans Rights Organization
(NYTRO), said Paterson, who was the state senate
minority leader at the time, labored to find a route
for protecting trans people.
tried to change the SONDA law in 2002, David Paterson was
hugely supportive of us," Sklarz said. More
generally, she added that Paterson's own
personal struggles allow him to empathize with those who are
sometimes considered outsiders. "He knows what
it's like to overcome adversity. He knows what
it's like when people are judged negatively at
first impression," she said.
Foreman noted the
political reality of getting SONDA passed was that it
took 31 years, and the bill the state Assembly advanced was
not trans-inclusive. "We had many anguished
meetings," said Foreman, who was executive
director of the Empire State Pride Agenda at the time.
"As minority leader of the senate, there was
only so much [Paterson] could do. Getting SONDA
through the Republican senate and signed by a
Republican governor was a huge lift."
counted passing SONDA and hate crimes as two of his
biggest accomplishments in a 2006 interview with this
reporter. Paterson, who represented Harlem in the
state senate from 1987 to 2006, refused to pass the
hate-crimes bill without protections for gays and lesbians.
the first hate crimes bill in the state, with an opportunity
pass it in 1987, and turning my back on it because it
didn't include sexual orientation was another
thing I was really proud of," then Sen.
Paterson said in August 2006. "I knew it was the
right thing to do, and it was the first big test of
right versus personal enhancement where I did the
Paterson was also
an early supporter of same-sex marriage, going on
record as early as 1994. According to LGBT activist and
Democratic political consultant Ethan Geto, he took a
critical part in lobbying for passage of Gov.
Spitzer's marriage equality bill in the New York
State assembly last year.
- in what may have been an unprecedented act for a
lieutenant governor or any executive official -
worked the floor of the state assembly on the night
that the vote on gay marriage was about to occur,
encouraging and cajoling assembly members to support the
bill," he said.
Geto added that
Paterson's "passionate advocacy,"
helped sway several swing votes and convince some
assembly members that the quest for gay rights is akin
to all civil rights movements. "This was in the face
of certain black political leaders, clergy and elected
officials expressing resentment that the gay community
dared to compare its struggle with the black civil
rights movement," said Geto.
While Gov. Eliot
Spitzer's leadership on LGBT issues and his
willingness to campaign as a supporter of legalizing
gay marriage have moved queer issues forward in
Albany, some feared that his combative style of
politics over the last year might impede further progress.
Democrats are now
one seat away from potentially gaining control of the
Republican-led senate, which failed to bring the same-sex
marriage bill to vote last year after the
Democratically-led assembly passed it 85 to 61. Many
LGBT activists believe that a change of power in the state
senate would pave the way for marriage equality, though the
vote count is not there yet.
Eliot Spitzer's low poll ratings even before this
scandal brought him down," said Geto,
"David Paterson will be a more effective leader of
the effort to knock out the Republican majority in the New
York state senate this fall."
believes that Paterson's style will strike a soothing
note in Albany after a rather stormy year.
"David Paterson is a conciliator, a diplomat, a
rare political figure who is liked and respected on both
sides of the aisle," he said, adding, "he also
has a first-rate staff helmed by Charles
O'Byrne, an openly gay man and one of the most
effective and intelligent policy and political minds in
government anywhere in the United States."
echoed Geto's enthusiasm for working with the
soon-to-be Gov. Paterson. "The agenda is a very
large, complicated agenda for any governor in Albany,
but David Paterson would find room for transgender
issues," said NYTRO's Sklarz.
Paterson's leadership is a story of commitment to
civil liberties and human rights. He believes in
equality and justice for all New Yorkers and has
demonstrated this time and time again - in both words
and actions," said Alan Van Capelle, executive
director of the Empire State Pride Agenda. "We
are excited to begin working with him as