The Empire State Pride Agenda, New York State’s leading LGBT rights group, surprised many observers Saturday with the announcement that it is disbanding.
The group’s board voted Saturday to wind down the operations of the Pride Agenda and its foundation in the first half of 2016, while maintaining its political action committee, which will continue to be involved in electoral politics, according to a press release from the organization. Board members determined that the Pride Agenda had accomplished its major goals, according to the press release.
The realization of its last remaining major goal, protecting the rights of transgender state residents, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s October announcement of an executive order to do so, the release noted. It listed other achievements in the state, including marriage equality, joint adoption by same-sex partners, nondiscrimination law covering sexual orientation, and more.
“We have accomplished amazing victories as an organization and as a community since our founding in 1990,” executive director Nathan Schaefer said in the press release. “The strides we have made toward equality and justice have been nothing short of extraordinary.”
“The mission was to get these policy objectives passed and we feel we have done that,” Norman C. Simon, the group’s chairman and a cochairman of the foundation’s board, told The New York Times. He said keeping the PAC active would allow the group to “maintain a continuing voice in electoral politics” and guard against any undermining of LGBT rights.
In addition to the PAC, some of Pride Agenda’s policy work will continue, but it will be transitioned to other organizations, according to the press release. Over the next few months, the boards and staff will determine what aspects of the policy work still need attention and identify groups to take them on, the release noted.
State Sen. Brad Hoylman, who is gay, expressed surprise at the news. “There’s a lot more work to be done on LGBT rights in New York, so declaring ‘Mission Accomplished’ seems premature,” he told the Times. The Senate, he added, has not passed a “single piece of LGBT legislation” since 2011. “I hope a new political group picks up the mantle,” he said.
Speaking to New York's Gay City News, Hoylman expanded on his comments about the closure. “I think there must be other forces at work here that are internal or financial,” he said. A supplementary Pride Agenda release acknowledged that “fundraising challenges naturally coincide with mission victories,” but stressed that “this choice is mission-driven rather than being about whether or not the Pride Agenda can remain fiscally solvent.”
Later, Pride Agenda leaders objected to the perception that they are saying the work of achieving LGBT equality is done. “We did not and are not declaring mission accomplished on LGBT equality,” Simon told Gay City News Sunday afternoon. “What we are saying is that our top priorities have been completed, and that the remaining work that needs to be done we will transition to other organizations in the coming months in an orderly process.”
Hoylman and others noted that among the work that remains undone is passage of the long-stalled Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which has been approved by the state Assembly several times but never the Senate. Although Cuomo's executive order provides broad protections against discrimination based on gender identity and expression, it could be undone by a future governor, and Pride Agenda came in for some criticism for not mentioning GENDA in its initial press release, although in the Sunday interview Simon said the PAC will continue to advocate for GENDA. Hoylman told Gay City News he will still fight for GENDA as well as other LGBT rights measures, including a ban on the use of so-called ex-gay or conversion therapy on minors.
Matt Foreman, a former executive director of the Pride Agenda, was particularly critical of the decision to close. “In an email message, he called the group’s release ‘appalling’ and said, ‘The job isn’t half done,’” Gay City News reports.
In a follow-up phone interview with the publication, Foreman added, “We are dealing with a political system and you need a political organization. Albany doesn’t just respond to good ideas.”
He also criticized the way Pride Agenda's board reached its decision. “There was zero consultation with folks who spent their lives building the Pride Agenda,” he told Gay City News. “If they are going to make a decision of that magnitude, there has to be a consultative function. They need to talk to the stakeholders, to the communities around the state. … This is an abrogation of a fundamental obligation that an organization has to its constituency. … And, it plays into the national narrative that the job is done.”
Others agreed that a successor organization is needed, including another former Pride Agenda executive director, Alan Van Capelle. “As a community we need to have a statewide conversation about how we remain engaged and powerful,” he told Gay City News. “I don’t want it to take us a decade to reinvent the wheel when the next crisis comes up.”
Some said a new organization may look different from Pride Agenda. “Those that cannot create a vision for the new challenges that remain for trans people, for LGBT people of color and LGBT youth, will rightly say, ‘mission accomplished,’” said transgender advocate and attorney Jillian Weiss in an email to Gay City News. “Organizations have a population cycle, just as people do, and there is a new group of smaller organizations coming up to address these important issues. It will our job as a community to support them, just as we did 25 years ago when ESPA was formed to serve important needs for the gay community of that time. It’s not over.”
A trans-specific group plans to start organizing soon, added tr.ansgender activist Joann Prinzivalli, who told the publication, “The trans community is in this for the long haul and we are going to have to ramp up our own efforts.”