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Bill de Blasio Is Running for President — Will His LGBTQ Record Help?

Bill de Blasio and Chirlane McCray
Bill de Blasio and Chirlane McCray at a Pride march

The New York City mayor announced his bid for the presidency with "anemic" favorability numbers as mayor. But could his progressive values help on the national stage? 

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday that he's seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, bringing the number of Democrats in the race to 23.

De Blasio made his announcement in a YouTube video that focused on "working people first" and offered himself up as the antidote to President Donald Trump due to his tenure within New York City politics.

However, the announcement arrives in the wake of a recent Quinnipac poll that called his job performance as mayor "anemic" and found that over 78 percent of New Yorkers believe he should not run for the nation's highest office.

And while his ambitions have been met with consistent disdain from many New Yorkers, the elected official, who has been mayor of the nation's largest city for six years, actually has one of the most LGBTQ-supportive records of any candidate in the race.

Last year he signed a bill into law that allowed residents a gender-neutral option on birth certificates and eliminated the requirement for a physician's OK to change the gender marker. In 2016 he issued an executive order assuring that transgender and gender-nonconforming people could use the restrooms, locker rooms, and other single-sex facilities of their choice in city-owned buildings.

He boycotted New York's primary St. Patrick's Day parade, in Manhattan, for years because of its exclusion of LGBTQ-identified groups. He marched instead in the inclusive St. Pat's for All parade in Queens. But when the Manhattan parade lifted its ban in 2016, he joined in, along with marriage equality icon Edie Windsor. He has encouraged a boycott of Chick-fil-A due to the company's homophobic ways.

But to many LGBTQ people, the most interesting thing about de Blasio is his wife, who also serves as his chief adviser.

Chirlane McCray, an activist who has worked as a journalist and political speechwriter, once identified as lesbian; she wrote an essay titled "I Am a Lesbian" for Essence magazine in 1979. She married de Blasio in 1994, and they have two children. She has called questions about her sexual orientation "ridiculous."

"People do want to put you in a box," she told Broadly interviewer Diana Tourjee in 2016. "They want to know, well, does this mean you're now bisexual? Or how did you change to be heterosexual? It's just, people ask you the most ridiculous questions." Declining to label herself bisexual or pansexual, she said, "I believe there is a fluidity that we are only just now growing to be more accepting of and aware of, because people do like to put people in boxes. ... I am just living my life."

In an Essence interview in 2013, she said she hadn't dated men before de Blasio. When they began their relationship, she said, "I ... didn't think, Oh, now I'm attracted to men. I was attracted to Bill. He felt like the perfect person for me. For two people who look so different, we have a lot in common. We are a very conventional, unconventional couple." When the interviewer asked how she went from same-sex relationships to a heterosexual one, she replied, "By putting aside the assumptions I had about the form and package my love would come in."

And beyond fielding questions about her identity, McCray has played a major role in her husband's administration.

An activist for mental health reform, she created ThriveNYC, a comprehensive mental health program, but it has been plagued by staff turnover and criticism of its spending. She leads the Cities Thrive Coalition, a national organization of mayors focusing on behavioral health services. She is chair of the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City, which addresses such issues as mental health, immigration, and employment for young people. She is cochair of the Commission on Gender Equity and chair of the city's Domestic Violence Task Force.

"I feel like everything I've done in the past has helped me with the work that I do now," she told The Cut, a New York magazine blog, in 2017. "Nothing has been wasted, from my work with the women's movement, gay movement, civil rights, mental health."

"Everything I've done has helped me in the role I'm in now," she continued.

De Blasio now plans to travel to Iowa and South Carolina, accompanied part of the time by McCray, who will -- like Chasten Buttigieg -- play a big role in her husband's campaign to garner national attention. However, the same polling that found de Blasio's job scoring to be "anemic" found that New Yorkers feel the same about McCray's performance as well.

While the first family of New York's progressive values may help raise the profile of the campaign in the coming months, it's far too early to truly know if de Blasio could see a meteoric rise as a presidential candidate like fellow mayor Pete Buttigieg.

However, no matter where he falls in the race, de Blasio alongside McCray will help expand the historic nature of the 2020 election when it comes to LGBTQ visbility.

Advocate Magazine - KehlaniAdvocate Magazine - Gus Kenworthy

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