BY MATT TRACY
There is an underlying theme in Melissa Mark-Viverito’s newly-unveiled vision to address LGBTQ issues in her campaign for New York City public advocate: She wants the community to drive the conversation about how the city can help.
The former City Council speaker, who spoke exclusively to Gay City News on Wednesday, released a 10-point platform specifying a number of ways that, if elected public advocate, she would work with the City Council to support LGBTQ people from all walks of life, from entrepreneurs to homeless youth to seniors in the community. She faces a crowded field of candidates — roughly a dozen people have declared their candidacy or are exploring a run — but she is confident that she will convince voters that she can successfully build upon the work she did during 12 years on the City Council.
Mark-Viverito’s wide-ranging LGBTQ platform includes calls for the city to fund various health and economic justice services, staff every city agency with what she termed an LGBTQIA liaison, pursue a variety of legislative opportunities, and push for a review of the NYPD’s Patrol Guide regarding the department’s interactions with transgender people.
Among the most unique aspects of her plan is a goal to advocate for legislation creating a new procurement program to support LGBTQ entrepreneurs and give LGBTQ-owned businesses access to city contracts.
“That came out of conversations with people in the community,” she explained. “It’s about having some consideration and encouragement. What’s the next level that we can reach as a city to encourage contracts to go to entrepreneurs?”
Mark-Viverito has an eye on LGBTQ seniors, too. There are currently at least two housing developments in the works for that population, but she wants to go further by exploring ways to utilize support services specifically geared toward LGBTQ seniors and prevent elder and financial abuse. Moreover, she would like to see funding that has a lasting impact.
“I think the issue and challenge for us in the City Council is that there were initiatives that we funded, but they were not baselined in the city budget,” she said. “The idea is to advocate and prioritize these initiatives, not just have them as an add-on.”
Mark-Viverito’s other funding proposals include increased spending for HIV testing, care, and services — especially for communities of color — and assistance for homeless queer youth to help them obtain education, housing, and paid internships.
Notably, she is placing emphasis on identifying ways to improve the lives of transgender and gender non-conforming people. She would like the city to provide educational, employment, and housing opportunities for them, which are much needed after a recent survey by the Anti-Violence Project revealed that although trans and gender non-conforming people are more likely to have bachelor’s degrees, less than half of the 118 respondents had full-time jobs.
Among other points, Mark-Viverito would support an executive order prohibiting the city from funding entities engaging in discrimination against the LGBTQ community, continue to staff an LGBTQ liaison in the public advocate’s office, and introduce a law that would form a transgender and gender non-conforming advisory board for the city’s hospital system.
Mark-Viverito is vying for the role of public advocate at a time when the city has seen a rise in hate crimes citywide — with the LGBTQ community being among the most targeted groups — and she said she “likes the sound of” legislation proposed by Councilmembers Mark Levine of Manhattan and Donovan Richards of Queens to create a hate crimes office at the city level.
“This is a serious issue that we are seeing,” she said. “Having real, focused attention on it in the form of an office, to me, indicates there is a sense of urgency.”
The 49-year-old pol, who represented parts of the Bronx and Manhattan from 2006-2017 and served as speaker from 2014-2017, helped lead the effort to pass legislation requiring single-occupant restrooms to be gender-neutral, campaigned for marriage equality, allocated funding to hire a staff member to serve as LGBT liaison for city schools, and more.
Mark-Viverito didn’t spell out many specifics on her new platform — she admitted that many of her ideas will need to be fine-tuned as she continues to work with members of the LGBTQ community — but she hopes it represents a starting point and an opportunity for her to build upon the progress already made during her time in office. She emphasized that LGBTQ people should be the ones to direct their path forward, and that she should be there to listen.
“It’s not for me to identify,” she said, while stressing that she will be having roundtable discussions to further solidify her plans. “These are priorities in their community.”
Current Public Advocate Letitia James, who was elected state attorney general in November, will assume her new position in January. The race for public advocate is expected to culminate early in the new year after Mayor Bill de Blasio sets a date for the special election.