Interview with Ross Levi, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda

Posted by Laura Nahmias on

"Ross Levi became executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, the state’s premier gay-rights organization, this spring, with a month left in the legislative session—just in time to watch the Legislature pass an anti-bullying law he had helped write a decade earlier. It was just the first in a series of satisfying moments in his short tenure so far.

... "Levi spoke about the advocacy organization’s strategy for the upcoming election, how it is blind to party affiliations, and what it has achieved over the past year.

... "The Capitol: Was primary night a victory or a defeat for the Empire State Pride Agenda?

"Ross Levi: It was definitely a step forward.  I think we sought to send a message that elected officials who vote against equality for New York’s LGBT community need to be held accountable. We were able to take on a Democratic incumbent, Bill Stachowski, and be part of the reason he will no longer be returning to Albany, and put instead a candidate who is firmly in support of all the issues at the top of our agenda. That is an important step forward. Even in the other races, we sent an important message that people will not be able to vote against our community and have a simple cakewalk to the next election. We made them talk about our issues; we made them expend resources. There were other victories as well, having Sen. Eric Schneiderman become the attorney general candidate is a great victory. We are also thrilled that Harry Bronson, an openly gay man in Rochester, won his primary and has the potential of growing our caucus in the legislature.

... "TC: John Sampson changed his mind on the freedom to marry.  Are there other legislators you think could change their votes?

"RL: I mean, we believe there are a lot of senators who voted against the marriage bill the last time it came up in the Senate who actually would be disposed to vote the right way, but couldn’t do so because of the politics of the moment. We need to create the best environment possible for people to do the right thing, especially in many cases where that’s what they want to do anyway. But there are also some cases where legislators will listen neither to good public policy or the true stories of how their actions negatively affect their LGBT constituents, and for those elected officials, who are immune to the rationality and humanity of our issues, those are the elected officials that we have to work to remove.

"TC: Has the movement for marriage equality lost power since the defeat of the bill last spring?

"RL: I have no indications that either LGBT people or our allies are feeling a sense of defeat. Our resolve has been stiffened. To have our lives and our families debated on the floor of the New York State Senate and be told by our government that we’re not worthy of the same protections that all other living families get, has only led us to be more invested in winning this fight. Since the marriage vote, I think there have been very good signs of that resolve. Pride Agenda continues to be a strong organization. I do not feel any sense of defeat. Quite the contrary. We don’t have the luxury of feeling defeat. These are life-and-death issues. These aren’t issues that you just decide, I’m going to take a break from. They are too core to our lives. We have no choice but to continue to fight.

... "TC: If Republicans win in the general election and take the Senate, what will you do?

"RL: The good news is that the Pride Agenda has a very good history of achieving victories for the LGBT community no matter what party is in power. SONDA and the hate crimes law—these were secured under not only a Republican Senate, but also a Republican governor. We still can look at party platforms and recognize that on a party basis, the Democratic Party is more aligned with our issues, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good and, unfortunately, bad people on either side. When it comes down to working with individual legislators, it is not about whether there is a D or an R after their name, it is about whether they are solidly in support of LGBT justice or not."

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