New York City Council Members Tiffany Cabán and Crystal Hudson are looking to shake things up as co-chairs of the council’s LGBTQ Caucus – starting with its name. “We’re finalizing our bylaws, but the name of the caucus is formally being changed to the LGBTQIA+ Caucus,” Cabán told City & State recently.
Transitioning to a more inclusive name might not achieve material gains for the community, but it’s indicative of the approach that the two co-chairs are taking to lead the caucus. While the co-chairs wouldn’t talk much about a package of bills that the caucus is working on, Cabán and Hudson said they were “unapologetic” in their intention to focus on the most at-risk members of the LGBTQ community, including transgender youth and seniors as well as queer people of color.
City & State caught up with Cabán and Hudson recently to talk about their goals for the caucus, their focus on the most marginalized of the LGBTQ community and what they want to see from a mayoral administration that has left them disappointed so far. The responses have been edited for length and clarity.
What role is the LGBTQ Caucus going to play in the City Council? Have you convened to talk about common goals or what you are going to focus on?
Crystal Hudson: We have a clear mandate from among the caucus members, and also community members and advocates, that we should be focusing everything on the members of our community that are most marginalized. That includes Black and brown trans women, in particular. LGBTQIA+-identified youth who are experiencing homelessness, who don’t feel safe in their schools or at home. That’s sort of the lens with which we’re leading all of our efforts moving forward.
Tiffany Cabán: And I would add taking care of our queer elders. Filling those gaps that historically haven’t been filled. The intentional decision to be called the LGBTQIA+ Caucus, rather than the previous name, the LGBT Caucus, is just understanding where our focus is on. And it is on the members of our community that have historically been most marginalized, most exploited. It’s the difference between – and this is a little bit reductionist – but having these battles around marriage equality versus affirming health care for trans youth. Addressing the fact that our community is criminalized at higher rates, that we experience homelessness at higher rates, and who amongst our community bears the brunt of those inequities the most.
Whether it’s health care for trans youth or higher rates of homelessness, what specifically can the caucus – and then the City Council – do to address these issues? Is it drawing attention to these issues? Starting initiatives? Passing certain laws?
Cabán: All of the above.
Hudson: I was just going to say the exact same thing. Making it clear what our priorities are to the speaker and to the rest of the body. That includes investing in terms of the budget and council initiatives. That also means talking about it, elevating the issues that people are experiencing.
Cabán: We often talk about how everything is a queer issue, right? Housing is a queer issue, health care is a queer issue, education, the criminal legal system. So when we say that we have a housing crisis and we need to expand transitional housing and safe respites and all these things, then you better believe that part of the plan should include trans housing, making sure that those beds are available. When we say that we are a union town and we need to expand union opportunities, it means exploring things like the Pride at Work initiative to make sure that there is understanding that there is workplace discrimination against queer folks, gender-nonconforming folks, trans folks.
Can you explain the Pride at Work initiative?
Hudson: It’s to get more LGBTQIA+ folks into unionized jobs – funding to nonprofits and city agencies that can specifically recruit folks who identify as LGBTQIA+, prepare them for unionized jobs in a number of sectors, including apprenticeship programs. But I think to Tiffany’s point, it’s just the general advocacy for inclusivity. We can’t talk about access to quality and competent health care, access to deeply affordable housing, access to job opportunities with livable wages if we’re not actually including the LGBTQIA+ community in all of those conversations.
Are there any specific initiatives you’re going to be focusing on or pieces of legislation you’re going to be introducing that you can tell us about?
Hudson: Without giving too much away, we are working on a package of bills. That would be a collection from all caucus members to address the issues pertaining to LGBTQIA+ New Yorkers.
So we’ll have to wait to see that?
Cabán: Yeah. And (we’ll be) exploring initiatives. There’s Pride at Work. There's HIV prevention for Black men and other populations. There’s LGBT immigrant initiatives. So lots of things to dig into.
This caucus has party diversity, racial and gender diversity, generational diversity. Do you expect there will be differences of opinion on policy – particularly with Republican City Council Member David Carr? What are the pros and cons of that diversity?
Cabán: I see positives. This might be the organizer and former public defender in me, but a diversity of experience, opinion, politics, theory of change, makes for really good, robust conversation. It sheds light into shadowed areas. And I welcome tension. I think navigating tension is not just good, but really, really necessary.
Hudson: Agreed. I think the more diversity we have in terms of perspectives, opinions, experiences, the better off we all are. But I’ll also just add that this is a caucus that’s led by two queer women of color. It’s a caucus that’s majority women. So it’s a new caucus in terms of what we’ve seen in the past. I think maybe with the exception of Rosie (Méndez) some years back, it has almost exclusively been led by cisgender men. We certainly welcome all of that diversity, but I think also our leadership is a different type of diversity in leadership.
Cabán: I think Crystal and I are both very unapologetic in who we are, who we’re fighting for, and what we want to accomplish.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams has faced criticism from advocates for his hiring of several people with histories of anti-gay views. What was your reaction to those hires?
Cabán: It was deeply upsetting.
Hudson: It was. I think what was not lost on us was the fact that the apologies, the excuses, the sort of doubling back, was too little, too late. The folks had already been appointed, the decision had already been made. There was no real or genuine effort to make amends with the community, to sit down with the community. Obviously, we’ve seen that the mayor hasn’t reversed his decision. I think what we need coming out of that whole experience is action. Action speaks far louder than words. What we’ve heard a lot of is, “This administration is a pro-LGBTQIA+ administration, is a supportive administration.” The mayor has said he has a history of supporting the community. But we haven’t yet seen any deliberate actions from the administration in terms of supporting Black and brown trans women, supporting LGBTQIA+ youth or seniors. We haven’t seen a specific initiative rolled out – and I don’t just mean like a budget initiative – I mean a campaign initiative. We haven’t seen the launch of any specifically focused work with the community, for the community, on behalf of the community. And I think that's what we're waiting to see from this administration.
Cabán: It starts from within. You can’t say that you are going to build a city that is safe for our community, but then not model that within your administration. Culture matters. That continues to be concerning and disturbing, quite frankly, to me. But those are fights that we’re going to continue to have.
Were you a part of the meeting in March with the mayor about LGBTQ issues?
Cabán: Yeah, we were there.
Do you feel like anything productive came out of that meeting?
Hudson: Well, that’s sort of what I was referring to. We had that meeting, the mayor told us how much of a supporter of the community he’s been, what he’s done in the past as a senator, how he will continue to support the community. But we haven’t seen anything yet. We haven’t seen a single initiative or investment. This is a time when we need to see what are you doing that is unique to your administration? What steps are you taking as the new mayor of this city where trans folks are not safe, where LGBTQIA+ youth and older adults are not safe? What are you doing?
What specific steps would you like to see the mayor take, perhaps particularly focused on the most marginalized in the LGBTQIA+ community?
Cabán: There are so many things. I’m going to start with the thing that nobody will be surprised that I start with – that our community experiences high levels of violence. And I’m not just talking about hate violence in the community, because actually our community experiences more sustained, higher levels every day, of state-sanctioned violence. That includes criminalization. I would like to see us protecting our sex workers and disbanding (the NYPD’s Vice Enforcement Division), and the practice of criminalizing survival and consensual sex work.
Hudson: I think just real, genuine, meaningful and deliberate investments and efforts around supporting our community. In terms of housing, we need supportive housing, we need housing that’s specifically geared towards the LGBTQIA+ community that’s been marginalized. Tiffany mentioned earlier housing for trans folks, housing for LGBTQIA+ youth who are experiencing homelessness, and also elders who are experiencing homelessness or any other sort of type of hardship. Thinking about mental health services is certainly another big one, particularly for our community. And then, the sort of low-hanging fruit. Thinking about the curriculum that we see in our schools. How are you engaging with school communities around the topic? How are you empowering and showing that you’re seeing all students in our school system?
This might not be something at the top of your agenda, but do you support removing former Mayor Ed Koch’s name from the Queensboro Bridge – something the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club has called for, citing his handling of the AIDS crisis?
Hudson: I think we’d have to have a broader conversation with the caucus. We’ve all been through the endorsement process with Jim Owles. I know I was endorsed by Jim Owles and have expressed my personal views. But I think as far as the caucus is concerned, we’d have to take the temperature of all of the members and figure out where we stand together as a caucus.
Cabán: The only thing I would add to that is I think it matters, right? It matters when we look at the vestiges of statues, bridges – all of these things that exist that are reminders of and uplift these very painful moments – and tell a certain part of the story, while erasing or pushing to the margin some really important parts of our story in history. To Crystal’s point, I think it’s a part of a larger conversation on what to prioritize. We’re in the midst of what feels like a continuing but acute crisis, and our people are struggling. We are struggling to get by at the intersection of a pandemic, an economic crisis –
Hudson: A racial reckoning –
Cabán: Yes. All of it. So I think about how we use our capacity, because it is finite. How we use the tools in our toolbox to make sure we are focused on doing the things in this moment that are going to have the most material benefit to our people, who need things right now.