December 16, 2015 at 2:21 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Criticism as N.Y. LGBT group shuts down
Daskalakis, New York City, gay news, Washington Blade

New York’s largest statewide LGBT advocacy group on Dec. 12, 2015, surprised advocates and politicians alike with its announcement that it will shut down next year. (Photo by Daniel Schwen; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Advocates are blasting New York’s largest statewide LGBT group over its surprise announcement that it will shut down next year.

Bryan Ellicott, a transgender rights advocate from Staten Island, described Empire State Pride Agenda’s decision to close as “a difficult one.”

“While knowing personally many members of their staff and board of directors, I can’t help but feel betrayed by the people who are supposed to fight and protect my community and myself,” he told the Washington Blade. “Especially when we know that the work needs to be done still to advance the LGBT community to be completely equal and protected under the law in many ways in our own state and across this country.”

Empire State Pride Agenda Executive Director Nathan Schaefer said in an email to supporters on Dec. 12 that the organization’s board of directors made the decision after a series of “unanimous votes.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in October during the Empire State Pride Agenda’s Fall Dinner in Manhattan announced new statewide regulations banning discrimination based on gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations. Schaefer described the mandate as “our top remaining priority.”

“After 25 years of groundbreaking advocacy and service to New York’s LGBT community, the Empire State Pride Agenda will conclude major operations in 2016,” he wrote. “In the coming months, the Pride Agenda will identify aspects of its policy work to transition to partner LGBT organizations.”

Ellicott noted to the Blade that the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which would codify Cuomo’s executive order into law, has languished in the New York Senate for more than a decade.

Kenneth Sherrill, a political science professor emeritus at Hunter College of the City University of New York, scoffed at the idea that Cuomo’s executive order was Empire State Pride Agenda’s “top remaining priority.”

“The idea that having gotten an executive order from the governor, which could be reversed by the next governor, means that we’ve done it all indicates a poverty of vision that’s unbelievable,” Sherrill told the Blade on Tuesday during a telephone interview from Manhattan.

‘There’s a hell of a lot to do’

Same-sex couples began to legally marry in New York in 2011.

Sherrill told the Blade that implementing an LGBT-inclusive school curriculua, addressing homelessness among LGBT youth and ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic are among the issues on which advocates continue to work. Ellicott noted that New York lawmakers have yet to approve a bill that would ban “conversion therapy” to minors in the state.

“They’re saying, ‘Well we got marriage, but there’s nothing else to do,’” Sherrill told the Blade. “There’s a hell of a lot to do.”

Empire State Pride Agenda is the latest LGBT advocacy group to announce plans to close.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Obergefell case that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples throughout the country prompted Freedom to Marry to announce it will shut down. A budget shortfall prompted Equality Maryland to curtail operations in August.

Love Makes a Family in Connecticut disbanded in 2009 after gays and lesbians received marriage rights in the state.

Hunter T. Carter, a Manhattan lawyer who represents plaintiffs in same-sex marriage cases throughout Latin America, said he “feels deceived and dismayed” by Empire State Pride Agenda’s decision to shut down.

Carter told the Blade on Tuesday that his law firm has contributed to the organization’s efforts to ban workplace discrimination based on gender identity. He said he is now considering ways to explain “our partnership” with the organization.

“I see a shocking harm to the credibility of everyone else,” said Carter. “It was one thing for [Freedom to Marry CEO] Evan [Wolfson] to fold the marriage-specific organization he ran. But this ESPA decision flies in the face of the many needs in New York to which donors have been responding and for which more leadership is needed.”

Pride Agenda PAC to remain operable

Schaefer in his email to supporters said his organization’s political action committee will remain active “in order to play a continuing role in electoral politics.”

The latest campaign finance report the PAC filed with state officials in July indicates it had a balance of -$7,372.64. This figure compares to the $8,602.36 balance it reported in January.

The PAC’s latest campaign finance report that it filed last month indicates it has a balance of $15,567.36.

Empire State Pride Agenda on Dec. 13 wrote on its website that it “appreciates that fundraising challenges naturally coincide with mission victories.”

“Nonetheless, this choice is mission driven rather than being about whether or not the Pride Agenda can remain fiscally solvent,” it says.

Schaefer on Wednesday defended his organization’s decision.

“Our boards made this decision unanimously after careful deliberation about the evolving needs and priorities of our communities as well as the resources we would need to continue to serve them,” he told the Blade in a statement. “While the Pride Agenda in its current form will not be able operate in the future as it has in the past, the organization is committed to transitioning to partner LGBT organizations programmatic work that remains to be done.”

“The group also expects to play a continuing role in New York electoral politics by means of its PAC,” he added. “We have been successful over the past 25 years in achieving many landmark accomplishments, including our top policy priority of protecting transgender New Yorkers from discrimination statewide, and we would not have done this without the support of our donors and funders. We will continue to depend on their help as we transition our remaining policy work in a responsible and strategic manner.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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