Michael Bloomberg is routinely described—by a national news media eager to show nuanced appreciation for any inkling of a diversity of opinion on social issues within the Republican Party—as the pro-gay mayor of New York City.
In fact, on the eve of the GOP’s big bash in New York last August, the mayor hosted a fancy garden party in Bryant Park for gay Republicans. In his first year in office, he signed a gender rights measure passed by an overwhelming majority of the Democratic-controlled City Council. And just last month, the mayor broke his long silence and said that he supports same-sex marriage rights, and is willing to go to Albany to fight for the cause.
So what’s the beef?
It’s all about push coming to shove.
On three of the most significant issues facing the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in New York right now, Bloomberg is rowing furiously—even with some high profile feints toward our interests and sensibilities—in the opposite direction.
The marriage issue is the one on which the mayor has been least successful in dressing up his true motives. Faced with a ruling from a Manhattan Supreme Court justice on February 4 ordering the city clerk to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses after a 30-day stay, Bloomberg quickly decided to appeal. He insisted he was merely trying to avoid the confusion that happened last year when 4,000 San Francisco marriages were later overturned by the courts. He even told a February 5 Human Rights Campaign dinner audience that he hoped the Court of Appeals would affirm the principles in the pro-gay ruling. And, of course, most dramatically, he came out of the closet on his personal view of gay marriage.
The repeated television clips of the HRC crowd booing when he announced his decision to appeal, however, lifted the curtain rather decisively on Bloomberg’s hopes of winning that PR skirmish. And within days, reports of the arguments made by his own Law Department provided a jarring counterpoint to the mayor’s promise to be our legislative champion in Albany.
Even as he is launching his appeal of the marriage case, the city is crowing about its victory over the City Council in Bloomberg’s efforts to undo the Equal Benefits Law, a measure that would guarantee that gay employees of contractors doing business with the city are treated fairly, enacted over his veto last year.
The benefits law is a particularly glaring example of Bloomberg’s lack of candor on gay issues. When he ran for mayor in 2001, he supported the measure, at first unconditionally, and after a few days’ reflection, with an insistence on some kind of carve out for religious institutions doing business with the city. Only toward the end of his first year in office did he reverse his position, initially arguing that the law violated free market principles that say contracting decisions should be made on cost considerations alone. Over time, the mayor’s opposition devolved into a pettier, turf defense of mayor prerogative.
As City Council Education Chairwoman Eva Moskowitz noted in a press conference this week, the Bloomberg administration is also apparently digging in against implementation of the other piece of gay-related legislation enacted last year over the mayor’s veto—the Dignity for All Schools Act (DASA). The measure provides anti-harassment protections based on a variety of categories, including sexual orientation and gender identity. More fundamentally, the legislation puts the Council and the city on record as having an institutional commitment to address and root out the violence and bullying that permeates too many New York public schools.
Despite Bloomberg’s proud assertions that—with the reorganization of the school system that gives him direct management control—the buck stops with him, his Department of Education was flagrant in its unwillingness to work with the Council to craft appropriate legislation last year. Only when Council passage of DASA was imminent was the city willing to deal, and even then talks soon foundered. Now that the law’s implementation date has arrived, it seems clear that the city has not moved in good faith to make the legislation a reality in the city’s schools. Moskowitz and the Council promise oversight hearings on March 28.
It is well past time to hold the mayor accountable for his flip-flops on LGBT rights. He marched on March 5 in the gay-inclusive St. Pat’s For All parade in Queens, but will also participate Thursday in the anti-gay parade on Fifth Avenue hosted by the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
Mike Bloomberg may not be able to decide which side he is on, but New York voters will have their chance to make a similar choice this November. This mayor will then have to answer to all of us.