Dignity Coalition Voices Concerns

Advocates break silence, but Speaker Miller insists he’s still on board

In separate letters, both delivered to the speaker on May 26 at a meeting of the Stonewall Democratic Club, Phyllis Steinberg of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and Pauline Park of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (NYAGRA) asked Miller to bring the bill, which has already been approved by the Council’s Committee on Education, to a vote by the full Council.

The Dignity in All Schools Act (DASA), introduced by City Councilmember Alan Gerson (D-Lower Manhattan), has received overwhelming support, with 44 members of the Council sponsoring the measure, including Eva Moskowitz (D-Upper East Side), the education chair, as well as the three gay and lesbian councilmembers, Margarita Lopez, Philip Reed and Christine Quinn, also Manhattan Democrats.

Dignity Coalition members are raising concerns that Miller and other co-sponsors of the DASA legislation may not carry through with their support, but rather negotiate with the Bloomberg Administration to amend existing policy to meet the bill’s goals.

“We in NYAGRA were all the more surprised to hear that you and Councilmember Eva Moskowitz (as chair of the Council education committee) apparently have been engaging in negotiations with Bloomberg administration appointees from the Department of Education over the text of a letter of agreement reportedly intended as a substitute for the Dignity bill,” reads a section of Park’s letter. “It is clear to us that what the department is suggesting as a substitute for this legislation falls far short of the provisions of Int. No. 188 [DASA].”

But, Miller’s office says the Coalition members misunderstand the situation.

“The issue that some people are missing,” said Scott Melvin, a Miller spokesperson, “is that if we pass the bill today, the administration has shown that they won’t enforce it.”

Melvin said that the process to get a the Bloomberg administration to begin enforcing the terms of a piece of legislation which it did not initially support is tedious and time-consuming, involving possible lengthy legal battles.

“It’s always advantageous when the administration says they want to sit down and discuss a bill” before it is passed, he said.

Asked whether the Speaker and the education committee chair are pushing for a compromise with the administration in which the terms of the legislation are adopted into existing policy, Melvin said, “This bill will pass. If we thought this bill was not going to pass, we would not be engaged in this detail of dialogue [with the administration].”

But some members of the Coalition are unconvinced.

“I’m concerned by the lack of responsiveness on the part of the chair and the speaker to the Coalition and the communities represented by the Coalition,” she said, noting that neither office has responded to her letter.

“It’s really a matter of procedural issues and process that I find troubling,” said Park.

Next Tuesday, June 22, the Dignity Coalition and DASA co-sponsors in City Council will begin a series of weekly conference calls to discuss the status of the bill and share information about unfolding developments.

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