Gay Community Leader Shakes Up Brooklyn Council Race

Terrance Knox outside of Brooklyn Borough Hall.
Courtesy of Terrance Knox

The tipping point for Terrance Knox came in late May, just days after the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Knox descended on Brooklyn’s Barclays Center for one of the early protests that laid the groundwork for a nationwide movement targeting police brutality and racial injustice. Like at many other demonstrations this year, the NYPD spun out of control, beating protesters with batons and physically shoving them to the ground, Knox recalled.

“I jumped in to try to save someone and I looked over at a police officer and asked what was going on,” Knox said. “I said, ‘Why are you doing that?’” The officer replied, “She threw water on me.”

That was the moment Knox decided he would enter the race for City Council in Brooklyn’s District 35, which encompasses Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, and Bedford Stuyvesant — and includes the Barclays facility.

Terrance Knox enters a crowded competition that already has two LGBTQ candidates

Knox, an out gay candidate who has served in multiple leadership posts in his neighborhood and in the queer community, is diving into a race featuring two other LGBTQ candidates: former Deputy Public Advocate Crystal Hudson, who would be the first out LGBTQ Black woman elected to the City Council, and Alejandra Caraballo, an attorney and local community board member who is vying to become the first out trans city lawmaker.

Knox’s ties to the local community include having served on Brooklyn Community Board 2, on the board of the Brooklyn Community Pride Center, and on Brooklyn Hospital Center’s community advisory board. He is also a former co-president of the Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn (LID), a queer political group where he has also served on the board.

Knox is currently a consultant working with “anyone who’s building anything” to help them proceed in accordance with environmental regulations and with the goal of either carbon neutrality or carbon negativity.

A resident of the district for nearly two decades, Knox said he has witnessed a great deal of change — but that includes what he described as “stagnation” for working class and low-income residents. He has had a front-row seat throughout many pivotal moments in the district over the years.

Knox has not been afraid to speak up when he feels it is necessary. As the Brooklyn Community Pride Center worked on securing a new location at the Bedford-Union Armory in Crown Heights, he wasn’t satisfied with what he saw unfolding.

“That project was less than ideal,” Knox said. “It was a matter of developers not putting their best foot forward and not being held to account by [current Councilmember Laurie] Cumbo and Hudson, and that’s what they do.”

[Editor’s note: After this story was published, Hudson’s team contended that she was not involved in the process of the project at the Bedford-Union Armory. In response, Knox emphasized that the process extended over a number of years.]

Knox recalled angering some individuals during a community board meeting reviewing the project when he spoke his mind about his concerns even as he also acknowledged positives about the Center’s expansion plan.

“I wanted to say the developers did not come to you and ask you what your needs are,” Knox said. “It’s been forced upon you and you need to renegotiate… People felt they had been ignored and dismissed.”

The Brooklyn Community Pride Center and developers at BFC Partners ultimately announced a 30-year lease on the organization’s new headquarters in February, just weeks before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Knox’s attitude on that matter was not unlike his feelings about other issues that have arisen in his district. He feels that elected officials have settled for less time and time again.

“What bothers me is we know what we need to do, but people are kowtowing to their donors or their next job,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m not looking to have a decades-long career in politics. If you’re doing it right, you go in, you go hard, step back, and hand the baton to the next generation.”

He added, “We’ve had people in office for decades who have lost complete touch with what it means going on payday loans or homeowners paying exorbitant taxes they didn’t budget for. In a nutshell, I’m running because I just haven’t seen the change we need.”

Knox believes he can succeed in such a role in part because he has engaged in work with the local community at a grassroots level, including volunteering to help homeless and formerly incarcerated individuals re-establish themselves in the workforce.

But Knox also enters the race for City Council armed with life-changing experiences of his own. Born in Oklahoma to a teenage mother who struggled with substance abuse, he grew up in Kansas and came from a family lineage that included sharecroppers. He credits his family with instilling in him values he carries with him today.

The experiences he had in his youth influence his political perspective today. He remembers back to his childhood, which elicits a range of memories: While it was a time when he would make his own clothes and don his mother’s wigs as he danced to Diana Ross, he also faced anti-LGBTQ bullying when he was in the seventh grade.

“You have to stop this early on,” Knox said of school bullying. “Kids are being trained to attack trans and gay people, it’s been engrained in them early on.”

To that end, Knox is sounding the alarm about violence facing transgender women of color, not just across the nation — but right in Brooklyn — and expressed his unwavering support for the movement for comprehensive decriminalization of sex work. He also backs the effort in Albany to repeal the discriminatory loitering law known as a ban on “walking while trans” because of the way police have used it to harass transgender women.

Knox also sees a need to rein in police at the city level. He was disappointed after the City Council approved a budget over the summer that did not meet activists’ demands to substantially reduce police funding and shift resources to marginalized communities.

When asked how he would have voted on that budget, Knox said “no” three times and had strong words about out gay Speaker Corey Johnson, who faced the brunt of criticism for his role in overseeing budget negotiations with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“It was a sham and Corey knew it, but he said he took the best deal he could get,” Knox said. “This is what we have been dealing with for years. No, you have to be ready to lay down the law and say, ‘Look, fine, shut it down until we get what we need.’”

Knox’s political platform contains calls for changes to policing — he describes it as reimaging public safety — and he said there needs to be a multi-pronged approach to responding to calls to the police based on whether the situation calls for resolving a domestic violence case or addressing mental health needs.

There is no need, he said, to send an “armed militarized public servant who does not live in the community.”

Knox also plans to focus on prioritizing school desegregation and equalizing funding for the city’s local school districts, creating affordable housing that is actually affordable, redirecting the focus on environmental issues in Brooklyn, and establishing alternatives to incarceration.

“We don’t need to build new jails if we are looking at what crimes are actually worthy of locking people up,” he said. “There are other ways. In 2021 we are still [going to be] locking people in cages for infractions.”

Knox stressed nuances in his political views. While he often agrees with the Democratic Socialists of America, he said, he is not aligned with them on everything, and although he has pushed back against greedy developers he is not self-imposing restrictions on campaign donations from real estate developers or other special interests as some other progressive candidates are.

As he builds out his campaign, Knox said he is working to secure major union endorsements and has met with the Working Families Party on multiple occasions. But he said he is not seeking the support of LID — despite having once led the club. LID is holding an endorsement meeting on November 19 and will pick a candidate in his race, as well as in three other Council contests.

“They seemed like they were already aligned with the candidate they wanted to go with months ago,” Knox said of LID. “I’m not participating [in the endorsement meeting] and that should tell you everything. At the core, Lambda still has this issue. Brooklyn is heavily minority, Lambda is not.”

Still, as Knox dives into a crowded field vying for the open seat in the 35th Council District, he welcomes the competition — and he is proud to be in a race that has three out LGBTQ candidates.

“I say the more the merrier,” Knox said. “It’s going to come down to who is connecting with the people and who can show who is anointed and given donors and infrastructure by people in office.”

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