Matthew McMorrow. | DONNA ACETO
BY PAUL SCHINDLER | Matthew McMorrow, a Park Slope gay activist who served as director of government affairs at the Empire State Pride Agenda during the final several years of that group’s existence, has been named a senior advisor in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Community Affairs Unit.
In a written statement due for release on December 16, de Blasio said, “The Community Affairs Unit connects my administration and New Yorkers, establishing deep partnerships across our city of neighborhoods. Matthew brings with him years of advocacy experience to his new role as Senior Advisor and is a strong addition to this team. The LGBT community, and the city as a whole, will benefit greatly from Matthew’s service.”
At the Pride Agenda, McMorrow worked on initiatives the group pursued in the years after marriage equality was enacted, though progress on those issues – including a transgender civil rights law, a ban on so-called “conversion therapy” for minors, and the Child-Parent Security Act, which would strengthen the legal relationship between children and their non-biological parents and end the state’s ban on gestational surrogacy contracts – was stymied by the intransigence of the State Senate’s Republican leadership.
ESPA wound down its operations without enactment of the long-stalled Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, but advocacy by the group and McMorrow led to regulatory action by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration late last year to extend state human rights law sex discrimination and disability discrimination protections to transgender New Yorkers.
In advocacy work with New York City, McMorrow contributed to the decision by the health department to ease what previously had been cumbersome restrictions on transgender people changing the gender marker on their birth certificates.
Since the Pride Agenda left the scene early in 2016, McMorrow spearheaded an effort to build an LGBTQ-focused political action committee to press the community’s agenda in Albany and across the state. The group, Equality New York, played a modest role in the 2016 state legislative races, though its slate of endorsed candidates – all of them Democrats – failed in the primary goal of improving the party’s standing in the Senate, where the defection of six of its members have in recent years denied it the control its numbers would otherwise warrant. With Democrats once again holding 32 of the 63 seats next year, it’s uncertain – perhaps unlikely – that the party can unite to assume leadership, and then let pro-LGBTQ measures get floor consideration.
In an interview this week, McMorrow said that his work with the group, for which he takes no compensation, would continue.
Prior to joining the Pride Agenda, McMorrow served for three years as president of the Lambda Independent Democrats, a Brooklyn LGBTQ political club.
In his new post with the city, McMorrow replaces Elvin Garcia, who divided his time between directing the Community Affairs Unit’s Bronx efforts and working with the LGBTQ community. Garcia recently left city government to pursue a 2017 bid for the City Council from the South Bronx.
Making the LGBT portfolio only a portion of somebody’s job is now seen as “unwieldy” in the administration’s view, according to McMorrow, a perspective likely enhanced, he said, by the “doom and gloom” over what the LGBTQ community can expect from Donald Trump’s upset victory on November 8.
Even more than most public sector jobs, politics inevitably play a role in community affairs work, even if not explicitly, and McMorrow acknowledged that his job will be to represent the mayor, his agenda, and the agencies he oversees. That he will be doing so as de Blasio gears up for reelection next November can only add to the political atmosphere in which he carries out his day-to-day activities.
De Blasio has a strong base among LGBTQ voters, having bested his out lesbian primary competitor in the 2013 Democratic primary, then-City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, within the community. The mayor’s only prominent primary opponent to date, Queens State Senator Tony Avella, also has a strong record with the community, but comes into the race carrying the baggage of having been one of the rump Senate Democrats who helped Republicans stay in control.
In looking forward to his new work, which he began this week by familiarizing himself with a broad range of LGBTQ initiatives across city agencies, McMorrow noted that de Blasio “has a very strong record on LGBT issues and a willingness to do more.” Working with LGBTQ groups and leaders, he said, he would “be able to bring suggestions from the community to the mayor’s attention that would be welcome.” At the same time, he noted that while alerting the community to “possibilities” for progress on issues of concern, he would also play a role in “managing expectations.”
“In advocacy, working with partners to realize change is a necessity,” McMorrow said in the mayor’s written release. “I bring that same spirit to this new role, ensuring the city remains an ally and a partner of the LGBT community for equality and justice.”
McMorrow told Gay City News that his portfolio would likely include, among other areas, work on transgender issues, including school safety and economic empowerment, and HIV prevention and treatment.