Time and time again, Trump-loving State Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis has used votes and influence as an elected official to fight against efforts to improve LGBTQ rights — and there’s a chance she could bring her bigoted politics to the national stage.
Malliotakis, whose Assembly district encompasses the eastern side of Staten Island and a slice of the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, is embroiled in a heated general election race against incumbent Democratic Congressmember Max Rose in the battleground 11th Congressional District. Many New Yorkers, however, have only seen a very limited glimpse of that race through the lens of bitter political ads that are sorely lacking in substance.
What those ads don’t spell out is Malliotakis’ record on issues important to queer Staten Islanders and Brooklynites in a pivotal swing district. In the Assembly, she has voted against same-sex marriage and the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), which added gender identity and expression as protected classes in the state’s human rights and hate crimes laws last year, all while peddling wildly false and transphobic narratives about bathrooms and cozying up to the fringiest figures of the far right.
Will homophobic, transphobic GOP lawmaker bring her bigotry to Congress?
Malliotakis conveniently waited until after she voted against same-sex marriage to claim that she apparently had a change of heart on the issue — but then she continued to oppose other LGBTQ rights more crucial to the daily lives of queer New Yorkers, such as simply going to the bathroom.
In a 2017 interview with Gay City News, when she was the Republican candidate for mayor, Malliotakis said, “If a man were to follow someone into a restroom… they’re there because they want to commit a crime against a woman and they are caught, they can use that law as a loophole. I believe there is a loophole in the law that allows it to be exploited for individuals… to commit a type of sex crime.”
When pressed on that issue, she was unable to name a single instance of sex offenders invading a female space under the cover of a gender identity nondiscrimination law. Nor could she explain how such a law had operated without such a far-fetched incident in New York City in the years since gender identity and expression were added to the local human right ordinance in 2002.
During that mayoral campaign, she told Brian Lehrer on his WNYC radio show, “It’s not about the transgender individual, it’s an issue where you have in other states have seen that perverted individuals are exploiting the law to gain access… Again, it’s not about the transgender individual, but I think many parents would have a concern about a sex offender or a male following their little girl into the bathroom.”
Of course, it is all about the transgender individual — and, in this case, transgender children. Malliotakis’ dog whistles are aligned with that of her Republican friends across the nation who continue to assert that somehow the right to pee should be off-limits to transgender or non-binary folks. Most recently, the GOP, standing hand-in-hand with the anti-LGBTQ legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, has also set its sights on preventing transgender student-athletes from participating in sports.
Speaking of her Republican friends, Malliotakis is neck-deep in the GOP swamp of politicians that have mounted an all-out assault on the rights of LGBTQ folks during the Trump presidency. She has bragged on social media about having the endorsement of Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who later became Trump’s unhinged attorney, as well as Trump himself, who said in a tweet earlier this year that “Nicole has my Complete & Total Endorsement!”
Malliotakis has also been backed by police unions like the Sergeants Benevolent Association, which launched a blatantly homophobic attack on out gay Bronx Councilmember Ritchie Torres last month when the union labeled him a “first class whore” in a tweet.
On her campaign site, Malliotakis also touts the support of the Log Cabin Republicans, which is a group of queer Republicans led by chair Robert Kabel, who wrote an op-ed for USA Today that was filled with inaccuracies about Trump’s record and appeared to purposely avoid mentioning the legal and economic challenges transgender Americans face until the end of that piece.
But that omission of transgender individuals was not a mistake. Rather, it was consistent with the party’s efforts to chip away at the community’s rights across the board. Malliotakis’ favorite president has worked to strip transgender and non-binary individuals of healthcare protections, granted taxpayer-funded foster care agencies the right to reject same-sex prospective parents, aggressively flouted the law by unsuccessfully opposing the citizenship of children with bi-national same-sex parents, stripped transgender youth of protections in schools, and banned transgender people from the military, among other actions.
On top of it all, the GOP’s 2020 party platform is blatantly homophobic, saying that Republicans “urge” the “reversal” of the Obergefell ruling that usherd in same-sex marriage rights nationwide more than five years ago. The platform also rejects laws that prevent businesses from discriminating against LGBTQ patrons, along with a series of other bigoted positions.
Malliotakis’ hostility to LGBTQ causes extends beyond her voting record. She was one of the few elected officials still willing to participate in the Staten Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade earlier this year despite the event’s ban on LGBTQ folks. Rose, on the other hand, bailed on the parade in consecutive years in a sign of solidarity with the queer community, a boycott in which he was joined by the Republican borough president, James Oddo.
Furthermore, in 2018 Malliotakis joined other Republicans in lobbying the mayor to grant a city-funded sports team a waiver to travel to North Carolina at a time when New York City was boycotting the Tar Heel State — banning travel there for non-essential business by public entities — in response to its anti-LGBTQ “bathroom bill” banning students from using the bathroom aligned with their gender identity.
Rose, while a political moderate, has tended to stand on the side of the LGBTQ community during his brief time on Capitol Hill following his 2018 victory over incumbent Republican Dan Donovan by just over 6 percentage points, or 12,000 votes. He has been endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign and the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City, though the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club does not list him as one of their endorsed candidates.
When the House took up the comprehensive LGBTQ non-discrimination measure known as the Equality Act last year, Rose signed on as a co-sponsor but was unable vote on the bill because he was attending a funeral, a spokesperson told Gay City News at the time. Rose’s office told Gay City News that he was noting in the Congressional Record that he would have voted yes, joining every other member of the city’s congressional delegation.
While Rose has, at times, voiced support for some of Trump’s initiatives, he has not been afraid to blast the commander-in-chief for his anti-LGBTQ actions. In response to Trump’s military ban, he wrote on Twitter, “This policy has been wrong from the start and inconsistent with the values of our country. If you want to serve our country, and are able to do so, then we should honor that. It should never matter whether you are transgender or not.”
In another sign of support for the most marginalized members of the community, Rose joined other members of Congress in displaying the Transgender Flag in front of his office ahead of Transgender Day of Remembrence last year.
“Proud to highlight #TransVisibilityWeek in the Halls of Congress,” Rose wrote in a tweet on March 28 of last year. “My transgender constituents deserve respect, dignity, and a government that fights for them—which is why I voted to reject the Transgender Military Ban.”
When asked for comment on the race against Malliotakis, a spokesperson for Rose’s campaign, in an emailed statement, wrote, “Whether it’s helping pass the Equality Act or standing up against discrimination against trans servicemembers, Max is a proud ally and supporter of the LGBTQ+ community — and always will be.”
For what it’s worth, Rose appears to have raised almost twice as much campaign cash as Malliotakis, though Malliotakis has burned through far more — $2.2 million compared to Rose’s 1.6 million — during a race that has grown uglier with every passing day.
Pro-Malliotakis ads have inaccurately accused Rose of seeking to defund the police, while Rose, a military veteran, has struck a macho tone in his own ads, saying he doesn’t care about polls, parties, or politics. Remaining mindful of the fact that Trump won Staten Island in 2016, Rose even admits in his ads that he has stood with Trump on certain issues — though, significantly, not on impeachment.
“It’s country first for me,” he quips in one of his ads.
Malliotakis did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
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