Anthony Weiner, rainbow flag in hand, at the 2007 LGBT Pride Parade in Manhattan. | DONNA ACETO
BY PAUL SCHINDLER | A June 19 article in the Washington Post about the Democratic mayoral primary contest in New York makes the case that former Congressman Anthony Weiner has stolen the media spotlight from City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, long considered the frontrunner in the race.
The most interesting detail in the story, however, involves Weiner’s posture toward homophobic swipes at Quinn, one of the nation’s most prominent out LGBT elected officials.
Quinn “grateful” Weiner called to clarify, but said “all of us need to recommit to making sure… we speak out against… language that is demeaning, derogatory…”
According to Post reporter Jason Horowitz, when Weiner was seeking petition signatures to get his name on the September 10 Democratic primary ballot, an “elderly woman” told him, “I’m not voting for uh, what’s her name? The dyke.”
At first, Weiner responded, “Okay. I just need you to sign the petition to get me on the ballot.”
Then, according to Horowitz, the candidate “noticed the incredulous reaction of a reporter and added, ‘and you really shouldn’t talk that way about people.’”
Apparently somewhat chastened, the woman responded, “Oh, I’m sorry.”
At that point, Weiner appeared ready to let her off the hook.
“It’s okay,” the Post quoted him saying. “It’s not your fault.”
Perhaps in his view, homophobes are just born that way.
Weiner does not come to the mayor’s races without pro-LGBT bona fides, which makes the incident all that much more surprising. Prior to his sexting-related resignation in 2011, he regularly marched in the LGBT Pride Parade in Manhattan, waving a large rainbow flag and using a bullhorn to make light of how appropriate his last name was for the occasion.
In 2007, Weiner was one of seven Democrats in the House of Representatives who voted no on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to protest the lack of gender identity and expression protections. His advocacy of LGBT issues won him many friends in the community.
Earlier this month, however, Weiner passed up another opportunity to call out homophobia when it rears its head in the campaign. At a June 4 Democratic forum before an Orthodox Jewish audience, candidates were asked to comment on the city’s regulation of a form of circumcision that has the mohel suck the blood from the newly circumcised penis.
One of the candidates, Erick Salgado, an Evangelical Christian from Staten Island who was active in the fight against marriage equality in New York, suggested that gay groups in San Francisco and in the Pride Parade in Manhattan are “trying to ban altogether bris milah.”
Speaking afterward, Weiner made no reference to Salgado’s claims, and it was left to Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who followed Weiner in responding to the question on circumcision, to counter the charge that the LGBT community is seeking to ban circumcision. De Blasio’s insistence on tolerance toward both the gay community and the Orthodox community, applauded by Quinn and City Comptroller John Liu, drew boos from the crowd.
Asked about Weiner's silence at that moment, his campaign spokeswoman, Barbara Morgan, said, “Anthony did not understand Reverend Salgado’s remarks. He did applaud Speaker Quinn’s response because he agreed with it.”
In the wake of the Post story, two out lesbian and gay Quinn supporters, State Assemblywoman Deborah Glick and Senator Brad Hoylman, released a statement condemning Weiner and demanding an apology.
“We are appalled by the account in the Washington Post of Anthony Weiner’s unacceptable response to a prospective voter’s homophobic, misogynistic slur in reference to Christine Quinn,” their statement read. “The voter’s use of the term demonstrates the challenges women candidates and lesbians in particular face, and Weiner’s failure to swiftly and firmly condemn her language demonstrates his lack of moral courage.”
New York State's LGBT right lobby group, the Empire State Pride Agenda, which has also endorsed Quinn's candidacy, struck back hard against Weiner, as well.
“It's unfortunate that we need to issue a public statement on this at all, but this is becoming a disturbing pattern,” Nathan Schaefer, the group's executive, said, alluding to the earlier June candidate forum. “Anthony Weiner should know better: actually, Congressman, it's NOT 'okay' to condone a homophobic slur, and it's also not okay to sit by in silence as they are used in your presence… the city has experienced a rash of anti-LGBT hate crimes recently. You are asking New Yorkers for your vote, and we hope that we will see leadership on this issue in the future, as well as an apology now. No leader should ever send a message that homophobia is 'okay.'”
After release of the Pride Agenda and Glick-Hoylman statements, the Weiner campaign issued one from the candidate saying, “Homophobia is vile and destructive and something I have fought against for the entirety of my career, including being a vocal supporter of gay marriage since 1998 and standing up on the floor of Congress for transgender Americans. I admonished the woman amid a large crowd on a street corner and by no means believe that anything about her comment was appropriate. If the impression is that I did, I apologize because behavior like this will absolutely not be tolerated in my administration.”
Quinn's campaign declined comment on the episode, but the following day the speaker was asked about the matter in a City Hall press availability. Saying Weiner had called her, she responded, “I was grateful in the call, in the message that he clarified the interaction. I think it is incredibly important for all New Yorkers, but particularly those in public life, to make very clear that in this city, the most diverse city in the world, the city where the LGBT civil rights movement was born, that that type of language cannot be tolerated… I think that all of us need to recommit to making sure that whenever we hear language of any type that is demeaning, derogatory, racist, sexist, homophobic, anything of that nature that we speak out against it.”
Asked if she does not, then, “really have a criticism of the way he handled that,” Quinn said only, “I’m grateful that he called yesterday and clarified the interaction. I’m grateful that he made the statement against that kind of language. We all need to remain committed to that.”