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A Seat at the Table: LGBTQ Representation in New York Politics examines the personal lives and political experiences of New York City LGBTQ elected officials in the City Council and State Legislature from the 1990s to the present.
The passage of the Gay Rights Bill in City Council in 1986 and the formation of the activist organizations ACT UP in 1987 and Queer Nation in 1990 facilitated the election of several LGBTQ community organizers into political office, including Deborah Glick in the State Assembly in 1990, Thomas Duane in City Council in 1991, and Margarita Lopez in City Council in 1997. As the city’s queer population became increasingly organized, other LGBTQ individuals won elections in the 2000s and beyond.
Though they focused on multiple issues to address the needs of their constituents, they aimed in particular to advance the rights of New York’s LGBTQ community through education, legislation, and advocacy.
Some legislative accomplishments in the state include the passage of the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA) in 2002, the Marriage Equality Act in 2011, and the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) in 2019.
A Seat at the Table provides intimate glimpses of these elected officials through oral history, video, and photography.
It chronicles their personal challenges and struggles as well as their triumphs and achievements.
Some topics include coming out, family relationships, and intersectional identity.
The exhibit illuminates their grassroots level work, their entry into electoral politics, and their mentor relationships.
Above all, A Seat at the Table explores the connection between their queer identities and political involvements.
These elected officials helped transform New York politics by expanding civil rights, regulating the workplace, challenging traditional cultural norms, and funding social and educational organizations and institutions.
They all shared faith in the value of civic engagement and understood that political representation was necessary to foster change.
As former City Councilman and State Senator Thomas Duane observed, “There’s no substitute for a seat at the table.”
Three curricula units for high school teachers and college professors accompany this exhibit.
The topics are 1) the exclusion and inclusion of LGBTQ groups from the St. Patrick’s Day Parade
2) LGBTQ homeless youth in New York City, and 3) the displacement of the sex industry from Times Square in the 1990s.
Each unit includes a background essay and primary source documents and questions, meant to be used in the classroom to spark discussion and to generate writing assignments.
In the wake of racist murders in Queens in 1986 and Brooklyn in 1989, the New York City Board of Education created a curriculum for first grade teachers in 1991 to promote racial and ethnic harmony and decrease prejudice and bigotry.
Called the Children of the Rainbow Curriculum, the resource guide contained 443 pages of suggested lessons and readings for educators to help their students develop academic and social skills.
Amid debates about multicultural education, advocates argued it was essential for students of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds to see themselves represented in the classroom. It also included references to same-sex headed couples in the “Families” section.
Opponents seized on the mentions of same-sex couples as well as the recommended books
Heather Has Two Mommies, Daddy's Roommate, and
Gloria Goes to Gay Pride. Queens Community School District 24,
headed by President Mary Cummins, refused to adopt the curriculum.
“We will not accept two people of the same sex engaged in deviant sex practices as ‘family’,” remarked Cummins.
The Christian Coalition of America mobilized to oppose the curriculum in New York City and multicultural education nationwide.
Following the disputes, Children of the Rainbow was defeated in 1992, and the contract of Schools Chancellor Joseph Fernandez was not renewed in 1993 due to his backing of the curriculum as well
as his support of AIDS education and condom distribution in public high schools. In response to the tumult,
Matt Foreman of the Anti-Violence Project and Ed Sedarbaum of Queens Gays and Lesbians United organized the “March for Truth” in Ridgewood,
Queens in District 24 to protest the rejection of the curriculum and counter the lies, myths, and distortions of the opponents.
Danny Dromm, a fourth grade teacher in P.S. 199 in Sunnyside, Queens in District 24 came out in public as a gay man and became a champion of the curriculum.
He also began to plan a parade with activist Maritza Martinez in Jackson Heights to increase the visibility of the local LGBTQ population in a borough often associated with bigotry.
The inaugural Queens Lesbian and Gay Parade and Block Party Festival took place on June 6, 1993.
Some 1,000 marchers participated, and thousands of spectators attended.
First Grade Culture Wars: The Children of the Rainbow Curriculum Controversy of 1992
provides insight into the conflict through oral history, video, and photography.
Firsthand participants, including educators, journalists, activists, students, parents, and politicians, reflect about educational curriculum,
LGBTQ families, multiculturalism, challenged books, gay rights, the conservative opposition, and more.
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