Poisonous lead paint is raining down from the 7 train

By Danielle Furfaro

Originally published by the New York Post on April 23, 2017

Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

Poisonous lead-paint chips are raining down on several Queens neighborhoods from elevated subway tracks, threatening the health of passersby, especially children, officials told The Post.

The decrepit No. 7 train trestle — which runs through Jackson Heights, Elmhurst and Woodside — hasn’t been repainted in more than three decades, said City Councilman Daniel Dromm, leaving the flaking lead-based paint exposed.

“I’m surprised it’s still standing, that’s how rusted and bad the chipping of the paint is and the lead dust particles are flying through the air,” said Dromm, who grew up in the area.

The amount of lead in the paint is 224,000 parts per million — or 44 times more than what is considered safe, according to the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, which tested the falling paint chips at the behest of residents, Dromm and others.

Dr. Morri Markowitz, director of the Lead Poisoning Treatment and Prevention Program at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center, was aghast to learn about the “extremely toxic” levels falling from the elevated tracks.

“I think the Department of Health or the city environmental agencies should get involved,” the concerned doctor said. “The lead paint could potentially be falling off of every elevated track throughout the city, not just on the 7 [line].”

Davon Lomax, director of the union, noted how heavily populated the area is.

“There are food carts, restaurants and schools under there, and the dust is getting everywhere, and it’s all breathable,’’ he said.

“This poses a threat to people who work and are passing underneath there every day.”

The dilapidated sections of the overhead tracks run from the 52nd street station to Junction Boulevard.

“It’s a poison, and kids shouldn’t be exposed to it,” said resident Samuel Rivera, 62, who lives in Jackson Heights. “The MTA should have repainted this by now, but they take their sweet time doing everything.”

Father-of-two Md Lokman Hossain said he is particularly worried about his 17-month-old son, noting that the tot could mistake a paint chip for food if it fell into his lap as they walked along Roosevelt Avenue.

“He could think it’s candy or something and swallow it, and it could lead to a big problem,’’ Hossain said.

Dromm said he has repeatedly pressed the MTA to take better care of the trestles, especially the area around the 74th Street/Broadway station.

“It has not been painted for at least 35 years that I can remember,” he said.

MTA officials said it has painted the trestles more recently than that, but they couldn’t say exactly when.

“No station on the 7 line, or the connecting infrastructure, has gone 35 years without being painted,” said agency spokeswoman Beth DeFalco. “We do annual joint inspections with NYCDEP of NYC Parks that are adjacent to our subway structures and quarterly inspections of other locations”

Markowitz called lead-based paints “indestructible, and recommended that those who live close to the tracks are at highest risk, and should seek out testing — as should MTA workers and commuters who spend time in the station.

Lead poisoning can cause developmental delays, learning disabilities, hearing loss and seizures in children, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Read more here.

Frederick Wiseman: The Filmmaker Who Shows Us Ourselves

By A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis

Originally published in the New York Times on April 6, 2017

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Frederick Wiseman has been making documentaries for 50 years. His films vary in subject but return to examination of human beings, in all of their variety and uniqueness. Credit Herve Bruhat/Gamma-Rapho, via Getty Images

Frederick Wiseman has been making documentaries for 50 years. His films vary in subject but return to examination of human beings, in all of their variety and uniqueness. Credit Herve Bruhat/Gamma-Rapho, via Getty Images

“The wonder of ‘In Jackson Heights‘ — Mr. Wiseman’s most Whitmanesque film — is that it grounds a vision of America in the particulars of daily life. It discovers a hero in the person of Daniel Dromm, a New York City councilman who tackles the job of representing his neighborhood with shambling, inexhaustible good cheer. Some of the most moving scenes take place in Mr. Dromm’s office, where members of his staff answer phone calls from constituents who need to talk to someone in government. They don’t always have the right branch — their concerns include constitutional law and United States military policy — but the courtesy and patience with which they are treated provide a timely and permanent lesson in democratic values.”

Read more here.

Attack in Jackson Heights Leaves Two Transgender Women Living in Fear

By David Gonzalez

Originally published by the New York Times on April 2, 2017

Gabriela, left, with Nayra, who suffered a fractured ankle in an attack that the police called a hate crime. “I don’t want to see anybody,” Nayra said. “If I do, I freeze. If I go outside to smoke and I hear a man’s voice, I panic.” Credit David Gonzalez/The New York Times

Gabriela, left, with Nayra, who suffered a fractured ankle in an attack that the police called a hate crime. “I don’t want to see anybody,” Nayra said. “If I do, I freeze. If I go outside to smoke and I hear a man’s voice, I panic.” Credit David Gonzalez/The New York Times

Nayra and Gabriela don’t go out much these days, and not just because the two roommates are homebodies. When they venture outside their apartment in Queens, their hesitation is caused as much by emotional wounds as by physical injuries. The two friends are trans women, and though their Jackson Heights neighborhood has a reputation as a welcoming community for gays and lesbians, hate crimes against transgender women have alarmed many in the area.

On the afternoon of March 17, the two women were entering a McDonald’s restaurant on Roosevelt Avenue when they heard a man screaming behind them. When they turned around, they said, he began hurling insults.

“He called us prostitutes, faggots, bitches,” said Gabriela, 33, who, like her friend, spoke on the condition that her last name not be published because of the nature of the assault as well as lingering fear. “I looked at him and said, ‘Girl, this man is crazy.’ He wanted to hurt us.”

Within seconds, the encounter escalated from insults to injuries. The man rushed them, knocking them to the ground as he pummeled Nayra, whose ankle was fractured in the fall. Gabriella said that she had pounced on him but that he had gotten up, grabbed a broken umbrella and used it to beat her on her face and hands.

When he tried to escape, Gabriella chased him, grabbing at the waistband of his pants and slowing him down until the police arrived and took him into custody. No bystanders intervened during the attack, they said.

Now, what has been called a hate crime by the police has turned a neighborhood they love into one they fear.

“I can’t go out and see too many people,” Nayra, 31, said. “If I have appointments, I’ll take a taxi and come back home. I don’t want to see anybody. If I do, I freeze. If I go outside to smoke and I hear a man’s voice, I panic.”

Patrick Omeara, 38, of Oakdale, N.Y., was arrested and faces various charges, including assault as a hate crime. He could not be reached for comment. His lawyer, Howard Turman, did not respond to several voice messages requesting comment. The case is in the pretrial stage, and the next court date is scheduled for Tuesday.

Jackson Heights has come a long way since skinheads lured Julio Rivera, a gay man, into a schoolyard and killed him. That 1990 attack galvanized activists and residents, and led to the establishment of the borough’s gay pride parade and a political club that has promoted laws and policies helping gay, lesbian and transgender people. Yet the attacks on trans women — three this year and 16 in 2016, according to local advocates — are an unsettling reminder of the work still to be done.

“People have this idea that New York City is free of violence and progressive,” said Shelby Chestnut, director of community organizing and public advocacy at the New York City Anti-Violence Project. “But violence is still occurring against many marginalized communities, and the trans community is deeply affected by that.

“We need to push the public to pay attention to trans issues and see it as a civil rights issue,” she continued. “We are in this moment in society where violence and hatred is emerging in a number of communities, and it exists in New York.”

Nationally, Ms. Chestnut said, transgender women are being killed in greater numbers than any other segment of the L.G.B.T. community. This year alone, she said, there have been seven such murders: Six victims were African-American, and one was Native American.

Advocates said these instances of violence were not isolated but the result of a combination of factors that leave African-American and Latina trans women vulnerable. Harassed in public, rejected by their families and uneasy in school or homeless shelters for men, they are left to fend for themselves and are at a higher risk of becoming victims of violence, advocates said. And the political debate over unauthorized immigrants has left many fearful of speaking out.

“The biggest challenge in working with transgender people is they often don’t have the self-esteem to think they are worth seeking support or help for themselves,” said City Councilman Daniel Dromm, who represents Jackson Heights.

“There is also distrust in going to the authorities, especially the police,” he said. “In the past they have gone there and faced harassment, even at night when they were coming home from the bars. That distrust causes hesitation.”

Nayra and Gabriela encountered some of this after the attack. Although the police who responded were helpful, they said, the detectives who followed up with them at the hospital made them uncomfortable by asking the same questions repeatedly, as if they did not believe them. Nor did the detectives speak Spanish, even though the women, who are Puerto Rican, have limited English proficiency.

Since that encounter in the hospital, the women said, they have yet to hear back from the police.

“We need more laws to ensure the security of trans women,” said Bianey Garcia, a transgender organizer with Make the Road New York. “We don’t need more police. We want the police who are already there to pay more attention to these cases.”

Until then, Gabriela and Nayra are paying extra attention.

“We never had anything happen to us before,” Gabriela said. “Now I walk with fear, like any woman. But now I pay more attention to what I hear around me. I notice more. I look at every little thing. If a couple of people pass by too close to me on the street, I keep walking, wait a little and then look back at them quickly to see if anyone is following me.”

Read more here.

Dromm Delivers Safer Pedestrian Crossing for 37th Avenue

David Sargent, Joseph Ricevuto, Jacqueline Sung, and NYC Council Member Daniel Dromm cross 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights.

David Sargent, Joseph Ricevuto, Jacqueline Sung, and NYC Council Member Daniel Dromm cross 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights.

Jackson Heights, NY – NYC Council Member Daniel Dromm was successful in securing a new traffic safety measure called Leading Pedestrian Intervals, which gives walkers a head start before cars get the light to make turns across the crosswalk, along 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights. Pedestrians will now have an additional seven seconds to cross the street without any vehicular movement.

In February, more than 150 concerned residents packed the Jackson Heights Jewish Center for a pedestrian safety town hall meeting in the wake of the death of 67-year-old Henry Boimel, a resident of 35th Avenue, who was struck and killed by an Uber driver while crossing 37th Avenue at 76th Street. The meeting was organized by Dromm and featured NYPD officers from the 115th Precinct, representatives from the Queens District Attorney, and officials from the city’s Department of Transportation.

Dromm listened to his constituents about the need for a safer 37th Avenue which is burdened by tremendous congestion and conflicts between vehicles turning and residents walking. Following the event, Dromm wrote the DOT to demand the implementation of the traffic safety measure called Leading Pedestrian Intervals. In response, the NYC Department of Transportation started implementing the measure in the past two weeks. Leading Pedestrian Interval (LPI) typically gives pedestrians a 7 second head start when entering an intersection with a corresponding green signal in the same direction of travel. LPIs enhance the visibility of pedestrians in the intersection and reinforce their right-of-way over turning vehicles, especially in locations with a history of conflict.

Teacher Recruitment, Retention Will Be Focus of City Council Hearing

By Ben Max

Originally published by the Gotham Gazette on January 20, 2017

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Mayor de Blasio, Council Member Dromm, Chancellor Fariña (photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor’s Office)

On Tuesday, the education committee of the New York City Council will hold an oversight hearing on teacher recruitment and retention.

“One of the things I want to draw out is why do we lose 50 percent of our teachers within five years of their starting,” said City Council Member Danny Dromm, chair of the education committee and a retired long-time public school teacher himself. “It’s a hearing that I’ve wanted to do for a while,” Dromm added in a recent interview.

Representatives from the city Department of Education are among those expected to testify at Tuesday’s hearing, which is at 1 p.m. at City Hall. When asked, DOE spokespeople did not provide Gotham Gazette with comment ahead of time or specific data that DOE reps will present at the hearing.

New York City, like many other school systems, has struggled to recruit a diverse teacher workforce, especially men of color, and to retain its teacher — as Dromm said, the city has an exceptionally high rate of teacher departure from the school system. It’s unclear if the rate is quite as high as 50 percent, but data does show that more than one-third of new teachers leave the profession by the end of their fifth year, largely within the first three years.

“What are the contributing factors to that?” Dromm asked, explaining what he hopes to get at in the hearing, “Salary? Lack of support? The evaluation system? What are the reasons that we’re losing all those teachers?”

Dromm said he’s expecting to hear from the DOE, as well as representatives of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), and other stakeholders, including advocates. Dromm hopes that several teachers, and perhaps even students and parents, will attend and testify. He said he often likes to schedule his committee hearings for 1 p.m. so that people can come after school hours.

While the UFT has had a strong relationship with Mayor Bill de Blasio and this administration, there have been areas of disagreement or conflict that do relate to teacher retention: the union has criticized the administration’s moves to drastically reduce student suspensions, explaining that teachers need more support, and the work climate at the city’s most-struggling schools — those in its Renewal program — which have continued to see especially high rates of teacher turnover.

Asked in 2015 about high turnover rates at Renewal schools, de Blasio pivoted to discuss teacher retention across the city. “I think the challenge of teacher retention is system-wide,” the mayor said at a press conference. “It’s very tough work…People who do it, do it because they’re true believers…You’re talking about, obviously, a lot of kids who come from very disadvantaged circumstances, a lot of kids whose first language is not English, and 171,000 kids who happen to have special needs…Until very recently in this city, teachers were being attacked on a regular basis by the leadership of the school system and the city. We’ve changed that. We support our teachers and they know it.”

David Bloomfield, an education professor and also a former K-12 teacher, believes that “the retention piece really has everything to do with conditions in the schools, such as class size, such as myriad central mandates, on top of the changing Common Core requirements.”

The “lack of retention” also creates a snowballing effect, Bloomfield said, where “so many teachers are new, so many of these teachers are just trying to get their feet on the ground” yet they are often employed in the most challenging schools, receive the most challenging course schedules, and do not receive the support they need to feel successful.

“The greatest vacancies are in the most difficult schools,” Bloomfield said, “the better schools don’t have the vacancies.” Additionally, he said, “there are accountability measures in place that make it an unattractive profession.”

Research on teacher retention is somewhat mixed, though studies do point to the importance of strong administrators (principals, vice principals) and the value of mentors in reducing teacher departures.

“To improve retention, the organization of teaching would require a sea change in how teachers are employed,” Bloomfield said. “The best thing they can do is to improve the school environment. A school is a teacher’s workplace: improve facilities, improve classroom conditions, including class size. Even parking,” he said with a laugh, but stressed that it can be one of many parts of the job environment that matter to people.

“The other issues are salary and benefits, which have improved under de Blasio, but don’t compare to the suburbs,” Bloomfield said.

Indeed, referring to both professional development investment in teachers and their high rates of departure, Dromm said, “Our teachers get recruited out to Long Island. We train them and they go out to the Island.”

Professional development for teachers is expected to be a key theme of the hearing. Enhancing teacher PD has been a major focus of city schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who was appointed to the role by Mayor Bill de Blasio at the start of his term and has been involved in the city school system for five decades, including as a teacher. Fariña’s focus on more PD for teachers includes opportunities to teach new courses as the city has expanded its computer science and Advanced Placement offerings under the mayor’s Equity and Excellence agenda.

Mentioning the new weekly professional development block that Fariña instituted for all teachers, Dromm said, “I want to know some of what is going on, how that professional development piece is going…If we hear that the support is not there for new teachers, advocating for that support will be an outcome of this.”

De Blasio has stressed the importance of professional development and his administration’s focus on supporting teachers, saying at the 2015 press conference, “Until recently, teachers were not getting the kind of support for teacher training…if you’re a professional you want to keep getting better – that training makes a world of difference – we’ve double down on teacher training.”

“I think we’re seriously addressing teacher retention by trying to build the foundation for a rewarding work dynamic,” de Blasio said. “But there’s a lot more we’re going to have to do beyond that.”

Agreeing that teachers clearly feel “less under attack” than when Michael Bloomberg was Mayor, Professor Bloomfield said the de Blasio-Fariña regime has “certainly improved the tone so that teachers feel more valued now” and that when it comes to teacher retention, “their positive relationship with the union is probably helpful.” To truly improve teacher retention, Bloomfield said, would require major “structural” changes to the profession that simply haven’t happened yet.

Aside from shifts in how teachers are treated and their work environments, there are other issues related to retention, but also the recruitment piece, which will also be part of Tuesday’s hearing. This is likely to center around how the city is both attracting top teaching talent generally, but especially men of color.

Just 8 percent of the city’s nearly 80,000 teachers are men of color, a statistic that led the de Blasio administration to in 2015 launch NYC Men Teach, which seeks to add 1,000 male teachers of color to the city’s classrooms by the 2018-2019 school year.

Tuesday’s hearing is likely to include an update from the DOE on NYC Men Teach, as well as other recruitment efforts.

In terms of retention and the city’s teaching workforce, there are also calls for tougher weeding out of weak teachers in their early years while increasing efforts to hold on to strong teachers well into their careers. This is where debates over “teacher accountability” and tenure come in — some believe that it is both too easy to gain tenure and too easy to keep your job as a teacher. Questions also persist about a career ladder for teachers so that they can move into mentoring, coaching, and department head type roles without leaving the classroom to become administrators or leaving education altogether.

“It’s a very difficult job,” Dromm said of teaching, “and I don’t think people fully understand or appreciate what teachers have to do. There’s a glamorized idea of working 8 to 3:30 and having summers off. But [retention] numbers help show: this is a tough job.”

Read more here.

Brand new, $32.4 million Elmhurst Community Library opens

By Bill Parry

Originally published by the Times Ledger on December 23, 2016

Courtesy of NYC Department of Design and Construction. Hundred of Elmhurst residents wach elected and Queens Library officials cut the ribbon opening the new Elmhurst Community Library.

Courtesy of NYC Department of Design and Construction.
Hundred of Elmhurst residents wach elected and Queens Library officials cut the ribbon opening the new Elmhurst Community Library.

Elmhurst has its library back and hundreds of community members turned out for a ceremonial ribbon-cutting and flag-raising Tuesday.

The new $32.4 million Elmhurst Community Library at 86-01 Broadway is nearly double the size of the original at 32,000 square feet, with four fully accessible levels for library service, separate adult, teen and children’s library spaces, and an adult learning center on its own level.

“The new Elmhurst Community Library is a direct response to the changing needs and demographics of a vibrant, diverse neighborho­od,” Queens Library President Dennis Walcott said. “We expect it to be one of the most heavily trafficked libraries in our system and one of the busiest in the country, with an estimated 1.1 million children coming here to learn, dream, explore and get what they need to navigate through life.”

The English language collection includes 75,000 books and multimedia items and an additional 36,000 books in nine languages. Construction of the new terraclad structure began in 2011 and it replaces the smaller library built in 1906.

“The Elmhurst Library is back and better than ever. I welcome this beautiful state-of-the-art facility into the community,” City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said. “Libraries are a vital part of every New York City neighborhood. They connect our children with the resources they need to learn and offer them a quiet place to study. Libraries also serve as community centers for our seniors. This new and improved building will ensure that the Queens Library continues to meet the needs of the Elmhurst community.”

Borough President Melinda Katz, whose office allocated funds, credited former Borough President Helen Marshall for providing more than $18 million toward the project.

“It really is taxpayer money going right back into the community,” Katz said. “The new Elmhurst Library is a magnificent facility that will become a center of learning, literacy and culture for residents of all ages for decades to come.”

The new building includes 13,000 square feet of outdoor space with two green roofs, a learning garden and features a sleek and modern glass cube reading room. A fireplace mantle from the original library was moved into the new children’s room and brickwork from its original facade surround the foyer at the Broadway entrance all designed by Marpillero Pollak Architects and overseen by the city Department of Design and Construction.

“We were impressed by the intensity with which the local community used the library: as a venue for social gathering, interaction between generations, educational facility, news and information source, Internet access, cultural setting and, of course, as a reading and books borrowing outlet,” Marpillero Pollak Architects Principal Linda Pollak said. “Whenever we visited in the morning, there would be a large group of patrons outside, waiting for the library to open. It was clear that the library needed to expand in order to accommodate the community that places so much importance on it.”

Read more here.

Protect Our Immigrant Population

By NYC Council Members Rory Lancman and Daniel Dromm

New York City is a city of immigrants — and Queens is one of the most diverse places in the world.

Our city is home to approximately 500,000 undocumented immigrants who face daily challenges, and with the recent insidious political rhetoric, many may feel forced to seek quick legal advice.

But some providers take advantage of immigrants by offering fraudulent services.

These providers, who aren’t lawyers, often try to capitalize on immigrants’ fear or language barriers and offer pricey services the providers may not be able to legally provide, and that don’t help immigrants on their path to citizens.

To stop these providers, the City Council bill Int. 746 was introduced last year to prevent the unauthorized practice of immigration law. The bill, which has support from 37 Council Members, would prevent providers from offering services that only attorneys should offer.

Providers would also have to list their limitations and include customers’ rights in their contracts, as well as post signs in multiple languages at their locations. In addition, the bill would require the Department of Consumer Affairs update the New York City Council on complaints made against providers.

There have been too many instances of people being overcharged and underserved while seeking legal advice, with some providers using hard-working people’s vulnerability against them. But this month, there was a joint Consumer Affairs and Immigration hearing on the bill — and immigrants are one step closer towards receiving the protections they deserve.

New York City’s diversity adds so much depth to our City, and it’s crucial to make sure that New Yorkers of all immigration statuses are protected.

Daniel Dromm is the Chairman of Committee on Education and the prime sponsor of Int. 746 and Council Member Rory I. Lancman is Chairman of the Courts and Legal Services Committee and a co-sponsor of Int. 746. 

Read more here.

艾姆赫斯特 吟詩點亮聖誕樹 [Elmhurst Poem Reading and Christmas Tree Lighting]

記者俞姝含/紐約報導

 

艾姆赫斯特點燈儀式熱鬧舉行。(記者俞姝含/攝影)

艾姆赫斯特點燈儀式熱鬧舉行。(記者俞姝含/攝影)

 

Originally published by the World Journal on December 2, 2016, 6:00 am

艾姆赫斯特第二屆點燈儀式1日在百老匯街(Broadway)的CC Moore Playground舉行,近百名來自附近學校的學生和居民歡唱聖誕歌曲,八名高中生用中文吟誦學者Clement Clarke Moore的詩歌,聖誕樹在熱情掌聲中被點亮。

當晚,公立13小學、公立102小學以及第五初中的學生們帶領眾多民眾一起唱聖誕歌。市議員卓姆(Daniel Dromm)與州參議員史塔文斯基(Toby Stavisky)一起朗誦學者Clement Clarke Moore的詩歌「A Visit from St. Nicholas」,此後由亞洲人平等會指導的八名來自皇后語言研究高中(Queens High School for Language Studies)的學生用中文邊唱邊朗誦此詩。雖然許多人並不懂中文,但仍對他們精彩的表演報以熱烈的掌聲,一同提前享受聖誕氣氛。

這個公園平日裡有不少民眾聚眾賭博,甚至發生打架事件等。卓姆表示,希望藉此機會提升此公園的知名度,並向附近民眾傳播多元文化意義非凡,希望日後艾姆赫斯特社區能更加文明團結。史塔文斯基也說,艾姆赫斯特附近案件頻發,希望能藉此機會凝聚附近居民的向心力,增加節日的喜氣。

來自皇后語言研究高中的華裔學生翁祺和高Kevin以自身中文能力指導不同族裔的同學們練習,八名學生在兩周內用拼音學習中文詩。表演後學生們非常興奮,紛紛表示這是個獨特的經歷,希望以後還能參加此類慶祝活動,幫助中國文化融入社區。

在这里阅读更多

Read more here.

Wall Street Journal: Use of Pepper Spray in Rikers Island Classrooms Sparks Concerns

City council members raise objections, but correction officials say spray is needed to break up fights involving young inmates

 

Councilman Daniel Dromm, wearing tie, at a City Hall meeting in 2014. He has expressed concern about the use of pepper spray in classrooms for young inmates at Rikers Island. PHOTO: KEVIN HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Councilman Daniel Dromm, wearing tie, at a City Hall meeting in 2014. He has expressed concern about the use of pepper spray in classrooms for young inmates at Rikers Island. PHOTO: KEVIN HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

 

 

Data disaggregation bills passed in New York City: A Big Win for LGBTQ people and Communities of Color

By Kevin Nadal, PhD

Originally posted by the Huffington Post on November 4, 2016

CACF: COALITION FOR ASIAN CHILDREN AND FAMILIES Mayor de Blasio signing the Data Equity Bills on October 31, 2016.

CACF: COALITION FOR ASIAN CHILDREN AND FAMILIES
Mayor de Blasio signing the Data Equity Bills on October 31, 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you belong to different non-majority populations, it can be easy to feel like you are different or alone. You don’t see yourself represented on television shows or movies; you don’t see retail stores celebrating your holidays. You open up history books to learn about groups besides your own, and you sometimes have to travel miles or hours to find food that even remotely matches your grandmother’s cooking skills.

As a Filipino American, born to immigrant parents, I spent my childhood years feeling like my cultural heritage was invisible or odd. I watched TV shows like Punky Brewster and Diff’rent Strokes– never expecting to see any Asian Americans. I learned that the country operated on a Black and White paradigm and that I should just be happy that my parents were able to provide us with opportunities. The few times I saw Filipino Americans on shows like MTV’s The Real World or movies like Hook, I felt validated that ethnic group existed.

At the same time, as I started to identify as gay and as a queer person of color, I genuinely presumed I was the only one. There weren’t any out LGBTQ people in my family, and the few LGBTQ people I saw in media were mostly portrayed in negatively stereotypic ways. Without any role models or friends to overtly tell me it was okay to be gay, I stayed in the closet for the first two and a half decades of my life. Perhaps if I knew that millions of other teenagers were struggling in a similar way, I might have bypassed the depression, the suicidal thoughts, and the pleas to God to make me “normal.”

It is because of these experiences that I wanted to study the communities that were so important of me, and why I pursued my PhD in psychology. As a doctoral student, I faced many research challenges that my peers didn’t encounter. For example, if my peers were interested in studies that understanding differences between major racial groups on certain variables (e.g., Black versus White health outcomes), they could access public datasets with large sample sizes to statistically analyze and compare groups. However, if I wanted to study health differences between Asian American ethnic groups (e.g., Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese or Korean Americans), I would have to collect my own data because those same public datasets usually would not provide information on diverse ethnicities. Relatedly, if a colleague wanted to examine gender differences related to school children or hospital patients (e.g., academic achievement, access to care), they could request access to institutional records to answer their research questions. Yet, if I wanted to replicate a similar study with LGBTQ students or LGBTQ hospital patients, I could not, because the data on sexual orientation or gender identity would never have been collected. Finally, if I ambitiously wanted to report how many Filipino American LGBTQ people there were in the country, I would have to give up entirely, because there simply was no data on the intersection of the two.

On October 31st, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City signed three pieces of legislation – Intros. 251-A, 551-A, and 552-A. The bills which were sponsored by Council Member Daniel Dromm and Council Member Margaret Chin (and which passed a nearly unanimous City Council Vote), require that New York City agencies use a new form to collect information on gender identity, sexuality, language spoken, ancestry, ethnic origin, and multiracial identity. The form would be voluntary in that the individual could choose to skip any question and would not need to disclose anything identity they did not feel comfortable. The form would be anonymous, in that no one person could be identified based on their answers.

These new policies in New York City are important for a few reasons. First, as New York City is now one of three jurisdictions in the US to pass a data equity law, there is a potential for more advocacy for data equity on all federal, state, and city agencies. For communities of color and immigrants, the impact would be groundbreaking, as it would encourage service providers and policymakers to understand the nuances between groups that are usually lumped into umbrella categories. For example, comprehensive data on Asian Americans could unveil the ways that Asian American ethnic groups differ on issues like poverty, education, and violence. With such information, we would know what kinds of services need to be provided to different groups and what major languages need to be spoken with people to access those services.

Second, because the U.S. Census Bureau does not collect data on sexual orientation and gender identity, we do not know how many LGBTQ people there are in New York City, let alone in the entire US. While the Williams Institute at UCLA does their best in estimating the LGBTQ population, we need more definitive numbers. In order to best serve our communities (and to advocate for more funding for research and services), we need to know the numbers of LGBTQ homeless people, LGBTQ incarcerated offenders, LGBTQ-identified students in high schools and colleges; LGBTQ suicide or hate crime victims; and more.

Third, we could also examine trends among multiracial people. Though the U.S. Census Bureau gathers data on multiracial or multiethnic identity, other government agencies tend not to collect, analyze, or disaggregate data on multiracial people. Data equity bills like these advocate for multiracial people to no longer be forced to check a box or settle for an “other”. Similarly, Middle Eastern or Arab Americans (who are often classified as “White” or “Other”) will also be able to self-identify, which could lead to greater understanding and visibility of these communities.

Fourth, having this data is important because it helps our country to celebrate its diversity- a concept that is particularly salient amidst our upcoming elections. While some political candidates have demonstrated commitment to combatting racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and transphobia, some candidates have not. Perhaps disaggregated data can influence these political candidates and strategists to recognize population sizes and voting trends of various groups. If politicians knew how much power LGBTQ people, immigrants, and communities of color have in determining elections, perhaps candidates would advocate for the issues that matter to these groups.

But perhaps most importantly, disaggregated data can help these communities to learn how many of them actually exist, which can help them to empower themselves. If LGBTQ people were provided with evidence that they were numerically larger than, or equal to, oppositional religious groups or political parties, maybe they would activate as a collective front. If Asian American ethnic groups knew how many of their community members were affected by particular health, educational, or mental health issues, maybe they could collectively strategize on ways to solve these disparities.  And if communities that historically feel marginalized formed coalitions (like the LGBTQ, immigrant, Asian American, Latinx American, Arab American, and Multiracial people of New York City did), perhaps they would recognize that they have even more of a voice.

I know I can’t change my past, but maybe one way I can positively impact the lives of young people is through my research. In the future, when I learn about a young person who feels like they are “the only one” because their sexual orientation, gender identity, or ethnicity, I can confidently turn to the data and provide them with empirical evidence to show them that they are not alone.

Author’s Note: Thank you to Noilyn Abesamis-Mendoza, MPH of Coalition for Asian Children and Families for her assistance on this article.

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