All single-stall bathrooms in NYC to become gender neutral under bill passed by City Council

By Erin Durkin

Originally published by the NY Daily News on June 21, 2016

 Business owners must take down the men’s and women’s signs from their one-person bathrooms by Jan. 1. Business owners must take down the men’s and women’s signs from their one-person bathrooms by Jan. 1. (BRANDON LAUFENBERG)

Business owners must take down the men’s and women’s signs from their one-person bathrooms by Jan. 1. (BRANDON LAUFENBERG)

All single-stall bathrooms in the city will have to go gender neutral after the City Council passed a bill to mandate the change Tuesday.

The legislation, passed by a vote of 47-2, will require business owners to take down the “men” and “women” signs on one-person bathrooms starting on Jan. 1.

It’s a move to make sure transgender New Yorkers can comfortably access facilities — which backers say will also cut down on waiting for all customers, especially women who usually face longer toilet lines.

“Most New Yorkers take their unfettered access to bathrooms for granted, yet every single day transgender and gender non-conforming individuals must grapple with the fact that their choices may lead to harassment or worse,” said Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Queens), the sponsor.

“Designating single-stall bathrooms as all gender is an easy way to create a welcoming environment for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals,” he said. “As an added bonus, anyone who is looking for an unoccupied bathroom will now have more options.”

Mayor de Blasio has already issued an order saying that city-owned buildings must allow people to use whichever bathroom matches their gender identity.

Larger bathrooms with many stalls will not be affected by the Council’s bill.

Mayor de Blasio signs a bill mandating city facilities to allow people to access bathrooms in line with their gender identity. (NYC.GOV)

The measure is also meant to send a message decrying laws like the one passed in North Carolina requiring people to use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificate.

Pols there “are perversely obsessed with the bathroom habits of others,” Dromm said. “Their recently enacted anti-LGBT law belongs in the toilet.”

The Department of Buildings will have to determine fines for building owners who maintain gender-segregated bathrooms.

Read more here.

‘Don’t Turn Homophobia Into Islamophobia,’ Mourners at Queens Vigil Plead

By Katie Honan

Originally published by DNAinfo on June 13, 2016

Councilman Danny Dromm holds up a sign in support of the Muslim community after the deadly shooting in Orlando on Sunday, June 12. The suspect reportedly called police to declare his loyalty to the Islamic State after shooting 50 people at a gay nightclub. Photo credit: DNAinfo/Katie Honan

Councilman Danny Dromm holds up a sign in support of the Muslim community after the deadly shooting in Orlando on Sunday, June 12. The suspect reportedly called police to declare his loyalty to the Islamic State after shooting 50 people at a gay nightclub.
Photo credit: DNAinfo/Katie Honan

JACKSON HEIGHTS — Standing in the center of Diversity Plaza, a crowd of locals and community leaders vowed Sunday to stay united after 49 people were killed at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Flanked by signs reading “Don’t turn homophobia into Islamophobia and war,”Councilman Danny Dromm joined other mourners in the heart of Jackson Heights, the most diverse zip code on the planet, which features both a large Muslim and LGBTQ community.

“I wanted to be sure that nobody divides us,” said Dromm, who organized the vigil within hours of the attack, in which police say gunman Omar Mateen pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State before carrying out the deadliest mass shooting in American history.

For Dromm, and for the more than two dozen people who spoke at the vigil, the focus was on the community’s unity and strength after another tragedy. Diversity Plaza has hosted both the Queens Pride Festival and Ramadan celebrations — both of which are being celebrated in June.

“No matter what happens, nobody will divide us,” he said. “Nobody will pit LGBT people against Muslim people, or against anybody.”

The emotional vigil featured tables of flowers and lit candles; many cried as people spoke to denounce the attack.

St. Pat’s for All parade organizer Brendan Fay said he wept when reading the news.

He said he carried fear in his heart — because he knows what it’s like to be denounced “from pulpits, from books, on the streets.”

“But also, I know what it’s like to find hope,” he said through tears.

“We send from this place a love to all of those that have nothing but grief and loss,” he said.

“May the love from this place go forth and help overcome prejudice and hate in our streets, in our communities and our nation. May love prevail.”

Read more here.

Dancing and Drag Performances Planned for Pride Prom at Queens Museum

By Katie Honan

Originally published by DNAinfo on May 19, 2016

Lady Quesadilla will host Pride Prom at the Queens Museum.

Lady Quesadilla will host Pride Prom at the Queens Museum.

CORONA — Eat, dance and enjoy being your fabulous self at next week’s Pride Prom, which offers a do-over for those who felt excluded from their own high school celebration.

The free event, which will be held Tuesday, May 24 at the Queens Museum, will feature prizes, music from DJ Yayo and performances by host Lady Quesadilla.

The idea is to offer a safe place for celebration, for people of all ages, according to organizers.

“A proper rite of passage for individuals of all ages, this celebration is for anyone who is currently being shut out of their prom, was excluded in the past or simply did not feel welcome to be themselves,” the event’s listing page says.

City Councilman Danny Dromm — who organized the borough’s first pride parade — is the special guest.

The prom is open to everyone, young and old, who wants to celebrate themselves and others.

The event sponsored by Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the Hispanic Federation, with support from Make the Road New York, The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center, The Hetrick-Martin Institute and other groups.

You can register for the event here.

Read more here.

Boycott Queens Ctr. Chick-fil-A: Dromm

By Christopher Barca

Originally published by the Queens Chronicle on May 5, 2016

PHOTO BY MARK TURNAUCKAS / FLICKR.   Popular fast-food chain Chick-fil-A will open a restaurant in the Queens Center mall this fall. Councilman Danny Dromm has called for a boycott of the location, citing company leadership’s past verbal and financial support of anti-LGBT groups.

PHOTO BY MARK TURNAUCKAS / FLICKR.
Popular fast-food chain Chick-fil-A will open a restaurant in the Queens Center mall this fall. Councilman Danny Dromm has called for a boycott of the location, citing company leadership’s past verbal and financial support of anti-LGBT groups.

The Queens Center mall is packed with restaurant options, be it fast food or sit-down dining.

Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) wants hungry shoppers to avoid one location when it opens later this year: Chick-fil-A.

After published reports said Saturday that the popular fast-food eatery will open its first outerborough location inside the mall this fall, Dromm slammed the company on Monday over its leadership’s past comments condemning same-sex marriage and financial contributions to organizations that supposedly sponsor anti-LGBT causes.

“Chick-fil-A is anti-LGBT,” Dromm said in a statement. “I am deeply disturbed that Chick-fil-A continues to give 25 percent of their charitable contributions to anti-LGBT organizations, including over $1 million to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.”

According to reports published in 2012, the WinShape Foundation — created by Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy and his family — had given millions of dollars in donations and grants over the years to groups such as the Marriage & Family Foundation and the National Christian Foundation, many of which were criticized as being anti-LGBT by gay and lesbian advocacy organizations.

When the Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that the federal definition of marriage as being only between one man and one woman was unconstitutional, Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy tweeted it was a “sad day” for the nation and that the Founding Fathers would be “ashamed” of the decision.

In the years since the comments, Chick-fil-A and the WinShape Foundation have ceased giving funds to such groups with the exception of a $1 million donation the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, an organization that demands prospective ministry leaders condemn “impure lifestyles” like homosexuality in order to be hired, among other issues.

Dromm hammered Chick-fil-A for its continued relationship with the FCA, calling Monday on shoppers to boycott the eatery and the Queens Center mall to reconsider its contract with the company.

“This group imparts a strong anti-LGBT message by forcing their employees and volunteers to adhere to a policy that prohibits same-sex love,” he said. “It is outrageous that Chick-fil-A is quietly spreading its message of hate by funding these types of organizations.

“I hope that the Queens Center mall will reconsider giving a company so deeply invovled in anti-gay discrimination a lease on their property,” he continued. “Believers in equality should boycott these purveyors of hate.”

Chick-fil-A spokeswoman Desiree’ Fulton fired back on Tuesday, saying the restaurant does not discriminate against LGBT employees or customers and no longer financially assists anti-gay groups.

“Our intent is not to support groups with political agendas,” Fulton wrote in an email to the Chronicle. “The Chick-fil-A Foundation gives 100 percent of its dollars to programs supporting youth, education and the local communities in which our restaurants operate.

“The Chick-fil-A Foundation partners with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes,” she continued, “specifically to provide free summer sports camps for hundreds of young students in urban environments throughout the nation.”

A spokesman for Macerich, Queens Center mall’s management company, had no comment on Dromm’s remarks, but said work on the Chick-fil-A location has begun and the new addition to the food court should open “sometime in the fall.”

Speaking at an unrelated press conference at the 105th Precinct in Queens Village on Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio criticized the eatery’s leadership for its previous comments and financial donations, but said he doesn’t agree with Dromm on a possible boycott of the location.

“It is a country in which people have a right to open a business,” de Blasio said. “What the ownership of Chick-fil-A has said is wrong. I’m certainly not going to patronize them and I wouldn’t urge any other New Yorker to patronize them, but they do have a legal right.”

Read more here.

Dromm To Highlight Right To Opt Out Of Standardized Tests

By Michael Florio

Originally published in the Jackson Heights Post on April 1, 2016

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The New York State English Language Arts exams are set to take place next week and Council Member Daniel Dromm wants parents to know they have options.

Dromm will be hosting a meeting on Sunday at noon in front of the Jackson Heights Post Office, located at 78-02 37th Ave., where he will alert parents that they have the option of allowing their children to opt out of the test.

“I want to inform parents of their right to opt out,” he said. “I don’t think the [Department of Education] made that as well known to parents as they should have.”

The ELA test will start Tuesday and run through Thursday. The math test will take place the following week.

The test, which students in grades three through eight take, is used to evaluate students’ skills and mastery of content, as well as to help shape future instruction, according to the DOE.

The test is also used as part of the teacher evaluation process.

For Dromm, this use of the test is problematic.

“The tests used to be used to determine where a child was academically and what they need more help in,” Dromm, a former teacher, said. “The reformers came up with the idea to use the grades to evaluate schools and teachers.”

“The tests were never intended for these purposes,” he said.

While parents have been able to remove their children from these tests for years, opting out has only picked up momentum recently due to the pressures now placed on children, Dromm said.

Dromm said in recent years parents have caught on and now the movement to opt out is gaining traction. Last year more than 240,000 students chose to opt out, according to his office.

“Parents realize that the tests are not being used properly,” he said. “That’s when they revolted and said no more to these tests.”

Parents who are interested in opting out of the test should speak to their child’s principal, according to the DOE.

If a student does opt out of the test, the school will work to the best of its ability to provide the child with an alternate education activity, such as reading, during test times, the DOE said.

Read more here.

At Site of Gay Man’s Murder, a Street Corner Acknowledges Its Past

By David Gonzalez

Originally published by the NY Times on March 20, 2016

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A street sign in Jackson Heights, Queens, that commemorates Julio Rivera, who was killed in an attack in July 1990 that authorities later called a hate crime. Credit David Gonzalez/The New York Times

There is little about the intersection of 78th Street and 37th Avenue to distinguish it from any other corner in Jackson Heights. Every day, dozens of parents — from dozens of countries — waiting for their children to be dismissed from school stand beneath a sign declaring the intersection “Julio Rivera Corner.” Many of them likely do not even notice it, yet with those three words, the sign acknowledges a tragic — and ultimately transforming — moment in Queens.

Julio Rivera, a 29-year-old gay man who worked as a bartender, was lured to the schoolyard, steps away from that corner, on July 2, 1990. Three white skinheads who wanted to “reclaim” their neighborhood from gays and homeless people set upon him, bashing his skull with a hammer and finishing him off with a knife. His death might have gone unnoticed if not for a few relatives and gay friends who began to mobilize New York City’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and put pressure on the Police Department, which had assigned the case to a detective who was on vacation.

Mr. Rivera’s killing, which the authorities deemed a hate crime, resulted in a manslaughter conviction against the trio’s ringleader, Daniel Doyle. He testified against his two accomplices, who were convicted of murder. The charges against them were overturned and one of the men pleaded guilty to manslaughter before a retrial; the other, who had jumped bail before the retrial, was killed in Mexico in 2002. Both surviving men have since served their sentences.

Councilman Daniel Dromm, who was a public-school teacher in the neighborhood at the time of the murder, said it spurred him to become more active in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues and take the fight for gay rights out of Manhattan and into immigrant and working-class communities. Two years after the attack, Mr. Dromm, a Democrat, came out publicly when he defended Children of the Rainbow, a citywide curriculum that had been introduced to teach tolerance to youngsters but met with great resistance from the local school district.

“The controversy over Children of the Rainbow, along with the murder of Julio Rivera, was Queens’s Stonewall,” Mr. Dromm said, referring to the 1969 uprising at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village that is widely seen as a turning point in the fight for gay rights. “It was a call to action. In many ways, it led to numerous other victories.”

That includes the establishment of the neighborhood gay pride parade and a political club that helped push for same-sex marriage in recent years, all of which are featured in “Julio of Jackson Heights,” a documentary by Richard Shpuntoff that had its premiere last week at the Queens World Film Festival.

Mr. Shpuntoff grew up in the area and volunteered to photograph Jackson Heights’ first pride parade in 1993, something he would continue to do for 20 years. He decided to make the documentary as a way to highlight the changes that have swept over the neighborhood since Mr. Rivera’s murder. It is a measure of progress that people at the parade almost take its existence for granted.

“It was amazing that this had become part of the community,” Mr. Shpuntoff said. “But people forgot that when it first happened it was a whole different situation than today, when people march casually. Back then, people were really afraid and no one really knew what would happen at the first parade. There was organization, sacrifice and commitment by a range of people who had formed a coalition around Julio’s murder.”

Peg Fiore, who at the time of the killing was married to Julio’s brother Ted, said the local gay community was, at first, among the family’s few allies. Weeks after the murder, she and Ted participated in a vigil by the playground where Mr. Rivera was killed, a bit unnerved and unsure if anyone would attend. She said her fears were dispelled when she saw scores of people getting off the subway on Roosevelt Avenue to attend.

She said Mr. Rivera — who had moved to Jackson Heights from Manhattan because he felt it was safer there — was “an unlikely hero,” something that the documentary does not shy away from. In the film, a former lover recounted the time Mr. Rivera used cocaine and then disappeared for a month.

“He was full of imperfections,” Ms. Fiore said. “But that’s what I love. He is us. Everyone could relate to him. He was this unlikely hero who has been immortalized.”

Although the police are more responsive these days, Mr. Dromm remains concerned about attacks on transgender people, of which there have been several in recent years. And lest others take for granted how far they have come, he takes part in an annual moment of silence held on the corner that was named for Mr. Rivera.

Events like that remind Ms. Fiore that her brother-in-law’s death was not in vain. She said she has not forgotten the support her family received from the gay community. It is a lesson she hopes others can learn from, especially during a political season in which Donald J. Trump has based his Republican candidacy for president on what she sees as intolerance.

“There are people who don’t understand the danger of hating another group simply because they are different from you,” she said. “There are people out there feeling this, and that’s frightening. We can’t get comfortable.”

Read more here.

NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade Steps Into New Era

Gay-Irish group Lavender and Green Alliance joins New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade for first time

 

By Mara Gay and Zolan Kanno-Young

Brendan Fay, Edith Windsor, Daniel Dromm and Malachy McCourt broke out in song before heading off on Fifth Avenue with the Lavender and Green Alliance in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. PHOTO: STEVE REMICH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

 

They were among the last groups to march in the parade Thursday, and faced a burst of chilly rain as the day began to stretch into evening.

But for members of the gay-Irish group who marched in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue for the first time, it was a moment to cheer the end of a 25-year fight to be included in one of the world’s largest celebrations of Irish heritage.

“We are feeling the joy of being together, of having overcome,” said Brendan Fay, a founder of the Lavender and Green Alliance, the gay-Irish group that joined the parade this year after organizers lifted a long-standing ban on gay-Irish groups.

Mayor Bill de Blasio joined the group, after years of boycotting the parade in solidarity with the alliance. He also marched with the police and fire departments.

As the latest group to join the event, the Lavender and Green Alliance was placed near the end of the hourslong procession, and didn’t enter the parade, which began at 11 a.m., until after 4 p.m. That meant the some 200 members faced mostly empty streets, with most parade-goers having gone home.

Nearly all those who remained along the parade route cheered and applauded as the group walked slowly by with their green and lavender sashes, and rainbow flags.

“Everybody has to live and let live,” said James Stafford, 47 years old. “We’re all God’s children.”

Sonnia Ehlers, 59 years old, who sat in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral when the gay-Irish group marched by, said she wished gay organizations weren’t allowed to march.

“God made you a woman and a man and that’s the way it should be,” she said.

Marie Hilliard, 68, of southern Italy, said she was fine with gay organizations marching, unless they were promoting their sexuality more than Irish heritage.

Police officers from Ireland walked on Fifth Avenue on Thursday.
Police officers from Ireland walked on Fifth Avenue on Thursday. PHOTO: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

 

 “It would’ve caused a fuss if they weren’t included,” Ms. Hilliard said in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. She added that “if they are taking part because it’s St. Patrick’s Day, then fine.”

Christine Quinn, the first openly gay speaker of the New York City Council, also joined the Lavender and Green Alliance in the parade, as did council members Corey Johnson, Daniel Dromm and Jimmy Van Bramer.

Ms. Quinn, who was arrested multiple times protesting the ban over the years, took a moment to reflect on the moment with her 89-year-old father, Lawrence P. Quinn.

“I thought the battle would take longer and I thought he would have gone on to see his maker before this happened,” she said.

The decision to allow the gay-Irish groups wasn’t without controversy.

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, called the decision a “disgrace.” His group stopped marching after the parade allowed Out@NBC-Universal, an employee group, to participate last year.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, join the parade.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, join the parade. PHOTO: STEVE REMICH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

 

Mr. de Blasio said it would be “a very healing day.”

“For two decades or more we had a blemish on our city,” he said of the ban on gay-Irish groups, which organizers said was based on religious objections to homosexuality.

The mayor marched three times Thursday: first with the New York Police Department, then with the Fire Department of New York, and finally with the Lavender and Green Alliance, donning a lavender and green sash as he walked the route with his wife, Chirlane McCray.

Earlier in the day, at a breakfast at Gracie Mansion where the mayor’s emerald-clad guests mingled amid a breakfast of soda bread and tea, Ms. McCray said it was impossible to talk about the history of New York City without talking about its Irish roots.

Ms. McCray also joked that her husband’s name for the day should be “Bill O’Blasio.”

The mayor also joined hundreds for a morning Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral to celebrate the holiday, where he sat beside New York Police Commissioner William Bratton.

In many ways, the parade went on as always, with tens of thousands of revelers filling the streets around Fifth Avenue and cheering as groups with bagpipes and drums marched through Manhattan.

Martine O’Neill, 49, of Belfast, Northern Ireland, flew into the city on Monday for the parade, which had its start in the year 1762.

“We’re having a ball,” she said, adding, “I can’t wait to go to the bar.”

Read more here.