“Loud. Proud. Still Allowed.”: Is the LGBTQ+ Community Really Safer in New York City?

Mayor Eric Adams launched a billboard campaign in Florida to protest the “Don’t Say Gay,” but despite this progressive gesture, there are still some persisting issues for the LGBTQ+ community in New York City. 

Last Monday, Mayor Eric Adams announced the launch of an eight-week-long billboard campaign to encourage the Floridian LGBTQ+ community to move to New York City. The billboards displayed in Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa, and West Palm Beach denounce the passage of what critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation in Florida. 

 The “Parental Rights in Education” bill bans gender identity and sexual orientation-related discussions in kindergarten through third grade. The law also implies that there could be restrictions in higher grades, if lessons are conducted “in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate” The new law also requires schools to notify parents in case of services changes for their students, such as the use of different pronouns or bathrooms while on school grounds. According to the Public Opinion Research Lab at the University of North Florida. the law has an approval rate of 40 percent against 49 percent of rejection, which is even more prominent among younger populations.

“I am the mayor of New York City, but I have a message for Florida’s LGBTQ+ community — come to a city where you can say and be whoever you want,” the mayor said during a press conference held on April 4. “Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill is the latest shameful, extremist culture war targeting the LGBTQ+ community. Today, we say to the families living in fear of this state-sponsored discrimination that you will always have a home in New York City.”

Donated by multinational marketing company, WPP, and its subsidiaries, VMLY&R and Kinetic, the billboards won’t cost taxpayers anything, according to Eric Adams.

The campaign, which aims at reaffirming New York City’s commitment to the LGBTQ+ community, came two weeks after Rev. Kathlyn Barrett-Layne was fired from the Panel for Educational Policy over past anti-gay writings. It also came a few months after Eric Adams suffered backlash for hiring Rev. Erick Salgado, Pastor Gilford Monrose, and former City Councilmember Fernando Cabrera despite separate past homophobic comments. A week after the billboards were first displayed in Florida, NY City Lens investigated whether community leaders feel like the LGBTQ+ community can truly find safety, freedom of speech, and acceptance in the Big Apple. 

In New York City, the number of LGBTQ-related hate crimes complaints has increased by 104 percent since 2020, according to NYPD data. Queer New Yorkers count the fourth greatest number of hate crimes victims — after Jews, Asian and African Americans  — with 96 complaints in 2021 compared to 47 in 2020. However, only 49 arrests were conducted in 2021, which is due to the difficulty of obtaining corroborating evidence or finding the culprits, according to the NYC Office of Prevention of Hate Crimes.  

Early this month, several high-profile attacks against the LGBTQ+ community took place in New York City. On April 6th, a man set the Rash Bar in Brooklyn’s Bushwick ablaze while several people were still inside and fled the scene before the police arrived. The bar, which opened its doors to LGBTQ New Yorkers last year, is not the first gay establishment to suffer from an attack near the Bushwick neighborhood. In February, someone threw a pepper-bomb spray on the dance floor at a party for the Black queer community at Nowadays, and a wave of violent attacks targeted LGBT people near Happyfun Hideaway last July. 

“As long as LGBTQ+ individuals can’t walk in their city without fearing insults and physical violence, there is still a lot of work to do,” said executive director Melissa D’Andrea, from the nonprofit organization PFLAG NYC. “This community is more likely to suffer from mental health issues, sexual abuse, and homelessness from a very young age, and that’s why nonprofit organizations need more funding to protect our youth.”

According to the Hetrick-Martin Institute, it is estimated that between 3,000 and 5,000 homeless LGBT individuals between 12 and 24 live in New York City. In 2010, the Center for American Progress released a report revealing that 40 percent of young homeless people identified as LGBT and that 43 percent of them have been kicked out of their homes by their parents. At New Alternatives for LGBT Homeless Youth, which is an independent resource center for young gay and lesbian New Yorkers, the situation has become critical.

Kate Barnhart in her office, showing the low number of bed vacancy in homeless shelters on her computer. Credits: Juliette Gaudemer, for NY City Lens

Kate Barnhart, who has been the New Alternatives Executive Director since 2008, finds it increasingly more difficult to find beds or adequate mental health support for her clients. The process to apply for a shelter is long and convoluted, such as requiring individuals to recall how many places they lived in for the past two years. Some shelters require applications to be faxed or mailed while demanding interviews with candidates, but homeless individuals often have little idea of what time it is. Should they manage to qualify for shelter, they still need to fight against what Barnhart calls a discriminatory system and a list of vacant beds which is never uploaded. The advocate wishes for the NYC City Council to better investigate why housing applications are turned down to prevent further abuse and calls for more affordable housing for vulnerable populations. 

“We have only one city shelter for the LGBTQ community, but they only go up to age 30,” said Barnhart. “Today, I received a call from someone who was 66, and I had to tell them that there was no room for them. Another day, I had a shelter telling me that they wouldn’t take transgender people because it caused ‘too many problems,’ and it really sucks .”

After reports of severe abuse at LGBTQ shelter Marsha’s House, the city has agreed to offer transgender people 30 beds across the city by December 2022. However, advocates still have many demands for Adams’ administration, such as the creation of an NYC Council Office for the LGBT, or the creation of an awareness program in schools during Pride Week. During the April 4 press conference, the mayor said he would not commit to any of these. Furthermore, community leaders and residents noted that Gay marchers are still not allowed in the Staten Island’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and that there is still no Transgender Wellness and Equity Fund in the NYC budget despite past campaign promises from Eric Adams.

Several members of the NYC Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Caucus took a stand to denounce what is perceived as a discrepancy between the mayor’s actions and words. For example, council member Kristin Richardson Jordan rejected Adams’ choice to keep Rev. Erick Salgado and others in his cabinet, and while welcoming the billboard campaign, she is not entirely satisfied. 

The councilwoman believes the Don’t Say Gay legislation is a harmful, dangerous, hateful tactic by Florida’s governor to alienate the LGBTQ community in Florida,” said her Communications Director Gaia Bathea. “KRJ believes that Mayor Adams should do more, like increasing funding to LGBT organizations, and a simple invite for Floridians to come to NYC is not enough.”