On Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo addressed the LGBT caucus meeting at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Cuomo cited the progress that New York state has achieved over the last six years for the LGBT community — from enacting marriage equality to pledging to end the AIDS epidemic by 2020. The governor also called on the Democratic Party to take these and other New York progressive victories across the nation by working to elect Hillary Clinton as the first female president of the United States.
An excerpt of his speech before the LGBT Caucus:
“Let me say this, New York is a special state, says an arrogant New Yorker. New York really is a little different. I worked a great deal in the Clinton administration. I was the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, I had the great opportunity to work in every state all across the country. But New York’s heritage is different. New York is 18 million people and it is people from literally all across the globe, 18 million diverse people. We are the welcome mat for the nation, so we get every ethnicity, every religion, every orientation. New York, to survive, made a decision very early on that we have to find commonalities as opposed to finding differences, and that the ethic of the culture has to be accepted, and non-judgementalism. In New York, you don’t have the choice of moving away from someone you don’t like. You’re all there, and that’s what New York is about.
“New York is about acceptance. New York is about forging community. New York is about finding the common core and building on the commonality and building relationships. This campaign on the other side talks about building walls. We talk about building bridges. How do you find ways to connect people? That is what NY is all about. There’s no secret why so many gay Americans very early on went to New York. Why did they go to Greenwich Village when they didn’t feel comfortable in their community or their home or their state? Go to New York, because in NY you are accepted. That is what Stonewall is all about – 1969. Stonewall was the first place where gay Americans could gather and stand up and make their case against discrimination and for equality. That is New York, that’s where it started. I believe New York has a responsibility to be the voice for equality and to be the voice for advancement, because that’s who we are and that’s what we are. New York is the beacon of possibility. New York should say to the other states in the country, ‘This is what you can do and this is what you can be when you are at your best.’
“For me, the issue of marriage equality was the equivalent of the Edmund Pettus Bridge to civil rights. Marriage equality was the first time we really debated equality as equality. Remember where we were. The idea of civil unions and the argument for civil unions was ‘you have all the legal rights of marriage, it’s just not marriage.’
“People believe that Americans should be ok with civil unions because you have all the legal rights, it’s just not called marriage. Well, why isn’t it called marriage? Oh, because marriage is for heterosexuals and that’s not for gays, but otherwise it’s the same. And the answer was, no, we don’t want almost like marriage. We don’t want very close to marriage, similar to marriage. We want marriage. Because the point was really not about marriage, it was about the secondary, it was about equality and being offered the same option for all Americans.
“And when you said, ‘Gay Americans don’t have the right to marry,’ that was discriminatory and that was judgmental and that is not New York and that’s why the marriage equality fight went first. And we did it in 2011 and we passed marriage equality because thanks to the LGBTQ community nationwide which came together and helped and raised money and supported and actually changed public opinion in the State of New York, because we had just lost the vote two years before, resoundingly. We came together, we worked, we made the case and New York State became the first big state to pass marriage equality in 2011 and it changed the whole dialogue. And that changed the conversation. It also does my heart good that New York has marriage equality, not because the Supreme Court said it was the law, but because the people of the State of New York said it was the right thing to do and they believed in it because [inaudible] justice and with equality and with dignity, and we have continued to lead.
“As you heard … we stood up as the first state to say conversion therapy is bogus. We’re not paying for it. We don’t believe insurance companies should pay for it. We want to have no part of it in the state of New York. We were the first state to stand up and say if you are against discrimination, then you are against all discrimination and you’re against discrimination against transgender people and that’s what our GENDA legislation is all about.…and you’re against discrimination against transgender people and that’s what our GENDA legislation is all about. And when we couldn’t get the legislature to pass it, I stood up as Governor and said, “I don’t care if we don’t pass it. I’m going to sign an executive order that makes it the law of the land.” I am proud that our state has done more than our state has ever done – or more than any state in the country does – to provide housing and supportive services for people with HIV and AIDS because that is our responsibility. And I’m proud to be the state, that after Orlando, said, ‘We’re going to build a monument in front of Stonewall, looking at the Statue of Liberty, to the people who lost lives in Orlando and to the people who lost lives to hate crimes all across this nation.’ Because that was not just a terrorist attack, that was a terrorist attack on gay Americans and that is why we like to stand up and say, ‘We have no tolerance whatsoever.’
“I am proud to be the state that says we should raise the bar higher than ever before. It’s not just about providing housing and services, and it’s not just about anti-discrimination. The goal has to be to end AIDS as an epidemic as we know it. And we can do it. We can do it. If we provide the treatment and the therapy and the drugs and the prevention, we can do it. And that should be the goal. We’re showing that we can do it in the state of New York. You heard the drop in the number in HIV/AIDS – one of the largest drops in the nation and we are proud of it. We can end the epidemic once and for all and that should be the goal for this nation and this next President to say that we ended AIDS, as an epidemic should end once and for all. And that is something Hillary Clinton can make a reality. And my last point to you is this: we have had a decade of great progress. We have done more in the past ten years than we have probably accomplished in the previous 50. We have done more by organizing, by unifying, putting differences aside. I think we did it because we have some really powerful personalities in New York and they are going to do what they want to do when they want to do it. We have a champion in New York who, when it was hard and it was difficult and people were afraid to stand up and speak out, Christine Quinn was a national advocate for equality. We did this by coming together and working hard, and we have made a lot of progress.
“But hear me on this — this is not the time to get complacent. Do not assume that everything we’ve done, that the progress will automatically continue, because it will not. There are still forces out there that oppose what we do, who we are, and what we believe. We have to fight every day. That’s why we banned travel to North Carolina. They are suing me. They are suing me, the state of North Carolina, on some theory. I don’t know, but I wasn’t planning to go there anyway. That’s why we have to oppose laws like in the state of Indiana, and you have to fight every one of these challenges. And we cannot stop the effort and the progress and the movement because we have forces working against us every day. From the bottom of my heart, I want you to know this: My father, God rest his soul, before me was committed to your community and to equality. He spoke out on AIDS and HIV before anyone else would say the word. I am proud to follow in his footsteps and complete his legacy. You will never have a governor or a friend who is more committed than I am, and when New York acts, it changes the dialogue in the country, because when New York takes an action, then everyone else in the country has to answer the question, ‘Well, why don’t we do what New York did?’
“When New York passed marriage equality, one week later they took the microphone and they went to the Vice President of the United States and said, ‘What would you do if you were Governor Cuomo? Would you sign the law or would you not sign the law?’ Vice President, God bless him, he loves to talk, he said, ‘I would sign the law.’ The next day, they went to President Obama and said, ‘Well Vice President Biden said he would sign the law. What are you gonna do?’ and he said, ‘I would sign the law.’ Then every governor, every senator, all across the nation had to answer that question. New York is the champion for equality, and it is the champion for justice, and it the champion for gay Americans. It is the champion for the LGBTQ community. Whatever we can do, whenever we can do it, you have a home, and your movement’s home is the great state of New York. Thank you and God bless you.”