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‘We are going back in time’: Brooklyn’s queer community fearful of coming Supreme Court rulings

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Protesters took to the city’s streets on June 24 following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. Brooklyn’s queer community is fearful of what’s next for rulings on issues like same-sex marriage.
File photo by Dean Moses

Now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, Brooklyn leaders and advocacy groups are worried about what’s next for same-sex marriage and other LGBTQ rights founded on similar precedents.

The Supreme Court’s ruling overturning abortion rights on June 24 prompted a wave of warnings from LGBTQ members of Congress and national queer groups after Justice Clarence Thomas used his concurring opinion to threaten rulings on marriage equality, sodomy, and contraception.

“It’s definitely scary. Not only Roe v. Wade but everything else that is potentially bound to come next,” said Councilmember Chi Ossé, who represents Bedford-Stuyvesant and the northern section of Crown Heights. “There is a lot of fear that I have as a queer person and there is a lot of fear that exists within the LGBTQIA community about this potential net rollback by the Supreme Court.”

In his concurring opinion, also released Friday, Thomas urged his fellow justices to “reconsider all of this court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.” Griswold v. Connecticut struck down a state law banning contraceptives, Lawrence v. Texas established the right to have gay sex, and Obergefell v. Hodges brought same-sex marriage nationwide.

Borough politicians and queer rights groups were quick to condemn the statement as an invalidation of the LGBTQ community — and one that hampers the strides they’ve made in the last decade.

“We are in an era where rights keep on being taken away from our communities instead of more rights,” said Mateo Guerrero, trans justice and leadership program manager at Make the Road NY, which provides services and advocacy for immigrants and LGBTQ New Yorkers. “We are going back in time.” 

Guerrero said that Thomas’ written assent does not just threaten same-sex marriage, but also discredits the queer and trans community and impedes their ability to be themselves in public and have the same rights as their straight counterparts. 

“What I think is most enraging is not just that they are planning to remove same-sex marriage but it’s the statement that he makes about invalidating queer people and trans people’s life and experiences and their ability to love and their ability to exist in public,” he said. “It is beyond the legal aspect of marriage. It is the social and cultural validation of trans and queer people in public.”

Thomas’ statement invokes and condones violence against the queer community, Guerrero said, as some people might think they are no longer recognized by the Supreme Court.

“It actually gives leverage to queer-phobic people and transphobic people to be like ‘You know, the government says that trans and queer people shouldn’t exist in public, well, we are going to violently assault them,’” he said. “It gives tools to people to violently assault our communities.”

Some 17,000 New Yorkers flooded the streets of Manhattan after the Supreme Court’s ruling Friday, which came during Pride Month.File photo by Dean Moses

Furthermore, Guerrero said, any decision to reverse LGBTQ rights can equip trans- and queer-phobic pols with the pretext to pass laws on the state or city level to further bind its queer and trans communities.

“It allows for elected officials who are transphobic and queerphobic to say ‘look, the Supreme Court says this, then we are going to pass this bill in the state, or the city,'” he told Brooklyn Paper. “Because it justifies it.” 

Ossé said that while New York is a liberal beacon in the country, this is the time to pass as many protections for the LGBTQ community as possible in preparation for any possible overturning — and to be a safe haven for all who need it across the country. 

“We are still luckier here in New York City and New York State and we must reinforce and fight and codify as many protections that we need in the state to make sure that if this does end up happening, which is something I am definitely not ruling out,” the pol told Brooklyn Paper. “Not only are LGBTQIA New Yorkers protected but those across the country that are seeking protections can come to this state as well.”

The councilmember added that these rollbacks do not impact just one group of people.

“I have a mother, I have a sister, I have friends who have had abortions but no matter what at the end of the day I am still a cis man, I am not someone who can give birth. So this next potential rollback is something a lot closer to my own identity and would potentially affect my specific community which is a different layer of fear,” Ossé said. “I think with these different rollbacks that are affecting different parts of our communities, I want to reinforce that while it’s scary we are all in this fight together because they are coming after all of us and we need to stand up and organize and fight and win.” 

State Senator Jabari Brisport, the first openly gay person of color elected to the State Legislature in 2020, agreed that these decisions impact everyone, and that speaking out is more important than ever.

“Those who fight to preserve and strengthen inequality will never be happy with subjugating any single marginalized group — all of us are in their crosshairs but we’re standing together to fight back,” the Bed-Stuy pol said in a statement. 

In his role as an elected official, Ossé said he will use his platform to fight for the queer community by speaking up for changes, encouraging city dwellers to vote and aiding in fundraising for those who have been greatly impacted by these decisions. 

“I think a lot of what’s net for me is advocating, recognizing, telling people to vote. Using my bully pulpit, any voice that I have to advocate for changes that need to be made,” he said. “I am a City Councilmember and it’s kind of frustrating because there is limited power that we do have here in New York City when it comes to this fights against larger rollbacks on the federal level. But continuing to speak up, help people fundraise for abortion funds, trying to do everything in my power with the platform that I have to combat this draconian state that the United States is turning into.”

Leaders of one neighborhood-focused advocacy group said they will organize protests and utilize their voting rights to ensure that all people continue to have the right to marry who they love — as was decided in the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges case.

“Today’s ruling by SCOTUS to overturn Roe v Wade is heartbreaking. We understand that this ruling will not stop abortions, but rather will only stop access to safe and healthy abortions, disproportionately affecting people of color, non-gender conforming people, and those living in poverty,” GayRidge’s leadership wrote in a post to their membership.

Just this month, GayRidge hosted Bay Ridge’s first formal Pride Month event, which served as a precursor for countless celebrations across the borough.

“The precedent that this ruling sets to strip away the rights of the LGBTQ+ community cannot stand,” the group’s statement read on. “GayRidge will continue to raise our voices in the streets and at the polls to make sure ALL people are treated with dignity and humanity.”

A Pride flag on the “Tree of Life” in Owl’s Head Park, where GayRidge hosted the southern Brooklyn neighborhood’s first official Pride Month event on June 5.GayRidge

Make the Road NY is pushing for expanded access to healthcare such as hormone therapy or surgery, and abortions, without regard to their immigration status. The group also plans to keep fighting for more protections from New York State to combat the potential reversal on the federal level. 

“We are going to continue to push to create health access for everyone in our community regardless of immigration status,” Guerrero said. “That’s a big aspect for us so that undocumented trans people can access hormone care and surgery. And that folks who are seeking abortion can do so safely.”

In the meantime, Brisport is encouraging New Yorkers to reach out to Governor Kathy Hochul in support of State Senator Liz Krueger’s Equal Right Amendment, which would classify sexual orientation as a protected class and codify the right to abortion.

“Senator Liz Krueger has a bill that would amend the New York State constitution to both codify the right to abortion and to make sexual orientation a legally protected class,” he said, adding that Hochul has called for a special session of the legislature on Thursday. “Everyone should call her immediately and demand she add the Equal Rights Amendment to the agenda.”

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