Will new governors prove lynchpins for LGBT advances in 2011?

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Thursday January 6, 2011

Could the country's new governors prove lynchpins for LGBT equality in 2011?

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee used his inaugural address on Tuesday, Jan. 4, to once again urge lawmakers to pass a marriage equality bill.

"When marriage equality is the law in Rhode Island, we honor our forefathers who risked their lives and fortune in the pursuit of human equality," he said. "Rhode Island today must be as welcoming to all as Roger Williams intended it to be."

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo acknowledged in his State of the State speech on Wednesday, Jan. 5, that addressing the Empire State's estimated $10 billion budget would be among his administration's top priorities. He stressed, however, New York must "once again become the progressive capital of our nation."

"We believe in justice for all," said Cuomo. "Let's pass marriage this year once and for all," said Cuomo.

It appears unlikely New York lawmakers will pass marriage equality legislation this year. But Ross Levi, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, applauded Cuomo's pro-LGBT overtures-including his codification of former Gov. David Paterson's executive order that bans discrimination against transgender state employees and former Lambda Legal attorney Alphonso David's appointment as Deputy Secretary for Civil Rights.

"The Pride Agenda is very pleased that Governor Cuomo in his State of the State address specifically included LGBT New Yorkers in his vision of a great Empire State," said Levi. "He has strongly and repeatedly shown his support for LGBT fairness and equality, and the affirmation today of his commitment to see marriage for loving same-sex couples become law in New York State is another indication of that support."

Cuomo did not specifically mention trans-specific measures in his address. And Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, pointed out the governor defended the New York State Department of Health's policy that specifically mandates Medicaid not pay for care, services, drugs, supplies and hormones related to gender reassignment as attorney general.

"Governor Cuomo campaigned on a pledge to be a governor for all New Yorkers and to celebrate New York's diversity," Silverman told EDGE. "He can fulfill that pledge by ending New York State's exclusion of Medicaid reimbursement for transgender health care."

As EDGE previously reported, activists in Florida, Utah and Texas are among those who remain optimistic about the prospects of expanded LGBT-specific protections in employment, housing and other areas in 2011.

Nevada lawmakers are expected to consider an employment non-discrimination measure during their upcoming session, but Gov. Brian Sandoval's positions on LGBT-specific issues remains uncertain.

"He doesn't really have a record," said Chris Miller, president of the Nevada Stonewall Democratic Caucus. "He moves from different positions to different positions and he never really does anything."

Nevada's abysmal economy and projected $2.5 to $3 billion budget shortfall are expected to dominate the upcoming legislative session in Carson City. Miller said possible solutions to these problems could potentially impact HIV/AIDS funding, but he remains doubtful social issues will not gain much traction.

"The main conversation right now is about the budget and the money situation in the state," added Miller. "As far as social legislation, we talk about it at our level. We're hopeful, but not quite sure about where he's going to fall on these issues. He's really keeping a lot of that stuff close to his chest."

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.