Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Chelsea, Midtown) hardly said a word as he and his friends and colleagues proceeded down the street during New York City’s Annual Pride March. Instead, he had Jeffrey LeFrancois, a fellow activist and longtime friend of his, take on the role of his hype man. LeFrancois strode from one end of the street to the other with a microphone in hand to spread the word about Gottfried’s accomplishments.
“He introduced the first marriage equality bill back in 2003!” LeFrancois announced to the crowd. “He’s been leading the way on LGBT rights in New York State for decades – because LGBT rights are human rights!”
Midway through the march, he and a few other members of Gottfried’s entourage started a chant of, “We love Dick!”, a double entendre that was not lost on the audience.
Richard Gottfried was just one of the several New York lawmakers who took part in this year’s Pride March – a monumental celebration with an estimated attendance of over 150,000. The event coincided with the 50th anniversary of the riots at Stonewall Inn, and it was co-hosted by the international organization InterPride, marking the first time that the company has hosted an event on American soil.
Civil rights activist Shaun King was originally scheduled to march alongside Mr. Gottfried. Unfortunately, according to Gottfried’s staff, King got “caught in a maze of barricades” on his way to meet up with the assemblyman, and couldn’t make it in time.
For Gottfried, the march was just the latest milestone in his continuous, nearly fifty- year fight on behalf of New York’s LGBTQ community. He has been advocating on their behalf since he was first elected to the New York Assembly in 1970. In 2003, Gottfried would gain the distinction of introducing the first bill in the New York State Assembly to legalize same-sex marriages.
“I’ve been part of the pride movement since about 1970, 1971,” said Gottfried. “I was at the first press conference in Albany in 1971, when the introduction of the first gay rights bill was announced.”
But though we’ve come a long way since he first started getting involved with the movement, Gottfried wanted to make it clear that there is still plenty of work to be done. Pride Month may have drawn to a close, but the fight for LGBTQ advocacy is ongoing.
Currently, Gottfried is focusing his efforts on ensuring that the LGBTQ population has access to adequate health care. Earlier this year, he reintroduced the New York Health Act, a bill that would establish a single-payer health care system for the state, into the Assembly. He said that while such a system would benefit all New Yorkers, it would be particularly beneficial to the LGBTQ community, since it would prevent them from being denied coverage.
“Getting good health coverage is a major problem in the gay and transgender communities,” said Gottfried. “There are a lot of health care providers who discriminate, but also a lot of private health insurance groups who make things difficult. And a large part of the LGBT community is made up of people who are self-employed, and they have the worst situation in the health insurance market. With single-payer coverage, everyone – rich and poor, gay and straight – would get the same high-quality health care.”