Last night, I attended my second hearing of the Erie County Legislature’s Reapportionment Advisory Committee, to speak out on the map submitted by Committee Chair Adam Perry. The map, which you can view here, is largely seen as a transparent attempt to draw districts favoring Erie County Executive Chris Collins and the legislators who vote with him. County Executive is very much anti-LGBTQ , as he last year refused to incorporate LGBTQ individuals into the County’s Equal Employment Opportunity on the ground it included gender identity and expression—and this redistricting process is a new offense.
The map submitted by Perry blatantly disregards and splices heavily LGBTQ neighborhoods such as Allentown and the Elmwood Village in the City of Buffalo, to the point where each neighbor has its voice drowned out by the rest of the new districts. Though LGBTQ individuals are a very present and vibrant part of communities all over Erie County, such disregard of the areas of our highest populations should not go without notice. I was one of about people who spoke against Perry’s plan, which also uses the same tactic to silence the city’s Hispanic and African American communities.
Immediately after the meeting, the committee voted to send the controversial map and only the controversial map as a recommendation to the legislature.
Here is what I said:
My name is Bryan Ball, president of the Stonewall Democrats of Western New York. We are a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) advocacy group for the advancement and civil rights movement of our community.
I’m here this evening to once again ask the committee, legislature and county draw attention to the needs of the LGBTQ community in Erie County, with the difficult task of reapportionment.
At an earlier meeting of this committee, I urged the committee to take into consideration the representation of the LGBTQ community when drawing the new legislative districts. For while the LGBTQ community is a vibrant, contributing part of communities everywhere in Erie County, keeping in mind the Voting Rights Act, we deserve to have our voice considered in our allegedly representative government.
Simply put, LGBTQ people need their voice respected in government, as we are among the most oppressed minority groups for we are routinely denied by our government basic civil rights such as liberty and the pursuit of happiness—in the form of employment, housing and marital discrimination.
For example, right here in Erie County, LGBTQ persons have been denied employment protections, as County Executive Collins refused to sign off on a resolution—unanimously passed by the legislature last year—which would add LGBTQ people to the County’s Equal Employment Opportunity policy, because the resolution included transgender individuals and gender identity and expression. Not only are transgender individuals denied employment protections here at the local level of government, but they are denied such protections by our state, our country. The reality is that may people live in the fear that comes with not being able to obtain legal protections granted to others but discriminated by gender. When applying for jobs, looking for housing or seeking to protect our families—there is no equal, legal protection for us, which our government has the power to grant.
Therefore, because we are a minority group that is denied such equal treatment under the law, I urge the committee to not weaken what voice we have, in the power that comes from the highest area of our populations, in the legislature.
One of the many aspects very wrong with the map submitted by Committee Chair Adam Perry is its disregard of heavily LGBTQ neighborhoods in the city of buffalo—neighborhoods which, if for nothing else, are strongly connected historical districts with an undeniable sense of community. By slicing these neighborhoods—separating areas such as Allentown and the Elmwood Village, the map not only weakens LGBTQ voices, but weakens Hispanic and African American voices, as well. And districts that could lead to the eventual elimination of any non-white, non-heteronormative, non-male representation is a frightening prospect. Especially when such maps appear to be transparent, partisan attempts to hinder or help individual legislators based on politics that have nothing to do with our communities.
In closing, there are no laws in place to preserve LGBTQ voices in government. There are no laws to protect us all from employment discrimination in our county, state, country. There are no laws which allow me to marry my partner and have us both protected as people of different genders would be allowed to.
There are no laws, and there need to be such laws. And there are no laws in place which would prevent the committee from doing what is right and protecting minority voices.
I thank you for your time and attention to this matter.