"Our Work is Far From Over": Empire State Pride Agenda Looks to the Future

By Benjamin Solomon
29 Jun 2014

Nathan M. Schaefer
Nathan M. Schaefer

As part of Playbill.com's 30 Days of Pride, Empire State Pride Agenda discusses its achievements and plans for the future.

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It didn't end with marriage equality.

After a decade of lobbying the New York State Legislature, Empire State Pride Agenda saw the passage of the Marriage Equality Act in 2011 and New York State become the sixth state in the nation to allow same-sex marriage.

But in the aftermath of the highly publicized, heavily-funded campaign, ESPA — as it is known to its dedicated staff and volunteers — didn't rest on its laurels. In the three years since that landmark Gay Pride vote, ESPA has renewed its mission to "win equality and justice for LGBT New Yorkers and our families" in its fights for transgender equality and surrogacy legalization, and against bullying and "gay conversion."

"We've made incredible gains in recent years, including the rapid succession in states for the right to marry. But our work is far from over," says ESPA executive director Nathan M. Schaefer, who has led the advocacy group since 2012 . "Transgender New Yorkers remain unprotected from being evicted from their homes or fired from their jobs. New York State law does not provide adequate protections for our families, leaving children in potential legal limbo. LGBT youth remain vulnerable to damaging practices that try to change them, and more resources are needed to address the disproportionate number of LGBT homeless youth. Our work remains more relevant than ever until all these issues and more have been resolved."

To achieve its goals, ESPA acts as both a non-profit advocacy group, lobbying politicians on behalf of their causes; and as a PAC, endorsing candidates and making political contributions. Schaefer says these efforts combine to raise the voices of LGBT New Yorkers, including those who cannot make their concerns heard. Through strategic events and hired muscle in Albany, Schaefer and co. say they are building a groundswell of support for these issues.

New York City's performing arts community is a key piece to the success of that groundswell. "Broadway is in our DNA. We've always had strong connections with New York's theatre community, from partnerships with shows that highlight the lives of LGBT people to prominent players in the industry that have been supporters," says Schaefer.

One such industry player is Billy Porter, the Tony Award-winning star of Kinky Boots. "As a New Yorker and a gay man I felt compelled to get involved and lend my voice to the fight for equal rights for LGBT New Yorkers," says Porter, who first learned of ESPA from his manager Frank Selvaggi and now serves on the organization's board of directors. "There's an expression of identity that runs deep in both theatre and with the Pride Agenda's work."

But even with Porter's help, ESPA's work is nothing without the hundreds of people that demand LGBT equality everyday. Schaefer says it all starts with a phone call. "Reach out to your elected officials and tell them that LGBT New Yorkers matter," he urges. "Move them to take action and vote in our favor."

Visit PrideAgenda.org for more info.