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Secretary Andrew Cuomo's Remarks
Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center

New York, NY
October 20, 2000

Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be at the Center. I first want to thank Richard Burns. When you need a refresher course in the difference that one person can make in society, think of Richard Burns, think of what he has done here at the center. He came in 1986. The staff was about 10 people; it's now about 70. The budget was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars; now you have a $5 million budget. All the lives, 5,000 people, being touched by this center and Richard is the dynamo that makes that all work. Let's thank him for everything he's done.

It's a pleasure to be with your elected officials who worked very hard to make today possible. It's a pleasure to be with Christine Qinn and Deborah Glick and Tom Duane. If it's tough to do what we're doing in Washington, D.C., doing what they do in Albany is no walk in the park either, I can tell you, and what they have accomplished for the community is really amazing.

I've been a long admirer and fan of Tom's -- in many ways, Tom has been a pioneer. He went places that nobody else went when it wasn't easy, and we all owe him a debt of gratitude for the path that he has laid down that many of us are now following. Tom, thank you very much for everything you've done.

Margarita Lopez is also here and she's a good friend. We do a lot of good work together. I want to introduce someone from my office in Washington -- he has a little bit of a Washington bureaucrat look, but he's really a Brooklyn boy -- Scott Sherman.

I'm excited about what we're doing today not just for the dollar figures -- that's important and that's essential -- but also the statement we're making. When I said Christine always has the thoughts and better words -- her point about the statement that we make to the people in New York, the statement that we make to the people across the nation. We make an important statement today.

In the past we have done housing work for people with AIDS and medical work for people with AIDS. Richard came to the center in 1986. He mentioned 1986 and 1987, I was working on the first public AIDS facility in the nation. Why? Because AIDS was a relatively new problem at that time, it was just developing, exploding, and there was really no thought given to what you do about this.

The acceptance was low, the fear was high, and we worked through those issues in coming up with a complex that was in the Bronx called HELP PSI. But we used it as an opportunity to say to people there is a problem here and don't run from it. And don't close your door and don't close your eyes and don't close your mind and don't close your heart.

Open yourself up and let's understand it. Let's understand how to deal with it. An we worked through that by coming up with this program and then actually building it and operating it. Trying to get it sited at that time was very difficult because neighborhoods were so nervous and community groups were so nervous.

But that was 1986 and 1987. We still have that housing problem and we still have to do more for people with AIDS. We run a program called HOPWA -- because at HUD, in Washington, everything has to be an acronym, they don't really use the English language -- an acronym or a number. HOPWA stands for Housing Opportunity for People With AIDS. We run the HOPWA program and I'm proud that when we took over the program it was about $100 million, now it's $258 million -- and this is not from a Congress that was, let's say, all that eager to get involved in this issue.

We have more to do and we're doing great work, but that is one chapter -- the housing issues, helping people with AIDS and understanding that and coming to terms with it, and we're doing well. More to do, but we're doing well.

But today opens another chapter. Today says this is not just about specific issues. This is not just about helping people with medical issues. This is truly about community building in the strongest sense. And understanding that this is not an issue or a group that is apart from our community but a part of our community, and drawing closer those community connections.

We call it community development work. Community building we call it at HUD that says we are all interconnected, we are all interrelated. We don't want anything different, we just want to be an integral, accepted part of the community. Let's not draw distinctions, let's draw similarities and let's embrace people to us.

We do that at HUD through community development funds, CDBG, community development block grant funds, but saying let's work, let's reach out, let's bring people into the community through economic development, through jobs, through reaching out to new immigrants, the groups that are coming in, and let's strengthen those bonds of community.

One of the ways we have to do that is to acknowledge that we are a nation of laws and the laws are here to protect all of us. We're very good at saying what the law should do in this nation, primarily when it comes to criminal justice. We are very good at being very adamant and very strict that criminal laws are prosecuted. If you're a young person who gets caught with selling drugs, boy, you're going to have the book thrown at you.

We love to thump our chest and talk about how tough we are on crime. We need that same zeal and that same energy behind the other laws of this nation, behind the anti-discrimination laws of this nation. We have laws on the books, also, that say you shall not discriminate on the basis of race, color, creed, sex, or disability; disability defined as medical conditions, mental health conditions.

HIV/AIDS is a disability. You shall not discriminate on that basis. It's not just wrong. It's not just immoral. It's not just not a nice thing to do. It is illegal. Now we don't speak about that law as much as we speak about the other laws, and we don't enforce that law the way we enforce the other laws. But if we truly believe it, if we want to send that signal to the country that that's where we are, if you're a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender New Yorker or American, you are part of our family, then enforce the law the way you enforce the other laws.

Take that discrimination law and stand up and say we're going to enforce it every time we find a violation. If you do that, you will find violations all day long -- because the truth is discrimination is still alive and well in America.

Racism is still alive and well in America. At HUD, one of the things I do is we enforce the fair housing law. We did a case just a couple of months ago, the first time the federal government sued the Ku Klux Klan. It was not in Georgia, it was not in Mississippi. It was in Pennsylvania; Redding, Pennsylvania, 50 miles outside of Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. This is the KKK and the Grand Dragon who targeted a woman, who happened to be white, married an African-American man, had a biracial daughter, and the KKK was opposed to biracial marriages.

They harassed this family, made them flee their home. The family fled from Pennsylvania to Seattle, and then moved five times more in the next two years because the KKK has discovered the Internet�

[Break in transcript]

�So if there is a fear, an irrational fear as it may be, towards a gay or lesbian person because the person thinks they may have HIV/AIDS that then is covered by the law and that is illegal. We want to stand up and we want to make that case. When we find the violations, as long as I am the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, you have my word that we will make those cases. I don't care if they're tough. I don't care if they're not politically correct. Every time we find a violation we will bring the case.

But we have to find the violation -- and to find the violation means you have to know the law and you have to know the protections. Even here in New York, I don't believe we really know that the law covers these types of activities.

So one of the things we talked to Richard about doing is having a forum here in the next month or so where we can educate people about the rights they have, the legal rights they have in housing, against discrimination. Let's get the word out. Let's get the complaints in. Let's get the violations in.

We've done great things together. This Center is really the home and the nucleus of a great energy. What we've done on housing, what we've done to help people with AIDS, what we're now doing is a loud statement to say we're going to forge community all of us together.

It's been an honor to be back. It's an honor to be part of it. It's my true honor to help in some small way to take the great work that you're doing to a new level. Thank you for having me.

Content Archived: January 20, 2009

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