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Empire State Pride Agenda  
 
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The Empire State Pride Agenda is recognized as among the strongest statewide glbtq lobbying organizations in the United States. Incorporated in 1990 as the result of a merger of two organizations--the Albany-based New York State Lesbian and Gay Lobby and the New York City-based FAIRPAC--the Empire State Pride Agenda lobbies New York governments, at both state and local levels, for legal protection and equal rights for glbtq individuals and families.

Gay political commentator David Mixner recently described the Empire State Pride Agenda as "one of the best run state LGBT organizations in the country. With a substantial budget, a powerful legislative agenda, a talented staff, an amazing board of directors and great community support, this organization is changing the nature of New York politics. It is a role model for other state organizations seeking to build political power."

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When it was organized in 1990, the Pride Agenda characterized itself as "a non-partisan not-for-profit organization constituted to work on state and local political issues of concern to the lesbian and gay community, leaving action on a federal level to national groups."

Libby Post and Mark D'Alessio were the first co-chairs of the Board; Lisa Parrish served as acting executive director for three months until she was succeeded by Richard D. Dadey, Jr., the first executive director. The organizers declared Pride Agenda's highest priority to be the passage of a statewide law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment and services, a goal that, after many disappointments, it finally achieved at the end of 2002.

The Empire State Pride Agenda is actually comprised of two separate corporate entities, the Empire State Pride Agenda Foundation, Inc. and the Empire State Pride Agenda, Inc. Although both entities are committed to the cause of furthering glbtq civil rights, certain activities are undertaken by one organization and not the other.

For example, the Empire State Pride Agenda, Inc. engages in legislative lobbying and administers a Political Action Committee. Donations to the Empire State Pride Agenda are not tax-deductible because it engages in direct political action.

In contrast, the Foundation does not endorse or provide support to political candidates and does only a limited amount of lobbying. Hence, contributions to the Foundation are tax deductible and are used primarily for educational purposes.

Dedicated to using professional lobbying techniques, the Pride Agenda early on defined itself against more radical groups, such as ACT UP and Queer Nation, whose angry demonstrations and zaps were not seen as effective in actually moving legislation.

The Agenda's ability to raise large sums for political action has since given it unusual clout for a glbtq activist organization, as evidenced by the fact that leading politicians, including President Clinton, Vice President Gore, and New York governors have attended its annual dinners. At the same time, however, central to the organization's success has been its grassroots moorings and its responsiveness to its constituencies.

Pride Agenda quickly proved itself effective in the political arena, at first in New York City and then in other urban areas in the state. In its early years, it was influential in the election of Deborah Glick as the first openly lesbian member of the New York legislature and in the election of an openly gay man, Thomas K. Duane, to the New York City Council. In 1998, Duane was elected to the state senate.

Just as the struggle for an anti-discrimination law in New York City was long stalled by a handful of powerful politicians and unions, so the struggle for a statewide anti-discrimination law was stymied for many years by the Republican-controlled state senate. As early as 1993, the Democratic-controlled state assembly passed an anti-discrimination measure, but senate leaders repeatedly refused to bring the proposal to a vote.

When U.S. Senator Alphonse D'Amato failed to use his considerable clout within the state Republican party to advance an anti-discrimination bill in the state senate, the Pride Agenda in 1998 endorsed D'Amato's opponent, Chuck Shumer. In a very close election, Shumer overwhelmingly carried the gay and lesbian vote and defeated D'Amato, who, in a very controversial decision, had been endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign.

The Pride Agenda's flexing of political muscle, especially its willingness to mobilize its constituency against unresponsive incumbents, was no doubt noticed by Republican Governor George Pataki, who in 1999, at the Agenda's urging, called for the passage of a state hate crimes bill that includes sexual orientation, a bill that he signed into law in 2000, the same year that New York formally repealed its law.

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