I spoke, as I have before this year, to similar panels and committees at the county and city levels, on the need to consider the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and queer (LGBTQ) community in redistricting. As always, I emphasized that while we are a vibrant, contributing part of communities the city, county, state and country over, we undoubtedly have areas of high concentration and, like any other community, we should have our voice in government protected.
Following my testimony, I was asked by committee member Assemblymember John McEneny, if I believe the LGBTQ community had been discouraged from participation in government, as communities protected under the voting rights act have been. I responded that yes, we absolutely have. When a government denies a person basic protections such as in housing, employment and civil marriage rights—when a government upholds segregation and does not treat you equally as any other American under the law—you absolutely are discouraged from participation in government. Unfortunately, this denial of basic human rights and dignity does discourage some in the LGBTQ community from participating in government and making their voice heard. This is wrong, and needs to be addressed. Assemblymember McEney, a supporter of marriage equality, also asked me how we keep LGBTQ communities together, when we appear to be part of the greater community as a whole. I responded that he had answered his own question; to keep LGBTQ communities together, we need to keep communities together in the redistricting process.
Sen. Michael F. Nozzolio (R), who voted against marriage equality and our families, was silent throughout.
I am not familiar enough to personally endorse Gov. Cuomo’s independent panel and legislation, but one would think it common sense to have an independent body carry out the process of redistricting for our state legislature and Congressional lines. While I welcomed the opportunity to speak before the LATFOR committee, I do have to admit I was troubled that the LATFOR committee was so small, so representative of the state legislature and—for equality’s sake—has not a single woman sitting on the committee.
The entirety of my testimony as submitted to the committee:
"Good morning. I’d like to thank the members of the task force for holding this hearing today, and listening to the citizens of western New York on the crucially important topic of state legislative and Congressional redistricting.
This process of creating new districts for our state legislators and Congressional representatives is as necessary as it is difficult. Every ten years, we are faced with the task of revaluating our populations, determining who currently lives where in New York, and deciding how all our people should be represented—which is their right.
My name is Bryan Ball, and I am from the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and queer) community, and will speak for our interests. I am here today to focus on one of many crucial elements that should be a part of any fair redistricting process: the protection of minority populations. While we make sure that, in drawing districts—which should be done by an independent commission-- we draw districts that represent people and not the elected officials that represent them, we need to make sure ALL our minority communities are protected, and have their say in our representative government preserved.
It’s a sad reality that the populations which make up majorities have inflicted oppression on minority populations. Simply put, a much needed role of government is to be fair, to protect minorities from oppressive majorities, and treat all people equally. The African American community. The Hispanic community. The working class. Our immigrant communities. The LGBTQ community. We all need to be treated as equal citizens, and our civil rights respected by affording us our community’s due voice in government.
While LGBTQ people, for instance, live and thrive in all areas of our great state, it cannot be denied that areas exist of high LGBTQ populations, though we are not accurately counted to the fullest in the census. For instance, our two Buffalo Senate districts both contain the most highly concentrated LGBTQ populations in Western New York. We exist. We live, we work, we pay taxes—all from our proudly LGBTQ and inclusive communities.
In our great state, there are no laws which protect ALL OF US from housing and employment discrimination. Up until very recently, I was not allowed to enter into the civil government contract of marriage with my longtime partner to protect our lives and family—and even now, our federal government denies the basic civil rights and protections within its power to our families, through the segregation of marriage rights. And there are no laws which mandate LGBTQ citizens be included and considered in redistricting processes. But that of course does not mean that the redistricting process here in New York cannot do what is right, and take our voices and people into consideration as they would any minority population, person or vote.
Even apart from the issues of minority community representation is the good that can be done in simply keeping all communities and communities of interest relatively intact. One would think it common sense that splitting up areas such as historical districts and areas of high urban economic revitalization with a strong sense of community would be a poor choice. Redistricting is by its nature change, and will naturally create some separation and disconnect. But it is essential that any process, in a clear, transparent and non-partisan way, do its best to keep communities whole.
And this is especially true for urban areas. When communities such as those that thrive in East, West, South and North Buffalo are kept whole, we can continue the work we are doing to constantly improve our community and city. Block clubs, neighborhoods and businesses can—if kept together in a holistic manner—continue to be and grow. Without having to deal with being split amongst districts, haphazardly, in a manner that is often sadly only transparent to the fact it has been done to protect politicians and not the people they are elected to serve.
In closing, I’d like to leave those present with my support for a truly fair redistricting process. This can ONLY be done by an independent commission to rightfully oversee that the process is transparent, and of and for the people, not of and for our legislative bodies. And a key cornerstone to keeping that promise of fairness is absolutely the protection of minority communities. Our government exists to serve and protect our people. Throughout our own history, minorities have needed that protection—as various minorities have, during the course of the civil rights movement, gained victories and thus their civil rights. I ask that any process be mindful of the LGBTQ community, as we are among the most oppressed by current state and federal government—as we are denied basic housing, employment and marital civil rights and protections. I ask any independent and fair redistricting process be mindful of our position, our needs and our rights and keep our voice and place at the table to determine our representatives in government."