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A gay socialist could be the first LGBTQ person of color in the New York legislature

A gay socialist could be the first LGBTQ person of color in the New York legislature
New York State Senate Candidate Jabari Brisport Photo: Megan Magray

In New York’s 25th State Senate district, Democratic Socialist Jabari Brisport is running to be the first out LGBTQ person of color in the New York State Legislature.

“Representation really matters,” he told LGBTQ Nation. “People hear gay rights and they immediately think of same-sex marriage…But queer rights are a multiethnic, multiracial battle.”

Related: LGBTQ congressional candidate Pat Hackett on her fight to make Indiana history

A third-generation Caribbean American from Prospect Heights, Brisport believes that as a queer Black man, he has a deep understanding of intersectionality.

“Queer people of color are more likely to be living in poverty,” he said, “more likely to be out of the job—and when we have a job, more likely to have poor protections in that job. Queer people of color are more likely to have less access to healthcare or have pre-existing conditions, which in the midst of a pandemic is really really scary. Representation matters because I can see how all of these things are interconnected, and not disparate problems.”

Brisport is concerned about one New York law in particular: the Loitering for the Purpose of Prostitution Law, which has colloquially become known as the “Walking While Trans Ban.”

According to Brisport—as well as the more than ninety organizations in the state that recently signed a letter in support of repealing the law—police officers use the bill to disproportionately target trans women of color.

“[Often they are] just on the corner, maybe having a cigarette or waiting for a bus, [and the police arrest them] under the assumption that they are soliciting sex work, and it is a clear attack on the LGBTQ community,” Brisport said.

Brisport, running as “the working-class candidate,” is a middle school math teacher, a job he has continued to hold throughout his campaign.

“It’s a very frustrating job,” he said, “not because of the students, who I love, but because we systematically don’t invest in our youth and their futures. I’m always digging into my own pockets to get them supplies, which is fine because I want to make sure they have the best opportunities possible, but there are so many things that are just out of my control as a teacher.”

Brisport said he has had students leave halfway through the year after being evicted. “This past week,” he added, “I had an 11-year-old boy tell me he was scared when physical school starts again that when he’s on the subway going to school, a cop will pull him to the side and accuse him of having a gun.”

Problems like these, Brisport said, are “endemic to the community.”

“It really kills me as a teacher. So I have been out protesting. I’ve been organizing rallies and fighting with the Black Lives Matter Movement, but also for housing…But it’s not enough. Our community is still just bleeding, bleeding people away and it’s a nightmare, and we’re not being heard in Albany. So I’m running for office because I know I can change that.”

Brisport is running at a time when the public is calling for big, sweeping change. In response to the current mass protest movement to defund the police, New York recently repealed its infamous 50a law, which kept officers’ disciplinary records private. This, Brisport said, is merely the first step toward meaningful change.

“Opening up police records is going to be a great start to getting the worst offenders off the force, but then beyond getting the worst offenders off the force, we just need to get more police off the streets. So defunding is a serious thing. The big thing in New York City right now is to defund the NYPD by a billion dollars and invest that in social services. In an ideal world it wouldn’t be a police officer that shows up to deal with a homeless person on the street, it wouldn’t be a police officer who is the first person to show up with somebody overdosing. It would be a social worker or medical professional.”

Demilitarizing the police is another crucial step, he added. “If you give cops toys, they will play with them.”

He also wants to see cops removed from schools, along with increased funding for counselors.

In 2016, Brisport went through what he referred to as his “second coming out,” this time not as a gay man, but as a democratic socialist.

“It was after Bernie Sanders competed for the Democratic nomination. I’d been really following his campaign, and I was thinking more about socialism, and actually, in the shower I had the thought. I realized that slavery was capitalism. It was Black people brought to the United States as capital. They had a price tag, and we were sold on markets like an object. We were capital. It made me think, that’s what capitalism is, you just slap a price tag on something that shouldn’t have a price tag.”

Putting a price on things that are human rights doesn’t make sense to Brisport. “We don’t put price tags on water or air, but we put price tags on land. I just started digging more into it and seeing the racist beginnings of it, how it didn’t make sense for where we are and how it is still playing out right now, with for-profit policing and for-profit prisons. Seeing that Martin Luther King was a Democratic Socialist did not hurt either.”

Being a Democratic Socialist, Brisport said, means understanding that “little cosmetic tweaks” are not what the country needs.

“I’m supportive of lots of aggressive reforms…ultimately, I see our way out of the housing crisis is to de-commodify housing, because housing is a human right. It should not be an investment that makes you rich. It should be something guaranteed to every single person. And I see that not just with housing, but with education, healthcare—these things are rights and can be guaranteed and should be guaranteed.”

Brisport’s ideas have earned him the endorsements of some of the country’s most well-known socialists, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. Many in fact, have called Brisport the next AOC, though he has asserted he is merely the next Jabari Brisport.

In the Democratic primary on June 23rd, Brisport will take on Jason Salmon and Tremaine S. Wright. The district has long been represented by Democrat Velmanette Montgomery, who announced her retirement this year.

Though Salmon is straight, he has earned the endorsement of some of the major LGBTQ groups over Brisport, something Brisport chalks up to Salmon simply having more friends in those groups.

“I don’t fault them for anything,” Brisport said. “I’m not a petty person and I do stand for everything they stand for, so I’m happy to work together if we win.”

Brisport, on the other hand, has outraised both of his opponents and has also brought in the largest number of donors.

According to Gay City News, Brisport has received donations from 2,879 people. Salmon has received donations from 617 people and Wright, from less than 40. He has raised $171,554 compared to Salmon’s $142,630 and Wright’s $15,425.

Brisport believes that these numbers, combined with his endorsements, make him a frontrunner.

“I’m very proud of the work we have done,” he said, “And the coalition we have built, the movement we’ve built.”

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