The most contested primary race in New York City this year is in the 15th Congressional district in the Bronx, where 12 people are vying for the Democratic nomination to replace the retiring Rep. José Serrano. If submitted, City Limits will publish one op-ed supporting each candidate.
Barack Obama made history by becoming America’s first Black president, but what did he do to materially improve the lives of Black Americans? Black Americans remain among the poorest and most oppressed in society. Under Obama, Black wealth was decimated by two-thirds, Flint, Michigan’s water was poisoned and countless unarmed Black men were shot and killed by police.
As a gay Latino from an immigrant working class family, I look at Councilmember Ritchie Torres’ campaign to represent my district in Congress and ask: What will he do to materially improve the lives of LGBTQ Bronxites? Like Obama to Black America, Torres is feted by the media as an obvious choice for us simply because he is an openly gay man running against a known bigot, Councilmember Ruben Diaz Sr. But being of the LGBTQ community, does not make Torres for us.
My neighbors aren’t clamoring for identity-based representation; they’re demanding that their next congressperson fight for their basic human needs. They are calling for dignified housing, properly funded public schools, jobs that pay a living wage and an end to environmental racism and the over policing of our subways and streets.
I’m looking for a candidate with substantive policy proposals that directly address the root causes of poverty and oppression. Media pundits may love the idea of an openly gay Afro-Latino being elected to Congress, but as a constituent of NY-15, I would like to know what policies Torres will fight for to materially improve the standard of living for Black, Latino and LGBTQ people in the South Bronx. I truly don’t know what Torres stands for because his website has no platform or list of policies he would advocate for in Congress. Seriously.
Torres has undoubtedly suffered individual oppression as an openly gay Afro-Latino, but the agenda he has championed as New York City Councilman is completely at odds with the interests of working-class queer people of color in the South Bronx. He has repeatedly voted to increase police budgets and put more cops in subways. He authored a watered-down “police accountability” bill that failed to crack down on the NYPD’s profiling of all marginalized communities, including trans women of color. He voted to build new jails across New York City, including one in my backyard. He accepts campaign contributions from luxury real-estate developers and Republican billionaires. In short, Torres does not have the moral authority to represent the diverse, revolutionary community of the South Bronx. He is not for us.
I’m supporting Samelys Lopez for Congress because she correctly understands that racism and homophobia doesn’t just stem from individual prejudices, but from something more foundational: the inherently oppressive nature of capitalism as designed by its White male founders. She has the strongest LGBTQ platform of any candidate in this race because comprehensive universal programs address our community’s greatest struggles: violence, poverty, homelessness, discrimination, unemployment, and health injustice.
LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in homeless shelters; Samelys fiercely advocates for a Homes Guarantee, acknowledging the abuse and rejection suffered by LGBTQ teens.
LGBTQ youth of color, particularly Black youth, are pushed towards criminalized behaviors such as drug sales or survival sex, which increase their risk of arrest and detainment; Samelys is fighting to end the war on drugs and use revenue generated through legalized cannabis sales to fund social programs for Black communities.
Transgender sex workers are especially at risk of murder; Samelys is fighting to decriminalize sex work because the criminalization of sex work is an attack on the lives and livelihoods of working class people.
Transgender individuals disproportionately suffer from high unemployment; Samelys is fighting for a federal equivalent of New York State’s Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), which would add gender identity and expression to the state’s human rights and hate crimes laws as protected classes, and ban discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations.
Transgender women of color are more than twice as likely to live in extreme poverty than Whites; Samelys is fighting for a federal Jobs Guarantee and a Universal Basic Income of $2,000 per month.
Finally, Samelys is an unapologetic supporter of single-payer Medicare for All because it would guarantee mental health services, reproductive care, and all transition-related care such as hormone replacement therapy and gender reassignment surgery to everyone regardless of income.
As the nation’s poorest Congressional district, the South Bronx deserves more than empty rhetoric. We’re living in an age of historic income and wealth inequality, and Samelys Lopez is the only candidate in the race to discuss LGBTQ issues with class consciousness. We will not achieve justice for Black and Brown LGBTQ people simply by electing one. We must reject the corporate rainbow-capitalist agenda that ignores the plight of working and oppressed people. Samelys Lopez is exactly what people like me desperately need: someone who leads with love and empathy, who crafts policy solutions that combat white supremacy and institutionalized oppression, and most importantly, someone we can trust.
Richie Merino is a gay Latino from a working class immigrant family. He has served on the Bronx Democratic County Committee and is a member of the Bronx Progressives.