Upon his election this week as speaker of the New York City council, not only did Corey Johnson become the city’s second most powerful elected official, but he also became part of the small but rapidly growing group of out LGBT politicians filling seats within our local governments.
Johnson, 35, is also part of another growing group: out HIV-positive elected officials. He now joins the ranks of trailblazing poz politicians such as John Duran and John D'Amico (both former mayors and city council members of West Hollywood, Calif.); and Richard Trojanski, Ohio’s first out gay city council president who came out as HIV-positive on World AIDS Day this past December after eight years in office.
Johnson’s new position (which is second only to NYC’s mayor) makes him one of the most powerful elected LGBT officials in the country, as well as one of the highest-ranking HIV-positive officials. And it’s a position he seems eager to utilize in promoting and protecting equal rights for all.
“We believe in New York, where no one is targeted simply because of who they are — Muslim New Yorkers, immigrants, the undocumented, African-Americans, Jewish New Yorkers, transgender New Yorkers,” said Johnson in his post-election speech (as reported in Washington Blade). “We must reject hate in all its forms and stand united against bigotry and racism.”
Johnson, who was born and raised in Massachusetts, first gained attention in 2000 when the New York Times published a story about him being out and playing on his high school’s football team. Johnson then worked as former New York City public advocate Mark Green’s political director during Green’s 2006 state attorney general campaign. He is also a former GLAAD staffer and has spoken publicly about his struggles with alcohol and drugs. Since 2014, Johnson has represented the council’s 3rd District (including Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea, and West Village neighborhoods).
Johnson is expected to pose a challenge to current NYC mayor Bill de Blasio, stating he “won’t hesitate” to push through bills over the mayor’s veto, reports the New York Daily News. A veto over the mayor never happened under his predecessor, Melissa Mark-Viverito, who left the job because of term limits.
Of the many civil rights and social justice issues Johnson aims to focus on while in office, LGBT youth experiencing homelessness is one of them. Having moved to NYC at the age of 19 — with only two bags of belongings and no idea where he was going to live — Johnson knows firsthand the challenges of this demographic, though he acknowledges his white male privilege.
“I want New York to be a place where you can still be 19 years old and come here and still survive. And it’s becoming more and more difficult if you don’t come from a wealthy family to be able to do that,” said Johnson. “It should be a place where you can come as a young person and stay here and go to school and get a good job.”