The LGBTQ community and allies swarmed to the defense of out transgender Bronx City Council candidate Elisa Crespo on Nov. 29 after the New York Post sparked controversy with an article that was widely blasted for sensationalizing her past experience engaging in sex work.
In a piece about her run for City Council’s District 15, the newspaper turned to derogatory language to describe Crespo — who could become the first out trans city lawmaker — as an “ex-prostitute” who “was busted in a police sting” more than a decade ago.
The story’s framing suggested that such details were revealing, but to the contrary, Crespo has long acknowledged her past as a key piece of her life journey leading up to her bid for City Council, and she spoke candidly about her past in an interview with Gay City News earlier this year.
The Post article prompted a wave of responses on social media, where countless individuals stepped up to defend Crespo — including other out trans political figures in the city as well as LGBTQ elected officials and straight allies — and slam the tabloid.
The story generated outrage at a time when there has been an increased focus on a campaign to repeal a loitering law known as a ban on “walking while trans” due to the way in which trans women of color are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement officers for bogus sex work-related charges. A more sweeping movement to decriminalize sex work has given way to a concerted focus on pressing the State Legislature to repeal that loitering law.
That movement coincides with a fresh wave of LGBTQ candidates running for office up and down ballots nationwide, from City Council to State Senate and other levels of government.
“It is clear that someone is trying to smear my campaign and make it about me when the focus should really be about the very real issues that people in my district face every day,” Crespo told Gay City News in a written statement on Nov. 30. “We should be talking about barriers to employment for historically marginalized communities, we should be talking about housing as a human right, we should be talking about jobs and justice. If anyone thought that this would deter me, they obviously haven’t paid attention to my campaign. I’m proud of the work we’ve been able to accomplish with very little institutional support.”
Out gay Congressman-elect Ritchie Torres was among those who stood up for Crespo, who hopes to succeed him in District 15 when he leaves the City Council and heads to Capitol Hill in Washington in January. A special election to fill his City Council seat is anticipated early next year.
“Across the country, LGBTQ candidates have come under siege for being who we are,” Torres, who is the first out LGBTQ person elected to office in the Bronx, said in a tweet. “I speak from first-hand experience: the voters of the Bronx won’t be swayed by appeals to bigotry. Both the @nypost and the scoundrels behind the hatchet piece should be ashamed of themselves. Word of advice: transphobia is not only bad morals. It’s bad politics.”
Some other out LGBTQ members of the City Council, including Carlos Menchaca of Brooklyn and Daniel Dromm of Queens, joined in to support Crespo on Twitter, along with allies such as former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Assemblymember Michael Blake of the Bronx.
The story also yielded reactions from Emilia Decaudin, an out trans district leader in Queens, and Alejandra Caraballo, an out trans attorney who was running for the City Council in Brooklyn’s District 35 before bowing out of the race on November 30.
“Not sure I expected anything better from the New York Post,” Decaudin wrote on Twitter. “Sex work is work, and many BIPOC TGNC folks do sex work because they can’t find work elsewhere, not because of some moral failing. I’m proud to support Elisa and inspired by how she is handling this.”
In a tweet of her own on Nov. 29, Caraballo wrote, “Today’s NY Post headline about Elisa Crespo is disgusting and vile. It’s a smear piece only befitting a gutter. @elisacresponyc is one of the fiercest advocates I know and will make a fantastic CM. We support our trans women of color and work to uplift them. Shame on the post.”
The wave of support also came with fresh endorsements. Out gay Manhattan State Senator Brad Hoylman backed behind Crespo’s candidacy as he came to her defense.
“Elisa is an outstanding leader and I wholeheartedly endorse her for Council,” Hoylman said in a tweet. “I wish I was surprised to see transphobia and anti-sex work stigma weaponized in the papers, but I’m not. We need Elisa in office to fight for her community, and we need a more inclusive press corps.”
Out non-binary Manhattan City Council Candidate Marti Gould Cummings chimed in, as well, as they voiced support for Crespo’s candidacy and blasted the Post.
“I proudly support @elisacresponyc for NYC Council,” Cummings said in a tweet. “She is an incredible leader who continues to fight for the people of her district and for our city. It is shameful that a newspaper would try to use sex work as a way to discredit her. Sex work is work.”
Among others, out trans ACLU attorney Chase Strangio — a prominent figure who has played a leading role in pivotal court cases regarding LGBTQ rights — spoke up in a brief tweet, saying, “So much love for @elisacresponyc. Learn more and donate.”
Crespo told Gay City News that she is “incredibly humbled by the outpouring of support” she has received in the aftermath of the Post story.
“While this was a very triggering and overwhelming moment for me, I’m battle-tested and have gone through far more difficult things in life,” Crespo said. “If anything, this has given me more fuel to fight for my community. Moreover, it shows exactly why my voice is needed in the Council.”
Crespo additionally issued a reminder to journalists and media outlets that they must be responsible for the framing of their stories. She said it was “shameful that the New York Post would choose a sensationalized derogatory headline that is far removed from the sentients of the actual article simply for clickbait.”
Crespo, who would also be the first out LGBTQ woman elected to office in the borough, made it clear in her interview with Gay City News earlier this year that she does not want to be seen as running because she is trans.
“I just so happen to be a transgender person who is running,” Crespo said at the time. “I’m more than a trans woman: I’m a woman of color, I’m a working class person, and I’ve been through the public school system and public housing.”
During that interview earlier this year, Crespo was not afraid to discuss her life experience, saying she “had a really tough, challenging, testing adolescence, and sex working landed me in trouble with the law.”
“That changed my way of thinking, my politics, and the course of my life in general,” she said. “Because I realized I had to do something and I changed my life for the better.”
Still, Crespo acknowledged the challenges associated with running for city office as a candidate who could potentially break new barriers.
“It’s part of my responsibility to take up spaces and try to fulfill that void in a borough that is known as a boys’ club and one that is not particularly open-minded as other boroughs may be,” Crespo said earlier this year. “It’s important we have a queer candidate in the Bronx to send a message that Bronx is not a homophobic, transphobic borough as people like to paint it out to be.”
This article first appeared on our sister publication Gay City News.