Chirlane McCray, New York’s activist first lady

Black, lesbian, formerly homeless — Chirlane McCray will be one of the most unusual first ladies in our nation’s history. Photo: Chirlane McCray/ AP

WASHINGTON, November 12, 2013 — With Bill de Blasio soon to be inaugurated as New York’s first Democratic mayor in more than 20 years, it is time to acknowledge a favorite in the de Blasio camp — de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray.

McCray is poised to become one of the nation’s most unusual first ladies. She grew up the eldest of three sisters in Longmeadow, Mass., one of two black families living on the streets. Their white neighbors circulate petitions demanding that the McCray’s family leave town. Those experiences helped shape McCray’s political ideology; she became a radical and feminist at Wellesley College, and then shortly after, in 1979, identified as a lesbian for an Essence Magazine article. Later, McCray said that she came out as a lesbian to fight the assumption that there existed no gay blacks living in America. 

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Prior to meeting de Blasio, McCray had several long-term relationships with other women. Today she and de Blasio are fully within the boundaries of a traditional marriage, with two children, Dante and Chiara.

McCray’s social advocacy helped expand her political portfolio. She was selected to serve as a speech writer for the Dinkins’ administration, where she would soon met her future husband, Bill de Blasio. She had a prominent role in the de Blasio campaign, creating, drafting and writing speeches through social media, where she has more than 4,000 Twitter and Facebook followers. She’s an advocate for women, African-Americans, and the gay and lesbian community, which proved helpful in a city wide campaign.

McCray will be the second African-American women to hold the title, “First lady of New York City.” She will also be the nation’s first black woman involved in a inter-racial marriage to a politician at the level of the mayor of New York, which creates many conversations on race, diversity, class and gender for this new administration.

Whether the new first lady will have her own office space in City Hall has not been decided, but this brings up interesting possibilities for a new social platform as a voice for the forgotten voices of New York City, focusing on women, children in need, and racial and gender discrimination. Her role as first lady will have impact well beyond New York City.

Before entering the political realm, McCray spent more than a decade working as an editor and writer. Her lesbian past has helped promote de Blasio’s strong outspoken support of gay rights. Their interracial marriage makes them deeply conscious of a time not so long ago when blacks and whites weren’t allowed to marry as a result of anti-miscegination laws.

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Clearly, in politics as in life, reality is more interesting than fiction, and the de Blasio’s reality will have an impact on the tide of American politics.

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