At a ‘respect’ summit with Walcott and Mulgrew, Quinn talks about progress and Obama’s contraception compromise

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Walcott with Quinn and other officials. (Dan Rosenblum)
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A day after the Department of Education voted to close or cut 23 schools, city schools chancellor Dennis Walcott asked the cameras to record his handshake with United Federation of Teachers head Michael Mulgrew.

“Michael and I sometimes may or may not see things the same way—once in a while—we do have a great deal of respect for each other,” Walcott said, standing among a few dozen teachers, principals and education officials in a high school gym off Madison Square Park.

“Yes, we do,” Mulgrew said.

“And Michael and I have known each other for years and it’s important for people to see that even if you have philosophical disagreements, policy disagreements, it’s a way to disagree and making sure we still have the respect for each other,” Walcott said.

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They were, not coincidentally, kicking off “Respect for All Week,” a city-wide effort to fight bullying and discrimination within schools. They used the opportunity to demonstrate to students their mutual respect.

Speaking after Walcott, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who came out as gay in her early 20s, told a story about the first “Respect for All” event two years ago at the William Cullen Bryant High School. 

“The LGBT group at the school was doing a skit, a Lady Gaga skit,” she said. “And I said sat in the front row. The auditorium was full. And when the young man came out on the stage, dressed as Lady Gaga … And I sat in that sat down in that seat, I said to myself, this is horrible: they’re gonna boo him. This is terrible. Oh God, this is gonna be horrible.”

But Quinn was pleasantly surprised.

“And the school roared with applause," she said. "He got a standing ovation."

On her way out, Quinn took some questions about President Obama’s newly announced compromise on requiring religiously affiliated employers to provide insurance that covers the cost of contraception. 

She seemed to agree with it.

“You don’t want to limit anybody’s ability to say what they believe, I certainly don’t want to limit any religious organziation’s ability to fully believe what they believe, and that means doing what they believe is right,” she said.

Quinn said when religious organizations are employers, there’s a balancing act.

“People have full religious freedoms, but women have full reproductive rights, and that where you work doesn’t limit your health care choices,” she said.

She said her focus was making sure working women with insurance wouldn’t have to pay more for contraception.

“The issue isn’t ‘Did the president win, did the archbishop win, did the pope win,’" she said. "That’s irrelevant. The issue is the women and are they going to be able to get their birth control."