HRC Blog

Guest Post: GENDA Passes New York Assembly

The following guest post is by Melissa Sklarz, Director of the New York Trans Rights Organization (NYTRO)

For the third year in a row, the Gender Expression Non Discrimination Act (GENDA) has passed the New York State Assembly with a large bipartisan vote of 78-53.  Now the bill moves forward into the State Senate.

The bill was born in December 2002, as gays and lesbians in New York were celebrating the addition of sexual orientation to the state administrative code in the Sexual Orientation Non Discrimination Act (SONDA), signed into law by then Governor Pataki, a Republican.  For the second half of 2002, a large transgender effort was made to add language that would add gender identity and gender expression to the bill, but the effort failed.  Transgender people were reminded that the SONDA bill was 15 years in the making and it was too late to change the language.  Gay people were reminded that trans identity was always part of the gay community until more conservative forces withdrew trans protective language in anti trans backlash in the 1970s.  In 2002, the Democrats in the Senate, led by the only gay HIV positive Senator, Tom Duane, and Minority Leader David Paterson, tried to add trans inclusive language but that effort was ignored by the GOP majority.

But now, as LGBT people in New York continue to lobby as a united entity, trans civil rights, anti bullying protection for youth and marriage equality form a three headed agenda that dominates the conversation of our communities in Albany.

In 2010, Dignity for All Students Act (DASA), the anti bullying bill, passed and was signed into law, and in 2011, the state seems poised to add marriage equality to the law and send a message around the world that a large state is willing to create rights for all in this area.

But it is proving difficult to garnish the appropriate forces to move the trans civil rights agenda forward.  In fact, among the younger activists, fighting for trans rights in the courts, by changing birth certificate guidelines, or trans health care, seems to be the wave of the future.  After all, three or four well prepared attorneys can argue cases if there is one or two defendants willing to stand up, rather than trying to educate an entire single gendered legislature from every community of the state.

And, of course, Governor Cuomo, a Democrat, passed an executive ruling that protects all trans employees in New York State, an idea started by Governor Paterson.

And so transgender people look to the State Senate and hope for the best in the GENDA bill.  The head count stands at 32 of 62 in favor and 8 undecided or undeclared.  But the “no” votes control the floor and have shown little initiative in moving the bill.

And the question remains: Can a standalone transgender civil rights bill pass in New York?  And if so, how long can it take?  It took 9 years to first pass in the Assembly and now more progressive elected officials are needed to move forward.  The enemies of trans rights in New York and elsewhere have created the concept of a Bathroom Bill, as if there is a history of criminals using trans rights for easy access to attack women and children in private spaces, when in fact, there is no record of any attacks.

But the talking points remain.

My job, and our job, is to create a lobby force of more trans faces and voices, to remind all, that public safety, education, vocational fairness, and access to healthcare should be the right s of all New Yorkers, regardless of gender identity or gender expression.

Photo of Melissa Sklarz

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