The New York State Senate closed its session last week without taking up the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which would have added protections for transgender and gender non-conforming New Yorkers in the area of employment, housing, public accommodations, and hate crimes. The Assembly passed GENDA earlier this year, as it has done for six consecutive years, and the Governor promised to sign it if it was passed. HRC was proud to be part of the Trans Rights Coalition fighting for GENDA in New York, alongside the Empire State Pride Agenda, Housing Works, and the NYACLU. Thank you to all of the advocates who lent their voices to this effort.
The following is written by Melissa Sklarz, President of Stonewall Democrats in New York City who lobbied with HRC in Albany.
I went to Albany on Wednesday to try to add my voice to the final session of the New York State Senate in discussing the Gender Expression Non Discrimination Act (GENDA). I have done this before as I was one of the creators of the bill in 2002.
When gays and lesbians got legal protection in 2002, a strong effort was made to change the language of the bill and add a clause and definition for Gender Identity and Gender Expression. But it failed, and we made a bill to go it alone. This is our 11th campaign.
But this year was different. It was an off year, without state elections; we had support throughout the state, we had polling, funding, experienced lobbyists, a media campaign, testimony from families with trans people, police and union support, and funding and boots on the ground from HRC.
I was so excited to get started that I rushed to the Senate to join HRC before changing out of my travel clothes. I met with Kate Oakley, an HRC political staffer who grew up in the Albany area. We bonded immediately and off we went to look for votes.
Being the President of Stonewall Democrats of New York City and a transgender political operative meant I knew all the Democrats and very few Republicans. But all the power for GENDA lay with the GOP. We hooked up with the other GENDA people, both insiders and activists.
We did our job, this is, we drove legislators crazy. We thanked our friends and grabbed anyone connected to the GOP conference. We reminded them over and over the narrative of community and added personal perspective to the struggle. As Kate reminded me, all we needed was a glimmer, and it always kept us going.
We worked the Senate on Wednesday for 8 hours and then 14 hours on Thursday. We were in the gallery until after midnight. We did everything two people could do to advance the cause of equality and justice.
In the end, it did not work. The GOP doesn't see the need for a new bill and the Democrats are splintered. Perhaps you know it is a tough time to be a Democratic Senator from New York State? Nevertheless, I could not sleep at night knowing that I could have done more for our cause. I think it is basic and essential and that is the message that I bring to elected officials, to other trans people, and all of our allies.
Trans people need more of everything. We need more faces, more money, and more friends. We need our successes to join the battle, here and elsewhere, and we need our strivers to find the courage, show up, and tell people what it is like to change your gender in public.
I am not a fortune teller and it is too soon to think of next year. Kate worked great to keep me in the moment, but I have an idea.
Pictured: New York State Senator Brad Hoylman, Melissa Sklarz and HRC's Kate Oakley.