June is traditionally LGBT Pride month, whereby we celebrate the gift of diversity among us all. While there is much to celebrate and be thankful for, much work still needs to be done to ensure all New Yorkers live in peace, freedom, equality and justice. We gratefully acknowledge that the New York Legislature approved lesbian and gay marriage two years ago and that the federal government finally saw the wisdom of repealing the Defense of Marriage Act; however, the strides made on behalf of the lesbian, gay and bisexual communities failed to include provisions on behalf of the transgendered community - the "T" in LGBT.
The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act is New York state's transgender non-discrimination bill. GENDA successfully passed the state Assembly for the sixth straight year in April of this year. The Republican leadership of the state Senate still refuses (up to and including the last day of their session, which ended just recently) to bring the bill up for a vote, especially when there is a majority of support for its passage from both sides of the political aisle. The GENDA bill seeks to add the category of "gender identity and expression" to New York state's already existing human rights laws. Currently it is illegal (in New York state) to discriminate on the basis of age, race, creed, national origin, sexual orientation, sex and other categories in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodations, education and fiance/credit. This bill seeks to extend current law banning discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression. It also seeks to add gender identity and expression to these same categories already included in New York's hate crimes law.
Every person in New York has the right to be treated fairly and equally under the law, regardless of "who they are." The basic Human Rights Law in New York needs to include prohibitions of discrimination for people who are daily losing their jobs; being refused services including medical, mental health, meals in restaurants or public accommodations or denial of credit from financial institutions; and even being evicted from their homes simply because they are transgender.
Nathan Schaefer, executive director, Empire State Pride Agenda, noted in his recent statement on this issue, "Virtually every major New York newspaper, including the New York Times, called for the Senate to pass the bill, which this year passed the Assembly for the sixth time with a nearly two-to-one bipartisan majority. In addition, 78% of New Yorkers polled support ending discrimination against transgender people. A sixth city, Syracuse, passed their GENDA law; a ninth county, Albany County, passed theirs, bringing the percentage of New Yorkers living in a jurisdiction that protects all of their citizens equally to 60.25%. Law enforcement officials from around the state also voiced their support for enactment of GENDA as a strong tool for public safety, including this year for the first time (police) Commissioner Ray Kelly of New York City. This broad and deep statewide coalition of law enforcement, labor, faith, civil rights, LGBT, progressive and women's organizations stood shoulder-to-shoulder and called for GENDA. The community was united behind language that would offer strong protections, particularly in the areas of housing and employment.
"We believe we had a bi-partisan majority of the Senate to pass the legislation and send it to the governor for his signature. We were defeated by the adamant refusal of the (New York state) Senate leadership to bring the measure to the floor for an up-or-down vote.
"The Empire State Pride Agenda, (advocates) on behalf of tens of thousands of transgender people and their families and others who wish to live their lives without fear or discrimination because of who they are."
I thankfully acknowledge the support of our two United States senators, Mr. Charles Schumer and Mrs. Kristen Gillibrand. Their letter of support on behalf of GENDA to the leadership of New York's state Senate speaks of their courage, foresight, sensitivity and determination on this issue. I have personally spoken with our state senator, Betty Little, on two separate occasions (once last year and again this year at the Equity and Justice Day held in Albany) regarding her support of this bill. It is my hope Sen. Little will support and fight for the rights of ALL lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in her district.
Seventeen other states plus the District of Columbia currently have a version of GENDA protecting their citizens. New York still, sadly, does not. We in New York, who proudly use the symbol of "Lady Liberty" standing proudly and unwavering in New York Harbor, should be in the forefront on life, liberty, freedom and equal justice for all people in this state. If our Senate leadership is not willing to extend these rights and protections, perhaps "we the people" should offer a bill turning our beloved "Lady Liberty" over to a state who values these basic protections for ALL of its people. Perhaps Gov. Chris Christie of the great state of New Jersey, a state that includes these protections, would be interested!
Just to be clear, LGBT people are not looking for "more" or any "special" rights; we are only looking for EQUAL rights under the law currently enjoyed by the rest of New Yorkers.
Kelly Metzgar is a transgender rights advocate who lives in Saranac Lake.