The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) is New York state’s transgender non-discrimination bill.
GENDA successfully passed the State Assembly for the sixth straight year in April 2013. The Republican leadership of the Senate still refuses (up to and including the last day of their session, which ended 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.
GENDA seeks to add the category of “gender identity and expression” to New York’s already existing human-rights laws. Currently it is illegal in New York 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 fiancé/credit.
This bill seeks to also ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression.
Every person in New York has the right to be treated fairly and equally under the law, regardless of “who they are,” by the very laws that govern us in our state. 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 and public accommodations; denied credit from financial institutions and even being evicted from their homes simply because they are transgender.
Empire State Pride Agenda Executive Director Nathan Schaefer 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 percent 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 percent.
“Law-enforcement officials from around the state also voiced their support for enactment of GENDA as a strong tool for public safety. 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.
“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 State Senate leadership to bring the measure to the floor for an up-or-down vote.
“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 U.S. senators, Charles Schumer and 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 State Sen. Betty Little on two separate occasions regarding her support of this bill. It is my hope that 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, have a version of GENDA protecting their citizens. We, in New York, who proudly use the symbol of “Lady Liberty,” 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 that values these basic protections for all of its people. Perhaps Gov. Chris Christie 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, as enjoyed by the rest of New Yorkers.
Kelly Metzgar, who lives in Saranac Lake, is a transgender advocate and was moderator for Adirondack Pride.