ALBANY — A year after lawmakers legalized gay marriage, the next civil rights debate taking shape in Albany is discrimination against transgender New Yorkers who say they face it in employment and housing and when they're in public all because they stray from what's accepted as male and female norms in dress and behavior.
Legislation approved 81-59 by the state Assembly last week would add gender identity and expression to state laws banning discrimination based on race, religion, sex, disability and sexual orientation. It would become a hate crime, with increased penalties, to harass or attack someone for being transgender.
Bec Collins was born female and said as a transsexual male it wasn't a big deal to dress like a man in jeans and T-shirts as an animal care technician outside Albany. But using the women's locker room was uncomfortable, so Collins got a locker in the unisex bathroom. He said his employers have been accommodating, though it's new to them. He felt a sense of relief since figuring out in his 30s exactly who and what he is.
"I'm more outgoing and happier," he said.
The Democrat-controlled Assembly has passed the Gender Expression and Non-Discrimination Act, or GENDA, five times. In the Senate, where four Republicans voted last June to help Democrats and Gov. Andrew Cuomo legalize gay marriage, the bill has been sent to the Rules Committee along with 310 other Democrat-sponsored bills that appear to be shelved as the 2012 legislative session winds down.
"I believe the votes are there. The challenge is getting a vote in the Senate. Folks are going to support expanded equal rights if they're forced to be on the record," said Sen. Daniel Squadron, a Manhattan Democrat and chief Senate sponsor. "It seems to be a core civil rights issue."