Dispatches from the fight against homelessness and AIDS
Posted by Sunny Bjerk , May 01, 2013
Another Equality and Justice Day has come and gone, and one key takeaway remains: the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act passed the New York State Assembly for the sixth time, showing that equality and justice truly did prevail over fear and a litany of “what if” scenarios.
And believe me, during the debate over GENDA, there were plenty of fantastical scenarios thrown around by a few of the state’s Assembly Members. The debate began shortly after 2:30pm, with Assembly Member Jane Corwin telling Assembly Member and GENDA bill sponsor Dick Gottfried she didn’t understand the difference between gender identity and gender expression, asking, “Can a man, dressed as a man, say he feels like a woman and be protected by this legislation?” She also asked for clarification if GENDA would protect people based on their sexual orientation, to which AM Gottfried said no. “GENDA is a bill that would protect people, who, at the core of their being are different than their chromosomes. This bill is not about sexual orientation.”
Admirably, AM Gottfried remained cool under such mind-boggling questions, though many of our fearless Housing Works clients would have liked to answer AM Corwin’s question from the balcony from where they were watching the debate. To be fair, however, AM Corwin’s main concern appeared to be the rise in false lawsuits if GENDA passed, asking AM Gottfried what would prevent a person from claiming housing discrimination based on their gender identity if they were denied an apartment. AM Gottfried replied that, for a number of reasons, GENDA would not result in a rise of lawsuits claiming discrimination but in fact, ensure that transgender New Yorkers would be given a fair chance to secure affordable housing across the state.
The second AM to raise (farcical) questions about GENDA and its protections was AM Al Graf. In particular, AM Graf was fixated on what would happen if a 14 year-old boy decided to walk into a high school girls’ locker room and assault a girl—would he be protected by GENDA? AM Gottfried patiently replied that if a 14 year-old boy decided to do something as heinous and unthinkable as assault another minor in a bathroom, that no, he would not be protected by GENDA. “If you read the legislation closely, you will see that it will not protect assaults in the bathroom.” AM Gottfried went on to add, “No school officials in any of the cities and counties that have local gender expression non-discrimination laws have contacted me about any problems that they have had with this law.”
The third AM to raise doubts about GENDA was AM Joseph Saladino. He expressed frustration that according to the bill’s language, people didn’t have to “demonstrate a commitment to living as the other gender” or being transgender to be protected by law, implying that people would take advantage of the legislation willy-nilly by claiming to be transgender one day and living their live as a cis-gendered person the next.
But AM Gottfried aptly put this far-fetched fear to rest by noting that New York doesn’t require that other protected classes don’t require a “commitment,” such as race, religion, or sexual orientation, in order for folks to be protected from discrimination by the state. What’s more, AM Gottfried also responded to AM Saladino’s question as to why GENDA didn’t just protect transgender people who have had transitional surgery by answering that not all transgender people can afford transitional surgery, and that surgery is not the ultimate deciding factor or proof that a person is, in fact, transgender or living as the gender opposite than their birth sex.
By this point in the afternoon, the debate over GENDA had reached well beyond an hour and a half, and advocates who had been watching the proceedings began to pack up in order to catch the buses heading back to New York City.
I myself was packing up my notebook when Assembly Member Deborah Glick stood up and spoke in strong favor of the bill. “If people could hear your questions about lumberjacks in dresses and tutus and these other scenarios, they would want to know: What sort of television shows have you been watching?” As many Assembly Members broke in to laugher, AM Glick rightly maneuvered the conversation back to what the bill is truly about. “GENDA is about making sure people can get jobs, have fair access to housing, and are able to live peacefully.”
By 4:30pm, although the buses were en route back to NYC, I continued to follow the GENDA proceedings on Twitter. Amy Spitalnick, GENDA bill sponsor Senator Daniel Squadron’s Communications Director, aptly tweeted on her personal account (@amyspitalnick):
“Lack of understanding of #LGBT and transgender issues by Republican AMs is disturbing. #GENDA #ejday.”
Indeed. I couldn’t help but think that if many of the Assembly Members took the time to meet with one of the hundreds of transgender individuals all around the Capitol Building that day, they could have had so many of their questions and concerns answered by a transgender advocate who continues to face barriers without the protections that would be offered by GENDA.
Yet despite the continued presence of misinformation about GENDA and transgender individuals, I was elated to see that by 4:50pm, GENDA passed the NY Assembly 84-46. As we drove out of Albany in increasingly empowered LGBT herds, I fired off this tweet from @housingworks:
“#GENDA passes #nyassembly for 6th time;
NYSenate is next! Thank you to all for fighting the good fight w us. DanielSquadron
DickGottfried nyclu @prideagenda.”
-Sunny Bjerk, Housing Works Communications Manager
The New York Senate is next! Make sure you sign our petition asking them to prioritize the rights of transgender New Yorkers all across the state. Sign on at passgendanow.org!blog comments powered by Disqus
Help us advocate for the rights of all people living with HIV/AIDS