Cuomo Reissues Order Protecting Transgender Employees, But Questions Linger

Posted by , January 04, 2011 at 11:50pm

Cuomo Reissues Order Protecting Transgender Employees, But Questions Linger

LGBT advocates hope Cuomo’s order will pave the way for statewide legislation protecting transgender New Yorkers.

Will New York’s new governor be a friend to the transgender community? It’s only week one, but it looks like he might be.

Cuomo re-signed a Paterson order this week protecting transgender state employees from discrimination. LGBT advocates are hailing the move as a small step toward passing the Gender Expression Nondiscrimination Act (GENDA), statewide legislation that would protect all New York residents—not just those employed by the state—from being discriminated against on the basis of gender expression or identity.

Paterson issued the order in late 2009 but slipped out of office without finalizing guidelines that determine exactly how New York plans to protect its transgender employees. The move (or lack thereof) left Cuomo in charge of establishing those rules.

“The fear with the guidelines not being released before Paterson leaves is that Cuomo takes quite a while to do things,” said Carmelita Cruz, director of New York State advocacy and organizating at Housing Works, which has been at the forefront of the fight for transgender rights, codrafting the GENDA bill in 2003. “The fear is that he’ll take another year before the guidelines are issued.”

Jonathan Lang at Empire State Pride Agenda has been in regular contact with Cuomo’s office about the guidelines, and said he believes the governor will make their establishment a priority in the coming weeks. “We don’t want to see the process dragged along for months and months.”

Others aren’t as sure. “Cuomo is a blank slate,” said Melissa Sklarz, director of the New York Trans Rights Organization. “No one knows how he feels really about gays and lesbians, much less trans people. We all assume he will do the right thing, but we have received only vague talking points, and in my dealing with the campaign, I found them to be out of the loop on trans issues, even the most basic ones.”

Despite its large transgender population, New York lags behind other states in protecting gender non-conforming individuals. Thirteen states and 109 cities and counties already guarantee transgender people protection from discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations and credit.

Housing Works provides HIV prevention and treatment services for transgender individuals, who are disproportionately impacted by the virus. In a study published in October by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, respondents reported an HIV-infection rate four times that of the general U.S. population. Nineteen percent of respondents said they had been refused treatment by a health provider because of their gender non-conforming status. The passage of GENDA would change that by making it illegal for health providers to refuse to assist transgender individuals.

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