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GENDA Advocacy Ramps Up in Albany

Posted by , March 04, 2010 at 2:28am

GENDA Advocacy Ramps Up in Albany

Housing Works crew lobbies for GENDA’s passage

Activists are ramping up pressure on the State Senate to pass the Gender Expression Nondiscrimination Act, which has been stalled in the Senate since 2002. The bill, which prohibits discrimination on gender expression, just passed through the Assembly for the third year in a row Tuesday. An upstart group, Queer Rising, is organizing weekly lobby days and protests every Tuesday to pressure the Senate to get it passed. Within 24 Hours several people from Housing Works Transcend program took the trip to Albany going office to office lobbying senators in support of their rights. The next GENDA activism day will be Tuesday, March 9.

Queer Rising member Alicia Ortiz, who was one of the founders of the Albany branch of Queer Rising, said the group is committed to direct action, and said GENDA’s mission to prevent discrimination is essential to the LGBT community.

“We just keep getting defeated as an LGBT community. You don’t have to wait for an organization. You can start a demonstration as a community,” Ortiz said. Ortiz, who identifies as gay and has background as a labor organizer, has said GENDA is an issue that unites labor and queer activism.

“We’re all impacted by work laws,” she said. “ Discrimination based on gender should be illegal.” Ortiz noted that GENDA doesn’t just impact transgender people, but anyone who doesn’t conform to traditional gender norms. “GENDA impacts a lesbian or a gay man who’s been discriminated against because they were too masculine or too feminine. But it impacts transgender people ten-fold.”

Members of Transcend, Housing Works transgender program, lobbied in Albany Tuesday in support of GENDA.The trip was last-minute, and within 24-hours 13 people committed to talkingthe trip up to Albany. They spent the day Tuesday going office to office lobbying senators in support of their rights.

“The amount of interest shows how important this issue was to the group, that they want to make change to protect themselves,” said Housing Works Transgender Services Coordinator Bali White.

Will GENDA pass this year?

And particularly with the latest Albany turmoil, GENDA won’t get passed unless there’s significant grassroots pressure. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Tom Duane, who is exploring options of the best way to bring GENDA to a vote. There is the possibility of a petition to bring GENDA to the floor, or to bring the bill to a vote after all budget items have passed in May.

“The senator’s been lobbying every day on this,” said Mark Furnish, Sen. Duane’s legislative counsel. “We need 32 votes, and I believe we’re really, really close.”

But some advocates are skeptical.

“There’s no political will,” said Melissa Sklarz, president of the Transgender Rights Organization. “There’s no progressive leadership in New York other than David Paterson who is in serious trouble.”

According to Housing Works’ count, the Senate doesn’t yet have enough definite “yes” votes to pass GENDA. They have only 26 definite yes votes, 16 maybes and 19 nos. These are based on Housing Works phone calls and meetings with senators. Housing Works is advocating a floor vote, even if the votes aren’t lined up.

“We need to bring GENDA to a floor vote this session. Then we know who you have to go after come election time,” said Housing Works Vice President for New York Advocacy and Public Policy terri smith-caronia.

The first Queer Rising Albany GENDA Days of Action will be this Tuesday, March 9, with lobbying from 12pm to 4pm, and rallies immediately after. Housing Works will be participating in these events, and members of Housing Works transgender program went up to Albany to lobby this week. To participate in Queer Rising’s lobbying and rallies around GENDA, email QueerRising2@gmail.com

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