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Kiara St. James, GENDA Warrior

Kiara St. James, GENDA Warrior

Kiara St. James, GENDA Warrior. (photo by Scott Korn)

If the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) passes this year, it will be in no small part to Kiara St. James.

St. James, a native of Beaumont, TX has been one of the key organizers with Housing Works to pass GENDA, which has been approved by the NYS Assembly five times, but never passing the Senate. St. James has been committed to seeing the bill pass, which will prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression, including perceived gender identity.

“This legislation is going to secure rights of all New Yorkers, said St. James. “Not just trans folks but any body who does not fall into gender norms can be denied housing, employment, access to services, etc.”

St. James was not always an activist. She spent several years mourning the suicide of her boyfriend whom she’d moved to NYC with from the South in the mid 1990s. Both were raised in Christian fundamentalist families where being gay was not accepted. He was unable to reconcile his sexuality with his faith and his family’s rejection.

In the wake of her loss, she also began to explore her gender identity, and began her transition in 1994. Unfortunately, she became HIV-positive in 1995 from being injected with trans-related hormones from she received on the underground market. Without access to transgender specific medical care coverage, many low-income transgender people use underground networks to access medications. Depressed, and like most transgender women of color, was unable to find a job, St. James found herself homeless and living in the shelter system. But it was meeting transgender women at Positive Health Project that helped her become her own best advocate by organizing to demand better treatment by staff in the shelter she lived in.

“Things started to change when I become more of an activist and advocate around 1996 or 97,” said St. James.

Now, she’s working with Housing Works to pass GENDA, recruiting more Black and Latino/a trans people to be involved. She, along with a group of about a dozen other trans advocates, have been making the trip up to Albany on a weekly basis this entire legislative session to meet with legislators on both sides of the aisle to hopefully get this legislation passed soon.

“GENDA is going to help to even the playing field so we have recourse of law like everyone else, says St. James. We know its not going to eradicate bigotry, but bigotry will end only when transgender folks stand up and start fighting the system.”

You can help Kiara pass GENDA by signing this petition, which will go directly to your New York State Senator.

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