I had to speak up.
During the lengthy debate in the State Assembly last week about New York’s Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), I hadn’t planned to comment and had hoped for a fast, uneventful end to the repetitive discussion.
The need for the bill, which would protect transgender New Yorkers from discrimination (in employment, housing, and education, etc.), has long been recognized by the State Assembly as a whole, and shortly following the debate on April 30, we passed it for the sixth consecutive year.
However, after hours of listening to right-wing members of the Assembly rail about the dangers this legislation would bring to residents of our state, I couldn’t take any more ignorance and pushed my call-button to speak.
As you can see in the video (below) of my short statement, I was fed up.
New York State’s transgender residents have suffered severe discrimination, harassment, and even violence. But, listening to the general debate, you would think the only thing this bill did was allow men to go into women’s bathrooms and showers.
As is the case every time GENDA comes up for a vote (or even just discussion), some argued that this would endanger women’s safety in bathrooms, with men who are not actually transgender claiming to be women just to invade women’s private spaces.
Besides the fact that this reading of the bill crucially misunderstands its effects, we also know from experience (in locations where transgender rights are protected) that this simply doesn’t happen.
Most importantly, however, this argument completely ignores the desperate need for this bill.
As I discussed in my speech, transgender individuals still face severe discrimination on an outrageously frequent basis. Prejudice all too commonly becomes violence and many transgender individuals live their lives under constant threat. This remains true even for people who reside in legislatively protected areas (towns, cities, countries, etc.).
As citizens in an interconnected world, we can’t live in a bubble; we often cross boundaries, from one township to another, county to county, downstate N.Y. to upstate — and yet, moving from one to the other can actually diminish an individual’s rights.
This is what happened to the constituent I referenced in my debate comments.
As a resident of New York City, she went to college elsewhere in New York, where she was harassed because of her gender expression and eventually violently attacked. This original discrimination wouldn’t have been tolerated should GENDA have been a state-wide law, and a legal intervention could hopefully have preempted the assault.
GENDA is a necessary first step in the fight for true equality for all — my constituent and all other transgender individuals need and deserve the full protection of the law.
I’m proud that the New York State Assembly has taken the lead on many progressive issues, including perhaps most notably marriage equality, a bill I proudly led to passage five times before it became law.
But clearly work still needs to be done. I hope that the Assembly’s passage of GENDA will inspire similar bills across the country, and in the meantime that the New York State Senate will follow the Assembly’s example by passing GENDA at long last.
Our efforts will not be finished until all our laws recognize that these citizens deserve the same rights as everyone else, no matter where they happen to be standing.