Yesterday, the New York State Senate passed the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA).
The bill empowers the New York Commissioner of Education to establish policies and prohibiting harassment and discrimination against students based on a number of categories, including sexual orientation and gender identity.
The bill was previously passed by the Assembly, and Governor Paterson has been supportive of it.
It's a wonderful step forward. Congratulations to Sponsor Tom Duane and all the others that worked hard on this.
But there's something really surprising about this.
Why did this bill pass so overwhelmingly, in a Senate that rejected marriage equality a few months ago, and rejected bringing the Gender Non-Discrimination Act to the floor a few weeks ago?
As noted by the Gay City News:
DASA represents the first time that the Senate has approved any legislation making reference to gender identity. Yet, just two weeks after the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, in a 12-11 nearly party line split... the inclusion of gender identity in the legislation approved this evening elicited no comment at all during the floor debate.
So the bill not only passes overwhelmingly in a legislative body condemned by Senator Tom Duane a few week ago as "a cesspool of homophobia and transphobia," but no one says a word about sexual orientation or gender identity on the Senate floor?
I'm not complaining -- I'm marvelling.
I'm glad there was no homophobic or transphobic eruptions on the Senate floor.
But I'm also wondering why, and trying to understand what worked for DASA that didn't work for GENDA.
Is there something to be learned here about how to pass LGBT legislation?
I think so, though I'm not at all sure what those lessons may be. However, I did note a couple of interesting things about this bill.
First, while it does include "gender identity and expression," it's listed way far down in a definition of "gender." It doesn't show up in the part that lists the protected categories. "Gender identity" doesn't even show up in the bill summary. That might have been a factor. People get confused by gender identity, and as happened in the committee hearing two weeks ago on GENDA, they don't know how to explain it. When it's the only thing in the bill, and it's front and center, it makes a big rattling sound that frightens people.
Second, the bill addresses many areas of discrimination, including race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or sex. I saw at Senator Duane's press conference today, broadcast on the web, that he had a wide range of different types of people supporting the bill. That's got to be helpful. The bill helps lots of different kinds of people, and doesn't try to single out one tiny group at a time that has a small constituency. The supporters also don't have to spend as much time or effort explaining gender identity, because there are so many other points to talk about in there.
Third, the fact that there were no comments about it on the floor of the Senate, and it was supported by so many Republicans, suggests that there was some sort of an order from the top and that a deal was made. You know, you give us this, and we'll give you that. That's not a bad thing. That's what legislative enactments are all about. It's like the famous quote attributed to Otto von Bismarck: "Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made." The reason they are like sausages is that laws are made of pieces that are not appealing to look at, but when ground up and put into a package, they are edible and even delicious. We need to make deals. Obviously, we didn't make a deal on GENDA, and it bombed. Where is Monty Hall when we need him?
What do you think happened to let DASA pass by such a wide margin? What lessons do you think we can we learn from this about future legislation?