This is part of a series of posts on transgender nondiscrimination efforts in New York, centering around Equality & Justice Day, Tuesday, April 30, in the state Capitol. This day of advocacy has played an instrumental role in past legislative victories for the LGBT community. This year will be no less crucial, with the fate of trans* discrimination protections hanging in the balance. For information on how to register or volunteer, click here.
With the LGBT rights movement having been focused for so long on marriage equality, we're now starting to see some pushback drawing attention to other aspects of our community's struggle for justice - employment, housing, access to medical care, homelessness and abuse of youth ... unfortunately the list goes on. The LGBT fight thus far has focused on marriage equality largely because of our institutionally biased systems of power - i.e. the concerns of our white, wealthy, less threatening, male members become the primary concerns of the entire LGBT movement. (I'm not saying marriage equality shouldn't be a concern, but have you seen the homeless/abuse/suicide/depression statistics on LGBT youth? Go take a look and then earnestly tell me all the movement's eggs should go into the basket of helping the wealthy, white, gay male couple.)
Justice and empowerment for trans* people unfortunately has often been among these causes non celebre, but lately it's starting to gain more attention and vocal proponents. CNN recently reported on the obstacles trans* people face with employment. Mainstream press has shined the light on the GOP's most recent attempt to gut protections for gender identity (among other things) from the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act.
As I see it, New York state was and is a bellwether battleground for LGBT equality, as well as a representation of our community's own internal conflicts. The marriage equality victory in 2011 was huge, both nationally and even internationally. (New York state means New York City after all, and the whole world pays attention to goings-on in the Big Apple.) However, my home state and its capital, my hometown of Albany, fell prey in the past to the same institutional bias outlined above. In 2002, New York finally passed the long-kicked-around Sexual Orientation Non Discrimination Act, which extended protections to the LGB population. LGB, that is - not T.
Since we trans* folks were excluded in 2002, we've been advocating for the Gender Expression Non Discrimination Act, which would extend protections to trans* people. Since its inception, GENDA has always stalled in the state Senate. Now, I and others readily acknowledge that GENDA is not perfect (what legislation is?) -- the bill would expand existing hate-crimes laws, and there's much debate on whether hate-crime laws actually help or hurt minorities. Personally, I belong to the latter camp for reasons concisely outlined in this informative interview with Ryan Conrad of Against Equality. However, ethics are messy and compromise is often required, so while I'm against hate-crime legislation, I am actively advocating for GENDA -- this year more than ever.