This is part of a series of posts on transgender nondiscrimination efforts in New York. In 2013, the fate of trans* discrimination protections is hanging in the balance in the Albany Capitol.
The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act would extend protections against discrimination to trans* and gender-nonconforming people in New York state. Just about everyone agrees, even on both sides of the aisle in the legislature, that it's wrong that trans* people can be fired, kicked out of their homes, denied medical care, and more just for who they are.
GENDA is not a controversial bill. A Global Strategy Group poll of 600 New York voters found 78 percent supported its passage (margin of error +/- 4 percent). Support was strong across the state - upstate was 74 percent, New York City was 79 percent, downstate suburbs were at 82 percent - and even Republicans and independents supported the bill at 67 percent and 78 percent, respectively.
However, we have seen in other states (most recently Maryland) and here in New York that some lawmakers will not vote for basic transgender civil-rights bills, and they are univocal in their (terribly misinformed) reasoning. Bathrooms. It's all about bathrooms.
A small number of extremely conservative, fear-mongering groups have caught hold of legislators' ears, blatantly mischaracterizing the bill as granting men (potentially ill-intentioned men at that) license to access women's bathrooms and locker rooms, and vice versa. Whether this position indicates willful or incidental ignorance of what the phrase "gender identity expression" actually means is uncertain. What is certain is that this is a straw-man argument, made with intent of sidelining the issue of civil equality, vilifying trans people, and creating controversy where there is none.
Sixteen states, Washington, D.C., and many of New York state's largest cities (New York City, Albany, Buffalo, Rochester ...) have passed anti-discrimination laws for gender identity expression. Minnesota passed its version all the way back in 1993. There has yet to be a single incident like the one conservative groups are implanting in the minds of legislators. Would police chiefs from Rochester and Albany be speaking in support of trans* rights, along with scores of women's and anti-violence organizations, if there was any truth to these arguments?
This argument is not about bathrooms, personal safety, or children. It's about bigotry: the institutionalized bigotry that convinces people that the freedom and equality of a marginalized group will cost them a piece of their own. We've seen it over and over. (It just happened in Maryland, as Del Tashlin recently wrote.) We've even seen these same manifestations. Back in the Jim Crow era, it was people of color whose presence posed a threat in public bathrooms. During the movement for the Equal Rights Amendment the opposition was rooted in a false fear that the amendment would require genderless bathrooms. Under "Don't Ask Don't Tell," the opposition to repeal was largely rooted in fears of sharing locker rooms with gays and lesbians.
Now it's us.
This scare tactic is used repeatedly. It has been proven falsely prejudiced over and over, and those who promote it will be seen in the eyes of history as equally ignorant and hateful as all the people we see holding pro-segregation signs in those old black-and-white photos.
There's more bad news for anti-GENDA lawmakers as well. Namely, that trans* people are already using public bathrooms, and even if the bill is shot down again, we're still going to be using public bathrooms. Because we hate the cisgender conspiracy? Because we want to make everyone uncomfortable and be all up in your face with our gender? Because we want to force our beliefs on everyone? Because we won't back down no matter what? ...
Well, no. Actually we are and will be using public bathrooms because we have to pee. That's about it. Odds are that anyone who's scared of sharing a bathroom with a trans* person has probably unknowingly done so already. It is actually trans* youth and adults who are much more likely than the average New Yorker to be scared of using public bathrooms: None of us want to be physically attacked, harassed, ridiculed, or judged.
The twist in all of this is that many trans* people had these rights before they transitioned, but once a person begins to live as their authentic and true self, those rights just disappear. Can you imagine waking up one day and being fired just because of who you are?
I can. It's time to end that.
Trans* equality in New York NOW.
New Yorkers who want to help fight for trans* rights can contact their state senators by phone or email and urge them to support GENDA. Also, join me in advocating for GENDA at Equality & Justice Day, April 30, 2013, at the Albany Capitol building.