There's only a few weeks left in New York state's legislative session, and the fate of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) is still uncertain. GENDA would extend protections to trans* and gender-nonconforming people by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression. (It would also add these categories to expand existing hate crimes law; that's the downside.)
Republican state lawmakers famously supported marriage equality in 2011 at the urging of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, despite the heated atmosphere and vocal opposition. Curiously, the same has not been true of trans* equality, even though:
- Public support for GENDA (78 percent in a 2008 survey) is at least 20 percentage points higher than for marriage equality in 2011.
- Trans inequality costs the state money - up to $7 million annually according to a recent study.
- There is no religious text opposing trans* rights, as many claimed there was with marriage equality. In fact, nearly 600 religious leaders actively support GENDA.
- Scores of women's and anti-violence groups support GENDA, including the National Organization for Women, the Women's Bar Association of the State of New York, the League of Women Voters of New York State, New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Family Planning Advocates of New York State, New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, and more.
- GENDA has broad union support, including the AFL-CIO, the CSEA, and NYSUT.
- The discrimination and disadvantages faced by trans* people every day is far more rampant and directly destructive than those facing marriage inequality.
Cuomo brags about his administration being progressive. "The gun vote was the best thing that I ever did. ... that and marriage equality, they're going to be the hallmarks of what my administration is going to be about," Cuomo said in April. So where is Cuomo now? Where is he when we really need his help, and there's no discernible reason not to lend it?
Where is Cuomo when there's an open-and-shut bill with widespread public, professional, and religious support that would outlaw discrimination against one of the state's most marginalized and at-risk communities? Why isn't Cuomo -- and Bloomberg, too, for that matter -- using his influence with lawmakers like he did with marriage equality? GENDA isn't about the right to share employment benefits and hospital visitation rights, it's about people being able to get jobs at all, it's about people being able to get into a hospital for treatment in the first place (17 percent of trans* New Yorkers are flat-out denied medical care).
Could it be that the support for marriage equality was really all about those wealthy gay campaign donors, and not about helping people at all? We trans* folks don't have that kind of economic firepower. The only thing we have going for our cause is that it's indubitably the right thing to do. Sadly, that doesn't seem to be enough for politicians anymore.
If Gov. Cuomo is devoted to progressive causes -- to fighting injustice -- he'd be doing more than just having his office parrot "The governor supports the bill" when questioned. Sorry, but the word "support" denotes action. The governor supported marriage equality. He does not support GENDA. He nods and smiles at GENDA. He gives it lip service. He does nothing.
If Gov. Cuomo is an ally of our community, as he says he is, then why is he so blatantly ignoring the T in LGBT? He says he'll be remembered for guns and marriage, but if he's not careful, he'll also be remembered for leaving trans* New Yorkers out in the cold. Again.