Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

NY Senate Passes Dignity for All Students Act 58-3: Why?

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | June 23, 2010 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: bullying, Dignity for All Students Act, New York, New York Senate, S7718, students

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?

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

This bill had been kicking around almost as long as SONDA.....what amazed me is that it took so long to pass a bill that protects children. Clearly it was part of the standard Albany 'lets make a deal' that probably included killing GENDA in exchange just as trans protections for NYC were traded for inclusion for those of us in the entire rest of the state during the SONDA debacle.

That said, I feel this bill is vastly more important in the larger scheme of things than GENDA because practically a universal among those with transsexual histories is a history of often severe bullying in schools and schools do NOT address this unless forced either by law or lawsuit. Not just trans either......a wide range of victims are covered. There always should have been zero tolerance for bullying in public schools but the reality was that often the victim was punished by the schools for the crime of being the victim of a bully, especially if they defended themselves in any fashion.

Jillian I may not have voiced this opinion here at Bilerico but it touches on your point and I have stated it elsewhere for years. ENDA should be broadened to protect everyone from discrimination in employment practices and hiring decisions including those who are not normally subjected to perceived discrimination such as white heterosexual males. The bill should be restructured to make it clear that hiring and firing decisions must be made solely on the qualifications and job performance of employees and applicants. Then buried in it a laundry list over covered categories can be listed including sexual orientation, gender identity, etc and ending with "or any other personal characteristics". The bill should protect everyone, not just selected groups. I suppose illegal immigrants might be excluded even though they are effectively excluded by other laws. That would help it in today's climate.

Your thought is interesting, as it implies the abandonment of protected categories, as in Europe, where the law prohibits infringement on the dignity of any person. Given our different history and legal development, this new direction might prove equally as challenging.

I agree with Deena and have said so in many posts to various LGBT sites over the past few years. Employee rights are poised to become the great unifier of currently disparate groups.

I look forward to the day when White, gun toting, meat eating, straight, Christian males join arm in arm with POC, bi, vegetarian, trans, Wiccan individuals in fighting for employee rights.

Angela Brightfeather | June 23, 2010 6:43 PM

To understand why this bill passed and GENDA did not is no big riddle. In fact it is pretty simple.

In New York State, the land of taxes and traffic tickets (which by the way is now the largest business in NYS...raising taxes and issuing traffic citations in what has become literally a police state) the most coveted position has become the one where you bend over, but always remember to cover you ass.

This was a "time bill". In other words, it protects children who will grow up to be GLBT adults, but by that time their legislative asses will be protected because they will be long gone and living on a nice pension at the taxpayers expense. Passing it now means nothing to the Republicans in Upstate NY, except that they won't be around to blame for it later on.

If you really want to learn something from this legislation, then consider the next time that you can get the committee to vote on GENDA, you word it so that it takes affect for gender expression, 10 years after it passes. If that had been done in SONDA, Trans people would be protected by now.

jon winkleman | June 23, 2010 8:30 PM

The DASA bill broadly includes bullying based on "gender identity" and "sexual orientation" however unlike NY's Same Sex Marriage Bill or the GENDA transgender equality bill, DASA is not LGBT specific but broadly addresses all bullying in public schools motivated by many different biases such as race, religion, gender or physical attributes much the same as hate crime legislation that is LGBT inclusive is in no way LGBT specific.

Bullying in general has gotten a great deal of press especially stories that are not LGBT specific so this is an easier bill for cowardly Democrats to move to a vote and pass.

It should be noted that there are a good number of parents of straight students who have been bullied who aggressively try to remove LGBT protections from DASA-type legislation as they feel "the gay agenda makes it more difficult to pass laws that protect their child." So some credit should be given for not stripping away LGBT language of the bill as has happened with past hate crimes legislation.

When I look back at the political victories the BTLG community has achieved in the past few years I note that it involved issues and bills that affected both sexual orientation AND gender identity. The gender identity inclusive Gainesville, FL, Kalamazoo, MI and Missoula MT nondiscrimination laws covered all of the community. The federal hate crimes law covers all of the community. ENDA covers all of the community but died in the service of DADT repeal, an issue that was prominently advocated for by our president and the elite Washington GLB(t) organizations and their primary donor groups.

GENDA (Gender Expression Non Discrimination Act), on the other hand, is still on the back burner as far as the GLB community in New York is concerned. It's an afterthought, not to be taken too seriously, something that is obvious when you consider that the bill's sponsor as well as two other supporters of the bill could not make the time to be present when it was being discussed and voted on in committee. Obviously, they figured they had more important things to do.

I'm thrilled about the passage of the DASA and wish it could have been passed the first year it was proposed - 9 years ago! Will GENDA have to wait 6 more years before the NY state Senate passes it? I sure hope not but I suspect it'll take even longer.

Why? Easy.

"Won't somebody please think of the children?!" works every time.

Paige Listerud | June 24, 2010 11:14 AM

The political risk involved was zilch. Standing up against bullying in schools is like saying you're against child molesting.

Angela Brightfeather | June 24, 2010 11:43 AM

Well, perhaps the idea of putting some kind of activation clause in the ENDA legislation might not be such a bad idea. Except for those who need it now.

Jillian, why don't we get Barney and Pelosi together and ask them to accept gender language in ENDA that allows it to take affect in three years? That way the Democrats can dump us on the Republicans if they win, just like the Republicans dumped the deficit and lousy economy, and stupid war on the Democrats this past election.

What's good for the goose...... and all that you know. In the long run, and at the rate that this administration is working on ENDA, we might even be ahead of the game.

The political positive for Obama might be that if they do that and they win the next election, then they can take the credit, but if they lose then they can blame it on the Republicans. It's a win-win situation.

Jillian, as you may know, NYAGRA was a co-founding member of both the GENDA Coalition & the NYS DASA Coalition, and we negotiated inclusion of gender identity & expression in the state Dignity bill way back in 2000. While I was not privy to the behind-closed-doors conversations in the capitol this week, I've been personally working on the bill since Feb. 2000, more than 10 years ago, so perhaps I can speak from personal experience of the legislative history of the NYS DASA bill. I think there are a number of reasons why Dignity passed the Senate while GENDA was voted down in committee earlier this month and marriage equality went down to crushing defeat on the floor of the Senate last December; one reason, I think, was precisely because of the defeat of GENDA & marriage, which I suspect made both Democrats & Republicans nervous of a really strong reaction from the LGBT community if no LGBT-specific or LGBT-inclusive legislation passed this session. Another reason is that DASA includes gender identity & expression but also a comprehensive list of protected categories, while GENDA is only about gender identity & expression. I've long predicted that the Senate was more likely to pass a transgender-inclusive bill first before it would be willing to pass a transgender-specific bill; that was the pattern with the state hate crimes bill (which included sexual orientation), which passed the Senate in June 2000, before SONDA (which was only sexual orientation) passed the Senate in December 2002. And I suspect that Republicans who did vote for Dignity made the decision that voting for the bill while keeping mum on its inclusion of gender identity & expression was a better bet than either voting against the bill (who could be in favor of bullying?) or voting in favor and trumpeting the bill's inclusion of gender identity & expression. I suspect it all came down to a complex & yet ultimately simple political calculation on the part of Republicans & wavering Democrats: voting for DASA would be a net plus. Does that make sense to you...?

Angela Brightfeather | June 24, 2010 8:02 PM


With all due respect, until NYAGRA and the downstate forces bite the bullet and concentrate some serious effort to apply pressure to the "heart of NY area" in and around Syracuse and Onondaga County, the stauncest area of conservative Republicanism, GENDA will be a non issue in NY.

When half the population of NY living in the NYC area get's their protections as they have, what is left to fight and who is left to fight the conservative elements in the upstate areas so that GENDA will pass. Make no mistake, until a pressure boost assistance in the upstate area comes from down state, which also puts pressure on Dems like Shuler to do something to shame them into submission, GENDA won't pass. Consider the fact that when Senator Clinton was representing the Syracuse area, even she, a defender of GLBT rights, kept her hand out of the fray when it came to making the present exclusionary Fair Practice Law in that area inclusive of gender language and nevr lifted a finger or applied political pressure to get it changed.

The passage of any legislation in the polarized NY State Senate only happens when there is a perfect storm of occurrences, and for the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA), that perfect storm occurred at the end of this legislative session. First, the votes must be there. Second, there must be the political will to vote on the legislation, (including bi-partisan support for bills like DASA) and third, a strong and visible demand of accountability from constituents and voters. Along with these three crucial aspects of the “storm,” there are countless other details leading up to the vote, including those that are necessary on the actual day of any vote.

One of the reasons that advocates and the Senate Majority Leadership had more confidence that Dignity might pass is that it had a Republican co-sponsor, Betty Little, whose vote was an essential counterpoint to a possible “No” vote by Sen. Diaz Sr. GENDA has had Republican Senators who have “indicated” support, but our movement needs to push those Senators to be public co-sponsors. That is a key element of creating a storm for GENDA.

The Dignity bill had incredible support from many diverse and influential advocacy organizations, partially because it is a bill that included so many different aspects of identity. Also, the extreme outcomes of bullying (murder in California and suicide in Massachusetts) have gained such national notoriety that it had become very politically risky to vote against any bill that addresses bullying. In retrospect, it seems this is why the vote, which might have been close, was overwhelmingly supportive, instead.

It’s still important to recognize that the New York State Legislature has just proven itself capable for the first time of passing trans-inclusive legislation, and it gives us renewed hope as to continue our work on the Gender Expression Non Discrimination Act (GENDA). This was a step forward, like other firsts that happened this year: It was no small feat that an Executive Order was signed this year by the Governor protecting state workers based on gender identity/expression, and that for the first time, GENDA was debated in a Senate Committee. The GENDA storm is gathering strength.

Like Dignity, GENDA also has many very strong, allied organizations, and it will continue to build public support through relationships with these organizations, such as Housing Works, the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, PFLAG, labor unions and congregations that are working closely with transgender New Yorkers from across the state. The advocacy day this past May, tailored specifically to its campaign this year had representatives from all of these.

Clearly, Dignity is a victory for the LGBT community, and specifically for the increasing number of trans youth who are coming out in public schools. The Pride Agenda and advocates for Trans Rights are ecstatic to see trans-inclusive language on the law books in NYS. The GENDA Campaign is moving full-steam ahead. Through continued education and advocacy efforts, we won’t stop this hard work until we have created the “perfect storm” for this critical piece of legislation, too.