Drew Cordes

GENDA & New York: A Bellwether Battle

Filed By Drew Cordes | February 26, 2013 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Albany, Empire State Pride Agenda, Equality and Justice Day, GENDA, New York, non-discrimination protections, trans*

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.

179476_3301670735926_914622008_n.jpgWith 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.

Democrats currently enjoy a majority in the state Senate, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been a friend to the LGBT movement in the past, most notably with marriage equality. In 2014, many senators will be out on the campaign trail again, trying to preserve their seats. In addition, Cuomo's aspirations for national politics have become as clear as day. Friends of the LGBT movement or not, self-preservation is the primary goal of all politicians. Cuomo and certain senators are far less likely to stick their necks out for GENDA while doing the delicate dance of campaigning, posturing, and PR in 2014.

Bluntly stated, the window of opportunity is closing with each passing day. This is the year to pass GENDA.

The Empire State Pride Agenda, an organization at the vanguard of the GENDA effort, is once again organizing the state's largest LGBT advocacy event, Equality & Justice Day, at the Capitol in Albany, April 30.

From its website:

This annual event is a unique opportunity to show the strength and support of the LGBT community in Albany, featuring a rally at the Capitol, workshops, caucuses and visits with elected representatives. It's also the largest statewide gathering of our movement, helping us strengthen our ties and build the coalitions so critical to advancing our goals. ...

In years past, thousands of activists have converged on Albany to lobby and rally for passage of the Marriage Equality Act, Dignity for All Students Act and Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA). This year we focus on building support for transgender non-discrimination and the essential health and human services our community needs.

Believing this cause to be worthy of taking a personal day from work, I'll be volunteering. Furthermore, in a totally non-guilt-tripping manner, I gently encourage more folks to volunteer or just show up and make noise for Equality & Justice Day. More information can be found here.

April 30 will be the day LGBT voices reach full throat literally within earshot of New York legislators. The clock is ticking. Let's queer the Capitol.

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