In light of the great news that the New York State Democratic Committee has stated its support for the passage of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), we asked Melissa Sklarz to tell us in her own words why GENDA is important and what needs to happen next. Melissa was at the New York Democrats’ semi-annual meeting today in Garden City when they passed the resolution in support of GENDA. She’s the Director of New York Trans Rights Organization (NYTRO).
Today, on October 1, 2007, the New York State Democratic Party passed a resolution supporting the quest for transgender and gender variant civil rights and the Gender Expression Non Discrimination Act (GENDA) in an effort to bring New York State in line with what other states have done throughout the US.
In 2002, an attempt was made to amend the Sexual Orientation Non Discrimination Act (SONDA) to include language added to protect “gender identity and expression”, with a legal definition to explain this phrase. However, the amendment was defeated in the New York State Senate, and so a go-alone bill called GENDA was created.
In 2002, a similar bill was passed in New York City that created legal protection for trans people in areas like employment, housing, and public accommodation. In the subsequent years, guidelines were created by the trans community in an effort to add depth to this new idea. Areas included protection in schools, shelters, and public restrooms.
But outside of New York City, Albany, Ithaca, Suffolk Country and a few other areas, trans people in New York can still be fired from their jobs, arrested for using public restrooms, and denied apartment leases.
Many of us have horror stories about changing gender. Many of us have lost jobs, lost the love of our families, or wandered lost in a maze of inadequate or inappropriate health care. Many of us have stories of substance abuse that make a difficult situation almost impossible. Many of our young people turn to street sex or sex work to survive. And I know from my own experience, there are certainly no prizes for a young male to decide to live life as a female and cope with the lack of compassion from an uncaring culture.
We do not think GENDA will necessarily change the culture overnight, but it is a beginning. With state-wide legal protection, the culture of transgender people and the non trans majority will change. Options will grow, behavior will modify, and some conflict will be resolved. Like all struggles, they will not happen immediately. One only needs to view the issue of marriage equality over the last 10 years to see how public dialog can change an idea and culture.
As a trans woman in New York, I am grateful for the effort of the New York State Democratic Party and look forward to the Legislature passing the GENDA Bill in 2008. To make this happen, it is imperative that all progressive and caring people join together to help educate New Yorkers and our legislators that we are your sons and daughters and desire a level playing field in which to survive.
Director of NYTRO
See the full version of the resolution here.