Thursday, October 30, 2008

2008 Progress Report

Gay City News’ 2008 Progress Report – a special section with reports written by local LGBT organizations, activists, and lawmakers – features a piece by the Pride Agenda’s Executive Director, Alan Van Capelle. In “Well Positioned for Victories,” Alan discusses how public opinion in New York State is on the side of the LGBT community. The other authors of progress reports include State Senator Thomas Duane, Assemblymember Daniel O'Donnell, Marriage Equality New York, the New York City Anti-Violence Project, and the Log Cabin Republicans, among others. Alan’s report is below, and the rest of the Progress Report can be found here.

PROGRESS REPORT: Well Positioned for Victories
By Alan Van Capelle

Our community in New York has never been in a better place than it is now when it comes to winning equality and justice.

Two years ago, the Pride Agenda polled in key areas across the state to find out where New Yorkers stood on marriage for our families. In a State Senate District in Suffolk County, 57 percent of voters supported our freedom to marry while just 38 percent did not. In a Nassau County Senate District, the numbers were 58 percent in support to just 37 percent against; in a Westchester County District it was 51 to 41 percent; and, in a Rochester District, it was 51 to 41 percent.

Statewide, the overall number was 53 percent in favor of marriage equality to just 38 percent against.

This year we polled New Yorkers for the very first time about where they stand on passing a law outlawing discrimination against transgender people in housing, employment, and other areas of everyday life. A phenomenal 78 percent said New York should have such a law while just 13 percent said we shouldn't. This percentage is so high that it doesn't matter how you break down the data - by party affiliation, geography, or any other way - New Yorkers have arrived at a consensus that discrimination against transgender people is wrong.

The support we have from New Yorkers for ending discrimination and winning our equality does not happen by accident. LGBT New Yorkers have been working hard for years to educate their friends and neighbors about why marriage matters, about discrimination against trans people, and about the unsafe learning environments LGBT youth face everyday when they go to school.

Not only do poll numbers show New Yorkers are responding, but we also see it in the people who go to Albany to advocate for our issues. They're not just LGBT anymore. They're straight, they're union members, they're clergy, and they're business people. They're parents and neighbors, and they're from all over the state.

That's why I shook my head when I picked up the New York Times a few days ago and read that a spokesperson for the current leadership in the State Senate - a leadership that refuses to act on our top issues - said that our community's agenda is part of a "national left-wing agenda" and that it has no place in races for the New York State Senate.

When the leadership of the Senate majority says to the people of Suffolk, Nassau, and Westchester Counties and the City of Rochester that their opinions on an issue like marriage equality have no place in elections and are part of a "national left-wing agenda," they've got a problem. When it says the same thing about 78 percent of New Yorkers - Republicans, Democrats and Independents - who want an end to legal discrimination against trans people, they're showing just how far out of touch they are.

If this is the bubble the current leadership of the State Senate wants to live in, then that's their choice. If they want to write off the opinions of voters in Long Island, Westchester County, and elsewhere, then they certainly can, but they're also writing their political obituary.

New Yorkers long ago moved on when it came to the issue of discrimination - of any kind. They're not for it, plain and simple.

It took the leadership in the State Senate ten years after two-thirds of New Yorkers said they supported the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA) and the Assembly first passed SONDA to get that message. That was too long, and there is absolutely no reason why our community should have to wait ten years for them to do the same thing with the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA).

Since 2003, when same-sex couples began going to Canada to get married, New Yorkers have been learning about the importance of marriage to our families. More recently they've learned the startling fact that New York State provides 1,324 rights and responsibilities to a couple when it gives them a marriage license. Once New Yorkers have this information, they understand that access to marriage is about equality and strengthening families, and they move in our direction. With a majority of New Yorkers already on our side, these numbers will only grow larger in the years ahead.

I am proud of the way we've talked to New Yorkers about our issues. We have been respectful to those who disagreed with us, and we have worked hard to win their hearts and minds. I have also been genuinely touched by the ability of many New Yorkers to move beyond the false stereotypes they have of us and to better understand our community.

The leadership of the State Senate shouldn't be so quick to dismiss our issues or the opinions New Yorkers have on these issues. Times have changed and New York has changed, and, if they don't get that, they may very well find themselves dismissed by the voters on Election Day.

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