Monday, June 8, 2009

GENDA's Time is Now

Last Friday's Gay City News featured a Perspectives column by Pride Agenda Executive Director Alan Van Capelle on the need to pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) now.

GENDA's Time is Now
By Alan Van Capelle

With all the national attention being focused on efforts to pass a marriage equality bill in New York before the end of the legislative session on June 22, let's not forget that this isn't the only important issue our community has been working on to pass into law. Another critical piece of legislation is the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) that provides long-overdue legal protections for transgender members of our community.

Some still remember a time when it was perfectly acceptable to be fired from a job, denied a lease on an apartment, or refused service in a restaurant for being gay or lesbian, but increasingly this is becoming community history. This isn't the case for our transgender brothers and sisters by any stretch of the imagination -- discrimination is still ever-present in their lives, down to the most day-to-day aspects of living. Even just walking down the street safely can be a challenge for transgender New Yorkers. It's time to end this injustice and pass GENDA -- and New Yorkers agree by an overwhelming 78 percent, according to polling we did last year.

Let me be clear on what this means. When any issue polls this high, it has moved out of the realm of being the least bit controversial or still up for debate by the electorate. The debate is over. Transgender discrimination is unacceptable to the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers. The New York State Democratic Party got this message two years ago and unanimously approved a resolution calling for the passage of GENDA. So, too, did the New York State AFL-CIO, when it did the same last year. The New York State Assembly has stepped up and passed GENDA two years in a row with bipartisan support. And now the votes are there from both Democrats and Republicans to pass it in the State Senate, and if the Senate does the governor has already indicated that he will sign it into law.

So what's the holdup?

Well, the opposition knows that GENDA is going to happen sooner or later and they're trying to slow it down through misinformation and fear-mongering. They've taken to calling it the "bathroom bill" and they spin all types of ominous scenarios about bathrooms and child molestation -- none of which, of course, can be backed up with evidence anywhere in the many jurisdictions across New York or the US where laws like GENDA are in place.

They also say that GENDA will create hardships for businesses and workplaces that all of a sudden will be forced to accommodate the needs of transgender employees. And yet workplaces in New York, ranging from Fortune 500 companies to small businesses, have been successfully addressing this issue for a long time. In fact, the Pride Agenda put out a report earlier this year with business case studies that specifically discredit the assertions opponents make about "chaos" in the workplace.

Once assemblymembers approved GENDA in 2007 and there was no reaction in the press or from voters at election time, the light bulb went off that what our community had been telling them was true. New Yorkers don't like discrimination of any form and that includes discrimination against transgender people.

The other impediment with GENDA is getting the Senate to move beyond promising to get it done to actually getting it done. The Pride Agenda recognized a number of years ago that when only LGBT people push to get a bill passed in Albany it takes a while because we're just a small slice of the electorate. But when we expand support for our issues outside of the LGBT community, the heat on elected officials to do something increases substantially. We're seeing this with marriage equality and we're making this happen with GENDA too.

Like marriage, we have been successful working with those whose opinions matter to legislators. Labor unions have passed resolutions in support of GENDA and a growing numbers of clergy and people of faith are saying it's time to provide equality for transgender New Yorkers. And we've been highlighting the fact with legislators that businesses figured out a long time ago how to operate a productive workplace that includes transgender employees.

The LGBT community has done the work these past few years to show the Senate that it is not a tough political lift to pass GENDA. Transgender people all across the state have been effective in moving a number of senators to be supportive when they previously were not. Our polling shows and last year's elections proved that there is no price to be paid at the ballot box by an elected official who votes for GENDA.

There has never been such an opportunity as there is this year to pass GENDA. If we all keep up the heat on the State Senate, GENDA can happen this month. And it absolutely should.

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