Monday, April 19, 2010

Let's Get Cracking on GENDA

The current issue of Gay City News has an excellent column on the need to pass GENDA in the Senate:

Let's Get Cracking on GENDA
by Paul Schindler

New York’s transgender community is holding a promissory note from the state government in Albany that is well past due.

In 2000, when New York State passed the first statute offering protections to the LGBT community — in that case, from bias-related hate crimes — its provisions only covered gay men and lesbians, not transgender and other gender-variant individuals. Even though many leaders in our community lamented that oversight, two-and-a-half years later, the Legislature, in finally adopting a nondiscrimination law, again left out language regarding gender identity and expression.

For more than seven years since the gay rights law passed, Democratic leaders in New York have promised action on the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA). That time is at hand — the State Senate cannot in good conscience adjourn in June unless it has passed the measure approved twice by the Assembly and supported strongly by Governor David A. Paterson.

A year ago, Senator Thomas K. Duane, the out gay Chelsea Democrat who is the measure’s lead sponsor, voiced confidence that he could muster the votes to enact the legislation before the 2009 Legislature finished up business. With Democrats holding a narrow 32-30 majority in the Senate, it was an article of faith that the measure’s margin of victory would be bipartisan, since several in the majority party, most prominently the anti-gay Pentecostal minister Ruben Diaz of the Bronx, have voiced opposition.

Duane’s hopes were dashed when a coup by two dissident Democrats temporarily deprived the party of its majority and threw the Senate into stalemate for what effectively turned out to be months.

Since that time, our community has endured the unfortunate defeat of the civil marriage equality bill by a 38-24 margin. Significantly, in the context of GENDA’s prospects this spring, none of the “yes” votes came from Republicans. The tradition of LGBT rights initiatives relying on at least some measure of cooperation between the two parties was fractured.

Diaz, flush from his success in beating back gay marriage, has not changed his tune on GENDA, so we will need to rebuild Republican support for moving our community’s agenda forward. Assuming that comity between the two parties does not continue to suffer from last year’s chaotic and ill-tempered squabbling over the Senate’s control, that goal should be achievable.

Whether or not they are willing to publicly commit to the legislation right this minute, some State Senate Republicans have at points during the past several years signaled to constituents who have met with them that they are prepared to vote for passage. Advocates from around the state have heard positive feedback from Kenneth LaValle, John J. Flanagan, and Charles Fuschillo on Long Island, James Alesi from Rochester, and Betty Little from the Saratoga area. Roy McDonald, who now holds the seat vacated when one-time Majority Leader Joe Bruno left the Senate, voted for the legislation as a member of the Assembly.

That’s a group of at least half-a-dozen Republicans who ought to be key targets in the next two months.

There is, of course, work to be done on the Democratic side as well, efforts that might be aided by the desire by some on that side of the aisle to make amends for their “no” vote on marriage equality in December. Joe Addabbo, the freshman senator from Queens, was widely denounced for throwing the community over after accepting significant LGBT money and volunteer time in his 2008 election. Tellingly, he recently signed on as a GENDA co-sponsor.

That example ought to be hammered home to Bill Stachowski, the Buffalo Democrat who voted “no” on marriage, barely won reelection in 2008, and faces several serious opponents in his party’s September primary. In New York City, a full-court press should be put on Brooklyn’s Carl Kruger, who now has an announced primary challenger, and Queens’ Shirley Huntley.

Action on GENDA is unlikely before the end of May. The measure is currently bottled up in the Investigations and Government Operations Committee, where Diaz has kept chairman Craig Johnson, a GENDA supporter, from winning a majority vote from among the five Democrats and three Republicans who serve there.

At the end of May, however, as the Legislature moves into its final month of session, Senate rules allow a sponsor to push for a bill to go to the floor without a committee vote, a strategy Duane is widely expected to employ. Before then, on May 11, the Empire State Pride Agenda is leading a GENDA lobby day targeting a segment of senators viewed as either on the fence or just mildly leaning one way or the other.

Presumably the half-dozen Republicans who have made favorable noise in the past and the Democratic trio from Queens, Brooklyn, and Buffalo will be prime among the ESPA visits that day.

When LGBT money poured into Democratic coffers in 2008, allowing the party to regain the Senate majority after 40 years in the wilderness, the promise was that things would be different for us. So far, on marriage, school bullying, and GENDA, they have not been.

Let’s get this done.

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