Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The need to act on GENDA

This week's Legislative Gazette features an articulate argument from Joann Prinzivalli, Director of the New York Transgender Rights Organization (NYTRO) on why it's so important to pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA).

The letter is written specifically in response to comments made by Dennis Proust, a spokesperson from the Catholic Conference; and the marginally-known Rev. Duane Motley from an organization ironically called "New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms."

In a March 26 Legislative Gazette article, Mr. Proust claims that GENDA would "force schools to hire teachers or landlords to provide housing to people who cross-dress." It doesn't take much dot-connecting to know that this is a twisted exaggeration of the truth. The bill would, in fact, make it illegal to fire a teacher or deny housing to someone just because of how they express their masculinity or femininity. And furthermore, using the term "cross dress" trivializes the lives and identities of these people.

This issue is not so new. In fact, nine other states have already made it illegal to discriminate based on gender expression/identity. And to answer Mr. Proust's assertions, there have been no coups staged in New Jersey schools by transgender teachers, nor has there been a disruption in the California real estate market because of transgender people looking for a place to live. The apocalyptic arguments are getting old.

Ms. Prinzivalli refutes similarly weak arguments presented by Mr. Proust and Rev. Motley in her letter below:

To the editor:

The views of human rights opponents expressed in the article about the reintroduction of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (“Bill would ban discrimination of transgender New Yorkers,” March 26, 2007, page 5) shows exactly how necessary it is for this bill to become law.

Dennis Proust of the New York State Catholic Conference ignores the Catholic Catechism in his opposition. Catechism Section 2358 provides: “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” This is the Church’s official position on gays and lesbians. It should be understood as inclusive of the Church’s official position on transsexuals as expressed in a sub secretum document issued by the Vatican in 2000.

Duane Motley of the Orwellianly-named “New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedom” thinks of transgender as immoral, reflecting his ignorance about sexual morality as well as constitutional freedom. Being transgendered has nothing at all to do with sexual activity, which may involve individual moral decisions, but instead relates to a person’s innate identity. It is as if Motley thinks that it is immoral for anyone to be a man or a woman.

Motley’s ignorance also shows in his mischaracterization of the teacher in Batavia, New York who is receiving the appropriate medical treatment for Harry Benjamin Syndrome, a medical condition and not a moral choice, and has absolutely no bearing on her performance in the classroom.

Both opponents make the offensive allegation that trans people are “confusing to children” as if we are monsters or subhuman creatures from whom children should be protected. Clearly the opponents do not give children any credit for intelligence. Indeed, that small minority of children who themselves are transgendered are harmed by those in society who seek to teach children that everyone is like Ozzie and Harriet. As a result, the child often feels confused, alone and isolated, as if he or she is the only person in the world who is like this.

Their erroneous views underscore the need we have for the protections afforded by this legislation, as well as the Dignity for All Students Act and Dignity for All Youth Act.

Joann Prinzivalli
Director, New York Transgender Rights Organization
White Plains

"Bill Would Ban Discrimination of Transgender New Yorkers" (Legislative Gazette: March 26, 2007)
Find more information on transgender issues in New York here.
Find more information on transgender issues nationally here.
Read the text of GENDA in the State Senate bill here.
Read the text of GENDA in the State Assembly bill here.

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