Thursday, July 8, 2010

What's next for New York's LGBT community?

A message from Pride Agenda Executive Director Ross Levi:

As the 2009-10 regular legislative session came to a close late last week in Albany, we at the Pride Agenda reflected on both the victories for New York State’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and the State Senate’s frustrating lack of action on many of the issues of vital importance to us.

First, the good news—our victories this session include:

– Passage of the Dignity for All Students Act, which will combat bias-based bullying, harassment and discrimination in the state’s public schools. In addition to including protections based on sexual orientation, Dignity will be the first-ever state law that includes protections based on gender identity and expression.

– Passage of the Family Health Care Decisions Act, which enables a same-sex partner to make health care decisions when the patient is not able to do so.

– Passage of legislation to require that same-sex partners be treated the same as spouses for bereavement leave from their job, so that any employer who provides bereavement leave for the death of an employee’s spouse, or the child, parent or other relatives of the spouse must also provide the same benefits for a same-sex committed partner.

– Passage of legislation to allow same-sex couples to adopt a child together. Although a same-sex partner had previously been allowed to adopt their partner’s biological child and for same-sex partners to adopt a non-biological child sequentially in a process known as “second-parent adoption,” it has been unclear whether New York law permitted a joint adoption by unmarried adult couples when neither is the biological parent.

– Passage of legislation that will expand and increase access to services for LGBT seniors.

– Health and human service providers across New York State that cater specifically to the needs of local LGBT communities will receive $5.2 million from Governor Paterson’s 2010-11 Executive Budget. However, this amount so far includes a $3.5 million decrease in funding compared to last year, specifically from amounts normally appropriated in legislative discretionary funding.

We thank our allies in the legislature, including our LGBT Assemblymembers and Senator, who helped make these accomplishments possible.

These victories, however, do not make up for the unprecedented level of frustration with the New York State Senate this year not only from the LGBT community, but from progressive groups statewide who care about equality and justice for all New Yorkers.

The Senate’s failure to pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) is infuriating. In a state where 78% of New Yorkers support a bill to protect transgender people, Senators’—especially Republicans who voted as a block against the measure in committee—inability or unwillingness to represent their constituents’ desires and pass this bill is unacceptable.

In addition, the removal of a provision in the budget to allow legally married same-sex couples to file their state taxes jointly thanks to the one-man veto of Senator Ruben Diaz shows us that no matter how hard we work to change their hearts and minds, some legislators are immune to humanity or common sense.

Finally, the inability of the state so far to maintain its small amount of funding for LGBT health and human services is disappointing, and will result in layoffs and reduced or eliminated programs that support communities all across New York State. It really is a penny wise but pound foolish decision.

The Pride Agenda, however, will continue to work toward equality and justice for LGBT New Yorkers, especially as the election season approaches. LGBT New Yorkers and everyone who cares about equality and justice in New York State are ready to support effective and unabashed legislative allies and oppose not only those Senators who are ideologically opposed to us, but those who are unable or unwilling to stand and deliver. Our community has been done with the closet for a long time, and we need our supporters to do the same. The Pride Agenda is eager to do our part to bring change to the chamber that has so disappointed New Yorkers these past two years.

So I hope you are ready to get to work as we move into the election season. In the next few weeks, we will have much to share with you—we’ll be making endorsements and helping to fund and staff the campaigns of candidates who have stood by our side and new ones who we can be certain will bring about real change in Albany. With supporters like you, I know that we’ll be celebrating even more victories very soon.

P.S. Our vital work during election season to create a more pro-LGBT state legislature won’t be possible without your support. Please consider signing up to volunteer or making a donation to our PAC (Political Action Committee) or today!

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