Thursday, December 16, 2010

What the Senate outcome means

Post by Ross D. Levi, Executive Director, Empire State Pride Agenda

It’s becoming clear that there is going to be a change in leadership in the New York State Senate to the Republican Party. Some have speculated that this means an end to progress we will be able to make on LGBT issues here in New York, but I couldn’t disagree more.

We know that as a result of this election we start two votes ahead on marriage equality from where we were before, and have additional support on other issues like the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) and adequate funding for LGBT health and human services. Even more significant is the way this progress was achieved: In a state where incumbents win 98% of the time, we unseated two decades-long anti-LGBT incumbents – one Democrat and one Republican. Senators new and old will now be asking themselves whether they want the strength of our community used against them in the same way two short years from now if they vote against equality for their LGBT constituents.

Also, let’s not forget that the Pride Agenda and the LGBT community have achieved great things with both parties. Two of our most significant legislative victories – the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act and hate crimes legislation – were passed with a Republican senate and a Republican governor. The environment for passing marriage and GENDA is even better than it was then.

We have a strong governor who was outspoken on our issues from day one of his campaign, and he will be joined by other statewide officials who were equally outspoken in favor of our issues. Contrast that to how things went for Carl Paladino. Legislators with ambitions for higher office have to realize that for the past two election cycles, no one has won any statewide office in New York without being expressly pro-LGBT. Maybe that’s because the public is on our side, with 58% of New Yorkers saying they favor marriage equality for same-sex couples and upwards of 70% believing New York should have a law prohibiting discrimination against transgender people.

Our community is coming out of this election cycle strong. We know we have a clear and credible opportunity for victory in 2011, but we also know we have a challenging session ahead of us. The economy and state budget are likely to loom large in Albany for the months to come, so we need to do the hard work of making sure our elected officials understand the importance of our issues, and ensuring that the next time our bills come up for a vote that they succeed.

  • We need to highlight business leaders who will remind legislators that New York’s economy misses out on approximately $184 million that flows instead to neighboring states where marriage is permitted for same sex couples.
  • We will raise up high profile faith leaders in support of marriage equality like Bishop Prince Singh of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, Bishop Robert Rimbo of the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, President of Union Theological Seminary, and add to their numbers.
  • We will encourage our friends in law enforcement, the women’s movement and the business community to counteract the myths around basic civil rights protections for transgender people and remind elected officials that our state is falling behind the private sector in banning discrimination based on gender identity and expression.
  • We will continue to remind our government officials of the state’s critical role in meeting the health and human service needs of New York’s LGBT community through policies, programs and resources.
  • We will mobilize and add to our 2.5 million New York brothers and sisters in unions that support marriage equality and GENDA.
  • We will make sure our representatives in Albany hear in person from their constituents by the hundreds, both at home in their districts and in Albany at our Equality & Justice Day in early May.

Won’t you be part of the important work we have to do in 2011? Victory is ours for the taking, but it will not be possible without you.

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