June 6, 2008
GENDA PASSES IN ASSEMBLY
Transgender advocates Melissa Sklarz and Joann Prinzivalli celebrate post-vote
After five years of stalling, on Tuesday the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (A-6584A) passed in the Assembly by a bipartisan vote of 108-34. The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) would bar bias based on gender identity and expression in employment, housing, public accommodations, and access to credit. For a full roll-call vote, click here. To thank your Assembly member for voting "yes," click here.
"This bill protects a group of people particularly and viciously singled out for violence and hurtful discrimination," said Dick Gottfried, the bill's chief sponsor before the spirited hour long discussion. "The time is overdue for New York as a state to come for a vote on GENDA." Gottfried credited advocates for pushing to bring this bill forward. Members of the Empire State Pride Agenda, Housing Works and the Transgender Rights Organization have been working this year to get GENDA passed in the Assembly and were on hand to watch the debate unfold and celebrate the victory.
Though only 30 Republicans and three Democrats voted against the bill, the prevote discussion was contentious. Gottfried and a bipartisan swath of colleagues eloquently defended GENDA, transgender people and civil rights for more than an hour in the face of hypothetical questions about bathrooms and elementary schools. In addition to Gottfried, GENDA's greatest Assembly defenders on the floor included openly gay Manhattan Democrats Deborah Glick and Danny O'Donnell, as well as straight upstate Republicans Joel Miller and Joseph Morelle
"As a dentist, if a patient told me he was in pain, it's my job to understand he's in pain," Miller said. "It's time to recognize the human experience is supposed to recognize all kinds of experiences and that people of transgender experience are facing more hardship than those who think they will be hurt by this new law."
Miller defends GENDA
But a vocal minority made clear their discomfort with recognizing the transgender experience. Assembly member Mike Cole asked Gottfried a half hour of questions and aired worries about how the dress code of his former employer, Applebee's, would be affected by GENDA. Then he asked the question that Gottfried said gets raised every time a new category is added to the state human rights law: "Is there a specified exemption for elementary school?" Cole expressed concern that children would be confused by a teacher that transitioned sexes.
"Absolutely not nor should there be," Gottfried responded. "Young children know a lot more than we give them credit for, despite what their parents or their parents' elected officials might think."
Cole and Assembly member Peter Lopez asked multiple hypothetical questions about how GENDA would prevent uncomfortable situations in bathrooms and gym showers. This proved a teachable moment, with Gottfried explaining how women's bathrooms have "cubicles" (more commonly known as stalls) and that there is not any unwanted exposure of "equipment."
O'Donnell made the point that "There are lots of men in my gym I'd rather not see. That's why there's a shower curtain on my shower."
Glick noted that this discussion was reminiscent of the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment when "90 percent of the debate was about unisex bathrooms." Glick said that although New York City, Syracuse, Buffalo, Ithaca and Suffolk county have all added gender expression and identity to their human rights laws, there has been no fallout. "People manage," she said. "The angst that seems to be generated on the part of other people with fears are ultimately dissipated by people's experiences. All this bill does is protect individuals whose life experience is somewhat different from yours."
Glick's argument won by a landslide. As the vote was read, both Assembly members on the floor and advocates sitting on the balcony cheered. "It's very exciting," said Bali White, the coordinator of transgender services at Housing Works. "Because of protections we have in New York City, I was able to go to court after police harassment, and I won. Once the Senate passes GENDA, transgender people all over the state will also have this protection."The next step is introducing the bill in the Senate. Although one-fourth of Assembly Republicans voted in favor of GENDA, the bill's Senate sponsor, Tom Duane—who sat in the Assembly hall counting votes as they were tallied—has not been able to find a Senate Republican to cosponsor the bill.