Despite landmark progress on human rights by New York State, a small group of citizens remains outside the antidiscrimination umbrella.
It is no longer legal to discriminate against someone because of age, sex, race, sexual orientation or religion, among other things. But those protections do not extend to transgender New Yorkers – people who do not identify with their birth gender. Those citizens potentially face discrimination in housing, employment, health care, education and access to public accommodations, with no legal way to fight that bias.
The indignities experienced by transgender individuals – whose numbers are difficult to track but are estimated into the several thousands – are many, evidenced by the elevated rates of suicide, poverty, homelessness and sexual and physical violence.
Legislation to protect the transgender community has passed the Assembly six times, the last time in April, with bipartisan support. The Senate has yet to take up the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), introduced by New York State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, and State Sen. Daniel L. Squadron, a Democrat who represents lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.
It’s been a decade since GENDA was first introduced. Then-Sen. Thomas Duane attempted to amend the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act to include the transgender community. His measure failed to win approval, and GENDA was created to correct that error. Yet, it still awaits legislative approval.
What makes the delay even more surprising is that it is occurring in New York, the bluest of the blue states and a beacon for civil rights, a role acknowledged by President Obama in his second inaugural address, which included references to Seneca Falls and the Stonewall Inn.
Yet 16 other states in the nation – including Iowa, Nevada and Minnesota – and countless municipalities – including Buffalo and New York City – have enacted non-discrimination ordinances for all residents regardless of gender identity or expression.
Eight states, including New York, have banned discrimination against transgender state workers through executive order, and nearly half of America’s Fortune 500 companies have done so.
That means about 60 percent of New Yorkers are protected from transgender discrimination, but the rest remain subject to such bias.
This patchwork of protections sends the message that it is acceptable in New York to discriminate against one group of individuals. The State Senate should act to change that message.