By: Karina Gerry
The results from the November midterm elections have once again brought hope to the LGBTQ+ community, specifically the transgender community, in New York, as four Long Island Senate seats, three upstate seats, and one Brooklyn seat all turned blue.
Republican control of the Senate has blocked the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) from reaching the floor for the past 11 years. The bill would amend the state human rights law to bar discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression, as well as adding transgender people to the state human rights law.
“New York has a reputation of being a beacon of progressivism and has a really liberal reputation,” Avery Cohen, press secretary for New York state senator Brad Hoylman, the only openly LGBTQ+ senator, said. “But honestly, that isn’t reflected in our current laws and GENDA is one of the ways to remedy this and change this.”
The Democrats captured the majority of the New York State Senate, a victory many in the LGBTQ community have been pushing for since 2011, the last time an LGBTQ+ issue was granted a floor vote.
GENDA was first introduced to the New York State Assembly and Senate in 2003. The assembly has passed the bill since 2007, but it has been denied in committee every year since.
“As of right now we are not a protected class,” Juli Grey-Owens, executive director of the Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition said. “If you take a look at the listing of the protected classes, of course, there’s race, age, religion, I think point of origin, as well as sexual orientation, but gender identity and gender expression, which is the key phrase in protecting our community, is not listed in the bill.”
The Pew Research Center reported in 2017 that public support for same-sex marriage has steadily grown since 2001, with a majority of 62% supporting same-sex marriage and 32% opposing it in 2017. Despite the growth in support for gay, lesbian and bisexual rights, support for transgender lags behind.
“Since the election of Donald Trump, we have seen increased public polarization and a centering of evangelical Christian political desires at the federal level,” Dr. Cary Gabriel Costello, associate professor of sociology and director of LGBTQ+ studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said.
A number of federal agencies, Health and Human Services, the Department of Justice, and the U.S. U.N. delegation are beginning to remove all references to gender discrimination, and substitute the term “sex discrimination,” defined as based on sex assigned at birth, to exclude any protection for trans people Dr. Costello explained.
“I don’t want to speculate about a plan to insist on all federal agencies defining sex as that recorded on the original birth certificate based on visible anatomy at the time,” Joshua Safer, the executive director of the Mount Sinai Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery, said. “Such a plan makes no sense so I hope it wouldn’t happen, we’ll see what’s even attempted.”
A popular argument against support for transgender laws is that protecting trans people from discrimination would allow men and boys to harass or assault cisgender women and girls in bathrooms and locker rooms. But the opposite might actually be true.
Reuters reported in 2016 that almost 60 percent of transgender Americans avoid using public bathrooms because of fear of confrontation because they have faced harassment and assault in the past.
Although Governor Cuomo signed an executive order in 2015 that bans harassment and discrimination against transgender people, many worry that it’s not enough.
“As we learned in this current political climate, someone new can come into office and simply either remove or not renew the order,” Mila Madison, Executive Director of The Transgender Resource Center, said. “This is why we need a permanent law statewide. The law would guarantee that people couldn’t be fired from their job simply for being transgender, but it also extends to areas such as housing, public accommodations, and education.”
In order to protect trans people, many states have made or are beginning to make legislation in order to protect their trans citizens on a state level. New York State is currently the only state in the Northeast without statutory protections for transgender citizens including hate crimes.
In January the new Senate will now include 40 Democrats and only 23 Republicans. With a majority in both the Assembly and the Senate, many are hopeful that 2019 will finally see protection for transgender people.
After his November victory, Andrew Gounardes said to his supporters in a written statement,
“Tonight, the voters of Southern Brooklyn have said that they want new leadership in Albany that delivers real results for working families, including, quality, affordable health care, fully funded public schools, speed cameras in every school zone, reproductive choice for all women, lower housing costs, and accessible and reliable public transit. We would not be here but for the countless volunteers who knocked on thousands of doors from Bay Ridge to Marine Park, made hundreds of thousands of phone calls, stood at dozens of subway stations, stuffed and addressed countless envelopes to help us to get out the vote.”
“The biggest obstacle had been the state Senate,” Madison said. “We are hopeful that we will see the bill finally pass with the changes of some key seats in the Senate this past election.”