A look at GENDA nearly four years later

Former Governor Andrew Cuomo, flanked on the right by Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, is joined by advocates as he signs GENDA and the ban on conversion therapy.

January will mark four years since the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), which added gender identity and expression as a protected class in New York State’s human rights and hate crimes laws, was signed into law.

The bill’s passage represented a breakthrough, of sorts, after it stalled for years in the GOP-held State Senate. It took nearly two decades to expand on the 2002 Sexual Orientation Nondiscrimination Act, which merely protected individuals on the basis of sexual orientation but not gender identity or expression.

But now, roughly four years into the new law, how has it worked out so far? And how can people utilize it?

New Pride Agenda, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization, set out on a mission to answer that question in a detailed report. The non-profit group reviewed the status of GENDA and outlined resources for individuals facing discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression. New Pride Agenda extracted the information through interviews with five government officials and 10 non-government workers who have either worked on trans or gender non-conforming issues or were involved in the effort to pass GENDA.

Citing data from the state’s Division of Human Rights, New Pride Agenda laid out numbers showing that government officials logged a total of 396 GENDA-related complaints as of mid-December of 2022 — 59 of which were settled or otherwise resolved. Another 209 complaints were dismissed due to lack of probable cause or jurisdiction and 128 cases are pending. A total of $223,000 has been shelled out through legal settlements associated with GENDA.

Manny Kottaram, a spokesperson for the state’s Division of Human Rights, confirmed those numbers.

“State law provides transgender, gender non-conforming and non-binary people equal protection and access, and the Division of Human Rights is committed to enforcing GENDA and raising awareness of the critical protections it provides to individuals,” Kottaram said in a written statement to Gay City News. “We look forward to reviewing this report and ensuring that all New Yorkers have the right to live their lives with dignity, respect and protection under the law.”

It is not clear how the numbers compare to cases involving complaints on the basis of sexual orientation. Kottaram declined to provide that information.

The numbers that were provided, however, do not necessarily paint a complete picture of the landscape surrounding anti-trans bias in the state, advocates say. New Pride Agenda’s report suggested that the number of cases is not higher because many people are not aware of the law or are not sure how to bring a complaint forward.

Every person interviewed as part of the report agreed that more public education about GENDA is necessary and that there should be a greater focus on establishments of public accommodations. One interviewee said businesses “will likely be more careful and more inclusive” if they are more educated about the law.

Manhattan State Senator Brad Hoylman, who carried GENDA in the upper chamber, echoed calls for more education. The report, he said, “shows that New York must do a better job enforcing the rights of TGNC people in a timely manner and raise awareness of GENDA through training, greater transparency, and additional resources for the Division of Human Rights.”

“I am confident that the almost 400 GENDA complaints to date are just the beginning,” Hoylman said in a written statement.

To that end, New Pride Agenda recommends additional training for two key groups: potential violators of GENDA as well as community members who may utilize GENDA. New Pride Agenda particularly recommends training for small and mid-size employers, which are “less likely to have covered GENDA with their employees,” the non-profit said. New Pride Agenda believes GENDA trainings should be required for all public health officials in the state, just like sexual harassment trainings.

The non-profit is also calling for a public dashboard on the Division of Human Rights’ website with statistics on the total of complaints filed under GENDA, where the complaints were filed, and the status of cases. Furthermore, New Pride Agenda believes the Division of Human Rights would be better prepared to implement the suggested changes with the support of additional funding.

The report also points to the intersection of GENDA and New York City Human Rights Law — which only intersect when individuals are in the five boroughs of New York City. The city’s Human Rights Law protects folks on an even broader level than GENDA and therefore it is used more often in New York City, according to the report, which cited representatives from the City Human Rights Commission and the State Division of Human Rights.

Those who plan to take action through GENDA can either hire a lawyer and sue in court or file a complaint with one of the state’s dozen offices for human rights. Once the government receives a complaint, the Divison of Human Rights typically wraps up an investigation within six months, according to the report.

Those who are in New York City can contact the New York City Commission on Human Rights. Within a week or two, the Commission on Human Rights would set up an appointment with an enforcement attorney and set up an investigation.

“New York State made a commitment to the Transgender and Gender Non Conforming community when it passed the Gender Expression Non Discrimination Act (GENDA) in 2019,” New Pride Agenda executive director Elisa Crespo said in a written statement. “As home to one of the largest TGNC populations in America, our state has a responsibility to never waver on that commitment.”

Crespo stressed that New Pride Agenda’s goal is to ensure TGNC New Yorkers know their rights, which will empower them “to make informed decisions about their health, education, employment and housing without being coerced.”

“We believe this historic legislation has yet to reach its full potential, and that by increasing education, continuing to build partnerships with community based organizations, and improving transparency, GENDA has the ability to improve the quality of life of transgender and gender non-conforming New Yorkers,” Crespo said.

Kiara St. James, who co-founded New York Transgender Advocacy Group and serves as the organization’s executive director of programs, said GENDA was intended to ensure New York continues to protect transgender, gender non-conforming, non-binary, intersex, and asexual folks.

“We must make sure that we are implementing GENDA to its fullest potential, so that all New Yorkers can bask in the sunshine of Equality and guaranteed protections!” St. James said in a written statement. “New York must be vigilant in seeing that discrimination is addressed and that GENDA is living document with bite!”

Read the report here to learn more about the implementation of GENDA and how to file complaints.