LGBTQ activists, non-profit leaders, and state lawmakers gathered at the State Capitol Building in Albany on April 25 for a dedicated advocacy day to rally support for several legislative proposals focused on transgender, gender non-conforming, non-binary, and intersex (TGNCNBI) New Yorkers.
Advocates with New York Transgender Advocacy Group and New Pride Agenda, backed by out state lawmakers Tony Simone and Brad Hoylman-Sigal, led the way in facilitating what was described as the first TGNCNBI Advocacy Day in Albany. It came at a timely moment when many Republican-led states have been working aggressively to restrict transgender rights, especially for youth, in healthcare, sports, and other areas.
The rhetoric has even seeped into the Empire State, where some GOP lawmakers last month introduced legislation to ban trans youth from participating in girls’ sports. Though that bill will undoubtedly fail in a state where both houses and the governor’s office are controlled by Democrats, it is representative of the transphobia engulfing the political spectrum — and TGNCNBI New Yorkers are hoping to respond with a handful of bills that would shore up financial resources for the trans community, provide a safe haven for TGNCNBI people seeking refuge in New York, and deliver additional measures to protect marginalized LGBTQ folks in the state.
New Pride Agenda, which works across the state to advocate for the rights of LGBTQ New Yorkers, played a leading role in mounting a vigorous campaign early last year to request a $15 million fund specifically dedicated to funding trans-led organizations and necessary services for trans New Yorkers. The state started off by providing $1 million for the initiative, which became known as the Lorenja Borjas Trans Equity Fund. A year later, New Pride Agenda is now calling for the fund to expand to $4 million.
Among other priorities, advocates are calling on lawmakers to pass the Gender Identity Respect Dignity and Safety Act, which would direct prisons and jails to house people and provide them with clothing and materials in accordance with their gender identity; the REPEAL STI Discrimination Act, which would repeal a decades-old law penalizing individuals with STIs who have sex with others; and the Safe Haven for Transgender Youth and Families Act, under which New York State would ignore laws in other states calling for kids receiving gender-affirming care to be removed from their families. Out lawmakers also highlighted other legislative proposals, including a bill requiring schools in the state to create policies to make sure students are treated with respect and equality.
“Ten states in the past three months have passed laws prohibiting gender-affirming care for young people,” Hoylman-Sigal said in a written statement to Gay City News on May 2. “In response to a national wave of bigotry, a coalition of LGBTQ activists gathered in Albany on April 25 for the first Trans, Gender Non-conforming, Non-binary and Intersex Day of Action. I was proud to join them in advocating for our Trans Safe Haven Bill, which would make our state a safe haven for transgender youth, families, and their health care providers.”
“Right-wing extremists are on the attack and are starting by targeting LGBTQ youth,” Simone said in a written statement. He further underscored his support for the the bill requiring schools to respect students in accordance with their gender identity.
“Their goal is to erase us and they will fail,” Simone said. “We will never stop fighting until every LGBTQ child is free and safe… No child should go to school afraid of how they’ll be treated by their teachers and peers.”
The day was well received by advocates who made the journey to Albany. Melissa Sklarz, the government relations liaison for another statewide LGBTQ advocacy group known as Equality New York, said the day was filled with excitement, and New Pride Agenda executive director Elisa Crespo said it helped to empower a new generation of queer and trans leaders.
“Our LGBTQ communities in New York have lots of supportive friends and allies in Albany,” Sklarz told Gay City News on May 1. “We think 2023 will be a good year to push our agenda forward.”
Equality New York, Sklarz said, is advocating for 14 different priorities at once — including the safe haven bill as well as the STI Discrimination Act, which is carried in the lower chamber by out queer Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas and in the upper house by Hoylman-Sigal.
“Public health issues require public health solutions,” said González-Rojas, who said her STI discrimination bill “aims to decriminalize the sexual activity of people living with sexually transmitted infections because our real focus should be on evidence-based solutions we know work: testing, treatment, and the provision of basic needs that help keep people healthy.”
It is not clear which of the bills will move forward in the near future. In a phone call with Gay City News, out Assemblymember Deborah Glick of Manhattan praised the size of the crowd on hand for the advocacy day but largely deferred to the legislative sponsors and advocates on the fate of the bills. She further suggested that it may be difficult to pass some bills because lawmakers are scrambling to the finish line after spending weeks working on the overdue state budget.
Non-controversial bills are pushed through without much difficulty, Glick said, but legislation requiring debate could be challenging to pass before the scheduled conclusion of the legislative session next month.
“Many of the bills that impact civil rights writ large, whether that’s reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, or voting rights — those things almost always require debate,” Glick said.
As for the anti-trans sports bill introduced last month, Glick warned against “giving it oxygen” — especially since she predicts it will fail — though she described the topic of trans inclusion in sports as a “contentious” issue.
“We’re foolish not to recognize that,” she said.
With the state budget process wrapping up, Crespo said New Pride Agenda believes the safe haven bill will begin to gain traction soon. To this point, the bill has unanimously passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Holyman-Sigal. But Crespo conceded that the campaign to pass the REPEAL STI Discrimination Act and the Gender Identity Respect Dignity and Safety Act will “require a lot of education and myth busting.”
“That we are trying to play catch up with New Jersey and California as it pertains to improving conditions for incarcerated trans people is deeply troubling to me,” Crespo said. “That said, the Gender Identity Respect Dignity and Safety Act is seeing a lot of coalition building and organizing around it. I suspect we will be making a big push with our partners to get that done this year, as well.”