BY ALAN VAN CAPELLE | The legislative session is now under way in Albany and our community has a number of priorities where your personal involvement can be crucial to making progress. One issue in particular is the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) – and getting movement on it in the State Legislature this year – so that we can end discrimination against transgender people.
After all, it's 2008 and New York has still not done what 13 other states – such as New Jersey, Iowa, and Colorado – have done and that is to pass a comprehensive statewide law that prohibits discrimination based upon gender identity and expression in employment, housing, public accommodations, and other areas of everyday life.
Businesses are way ahead of New York State government when it comes to this. Numerous Fortune 500 companies have employee protections in place for their transgender workers. Twenty-six are New York-based companies, with prominent names like Pfizer, JP Morgan Chase, and Eastman Kodak among them.
We as New Yorkers tend to pride ourselves in our progressiveness – our tendency to be ahead of the curve on civil rights issues. But in this case we're seriously lagging behind, and because of this thousands of New Yorkers feel the cruelty of this discrimination every day of their lives. The Pride Agenda has made it our number one goal this year for the New York State Assembly to pass GENDA. It is long overdue that we make sure that New Yorkers cannot legally be fired from their jobs, kicked out of their homes, or denied service in a restaurant because of how they express or identify their gender.
Now here's the good news – as a community we've already done a lot of the groundwork needed to pass the bill. Of the 150 assemblymembers, 71 have signed on as sponsors of GENDA and 23 more have publicly stated their support for the bill. That's a total of 94 assemblymembers – more than enough to pass GENDA.
What needs to be done over the next few months is for all of us to increase pressure on our assemblymembers to act so that GENDA is their priority and that it is sent to the floor for a vote. We know we have the votes; we just need agreement from the Assembly to hold the vote.
You can make this happen by writing your assemblymember at critical points during the legislative session, like when GENDA starts moving through committee and important votes are about to take place. To know when, all you need to do is sign up to get our action alerts at www.prideagenda.org.
We also need you to be with us in Albany on April 29 when we hold more than 100 legislative meetings and show through sheer numbers that New Yorkers are not willing to accept discrimination in any form and that GENDA needs attention.
It's because of the hard work that our community and our allies did last year that we were able to pass the marriage bill through the Assembly when all the pundits said that it wasn't possible.
You proved everybody wrong.
We did it together – and now we must keep working together to make sure that GENDA is passed in the Assembly before the Legislature adjourns this summer.
I know we can do it. So let's get to work.
Alan Van Capelle is the executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, New York State's LGBT rights advocacy group.