Against the backdrop of relentless attacks on trans youth in other states, there was a renewed sense of determination when LGBTQ leaders convened in Albany on April 26 for the 2022 New York State LGBTQI Advocacy Day.
LGBTQ advocacy groups, activists, and lawmakers joined together in the state capital physically and virtually to advocate for a series of bills and initiatives during the home stretch of the legislative session. Advocates emphasized the need to focus on vulnerable LGBTQ youth, especially in light of legislative assaults on trans students in healthcare and sports. Queer youth have faced broader attacks, as well, such as in Florida, where lawmakers banned classroom discussions pertaining to sexual orientation or gender identity for certain grades and published bogus health guidance laced with falsehoods about gender-affirming care for youth.
“This year’s advocacy day was on the heels of some great achievements that had been literally coming up for decades — like GENDA, the ban on conversion therapy, the repeal of the walking while trans, and legalizing gestational surrogacy,” out State Senator Brad Hoylman told Gay City News. “But I think the tone [this year], while celebratory, was a lot more somber because we know there is this new nationwide broadside by the far right against queer Americans.”
The day of advocacy, which featured organizations such as Equality New York, the New Pride Agenda, Caribbean Equality Project, SAGE, and many others, zeroed in on several proposals geared towards schools, including comprehensive sex education legislation and a suicide prevention measure requiring schools to create guidelines for teachers and staff to respond to students experiencing suicidal thoughts.
“Every year, Equality New York has the pleasure of working with our coalition of organizations and members to put on a full day of programming and lobbying for LGBTQI New Yorkers and allies,” Equality New York’s executive director, Amanda Babine, said in a written statement. “This year’s event has by far been the most community organized and led, ensuring we are following our true mission of collaboration and community.
Mohamed Q. Amin, founder and executive director of Caribbean Equality Project, told Gay City News he participated in a panel focusing on the ways in which queer and trans people of color — including immigrants and sex workers — face criminalization. Caribbean Equality Project is part of Equality New York’s coalition to advance legislation, which met with several lawmakers as part of the advocacy day, including Hoylman and out Assemblymembers Deborah Glick and Jessica González-Rojas. State Senator Julia Salazar and Assemblymembers Catalina Cruz, Harvey Epstein, and Nathalia Fernández also met with advocates, according to Caribbean Equality Project.
“As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, the state must create sustainability investment opportunities for grassroots community-based organizations that have been on the front lines protecting the most impacted LGBTQ+ New Yorkers.” Amin told Gay City News.
Among the many priorities for LGBTQ advocates include the Gender Identity Respect, Dignity, and Safety Act, which would require state and local correctional facilities to house inmates in accordance with their self-attested gender identity. Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas is a co-sponsor of that bill.
“At a time when states across the nation are introducing and passing several anti-LGBT legislation, including legislation that harms the lives of children, New York must lead,” González-Rojas said in a written statement. “I’m proud to have joined advocates and colleagues to call for the passage of bills that will make LGBTQ people in prison feel safer and students feel heard and affirmed.”
Meanwhile, there is unfinished work after advocates secured $1 million for the Lorena Borjas Trans and Wellness Equity Fund, which is intended to offset the unequal distribution of funding to LGBTQ organizations by allocating money dedicated to trans and non-binary New Yorkers. While the $1 million was far less than the $13 million fund that was established for the same purpose in California, advocates are pushing a proposal to ensure that funding stream is consistent.
Among other initiatives, advocates are also encouraging lawmakers to advance the Gender Inclusive Ballot Act, which would allow non-binary people to run for state party positions. That bill, which has passed the Senate Elections Committee, was crafted by out trans Democratic State Committee Member Émilia Decaudin and is carried by State Senator Zellnor Myrie and González-Rojas.
“These bills are about saving lives, creating safety and most importantly, providing an investment in those who need it the most,” Elisa Crespo, executive director of the New Pride Agenda, told Gay City News. “We look forward to the legislature passing and the Governor signing these bills into law this session.”
Hoylman also pointed to additional LGBTQ measures on the table, such as his proposed bill to establish a bill of rights for LGBTQ seniors in long-term care facilities and legislation to make New York a safe haven for trans kids and families who are facing harassment or criminalization in other states. Both of those bills are backed by another out LGBTQ lawmaker, Assemblymember Harry Bronson of Rochester, who is the lead sponsor of the safe haven bill in the Assembly.
“There is a hate-filled movement being carried out in some state houses throughout this country to criminalize the core of a person’s identity. New York will not be complicit in this activity,” Bronson said in a written statement. “This legislation meets the moment and provides critical protections to those families fleeing states that do not recognize the inherent dignity and respect trans children rightly deserve.
When asked about the likelihood of the LGBTQ-related bills advancing this year, Hoylman expressed some confidence — but he also warned of incoming distractions just hours after the state’s Court of Appeals struck down new Congressional and State Senate district lines.
“There is a lot to get done before we depart, and now we got this new curveball,” Hoyman said. “I’m not sure what impact that’s going to have, but it’s going to add to the already volatile political environment. We’re going to have to keep our heads down and focus on getting these bills across the finish line.”