In late November, we celebrated Trans Awareness Week and Trans Day of Remembrance, honoring the memory of members of the trans and non-binary communities who were victims of violence only because of who they were. While there is no doubt that the trans community is more visible than ever before, this violence persists, and even here in New York we must correct actions of the past that unfairly leave the trans community vulnerable to legal discrimination and bias.
In December 2002, New York State passed the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, or SONDA, a bill that was drafted to provide basic civil rights protections to the LGBTQ community. Unfortunately, New York ended up being the last state in the nation to pass such a bill that did not include gender identity and expression. Cruelly, trans protections were left out. Although some legislators tried to amend the bill to protect trans people, trans protections were ultimately left out of the final bill with the promise that this would be fixed in the next year.
It’s been 16 years, and despite real efforts by advocates, this promise to the transgender community was never kept, leaving trans and non-binary people still subject to legal discrimination here in New York. But with a new Democratic majority in the State Senate, it’s time to finally right this wrong by passing the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, GENDA.
Across the country and here in New York, we face threats from Donald Trump and his bigoted agenda that seeks to remove rights and protections from members of the LGBTQ community and delegitimize our humanity. The Human Rights Campaign reported that at least 22 transgender people have been killed in 2018, and 82 percent were women of color. From trying to ban trans people from the military to requiring that bathrooms be used strictly based on gender assigned at birth to attempting to limit the definition of gender, the Trump administration has made a concerted effort to threaten the recognition of our trans and non-binary siblings.
In order to truly counter Trump, we have a lot of work ahead of us. According to the Trevor Project, an organization providing suicide prevention training to LGBTQ youth, LGBTQ youth are almost five times as likely to attempt suicide compared to their heterosexual peers. Our local and state leaders should be the first line of defense against this hatred, and passing GENDA is a vital first step. GENDA will add gender identity and gender expression to the protected classes in New York’s human rights and hate crimes laws, providing critical protections for trans and non-binary New Yorkers. In addition, my colleagues and I must pass legislation banning so-called “conversion therapy”, a fraudulent practice that claims to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Conversion therapy has been banned by the New York City Council, but remains legal elsewhere in New York State.
In the United States, we believe that all people are created equal. And until the threats from the Trump administration end, we must continue to fight for rights for all of us. As leaders, we have a duty to fight for all New Yorkers, regardless of their political beliefs, class, race, sexual orientation, or gender identity. These protections for our trans and non-binary siblings are essential. Our trans brothers and sisters have always been on the front lines of LGBTQ civil rights — often the most vocal even though they continue to be the most vulnerable. We owe it to them to get GENDA passed.
Daniel O’Donnell has been a state assemblymember from Manhattan since January 2003 and is a candidate to fill the vacancy when Public Advocate Letitia James becomes the state attorney general next month.