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Big New Push for Statewide Trans Rights Bill

by Cody Lyon

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday November 5, 2007

Less than a month after lesbian Khadijah Farmer sued the Caliente Cab Company after a male bouncer allegedly kicked her out of the women's restroom at the popular Manhattan eatery because he thought she was actually a man, a number of LGBT activists and leaders say her case highlights the need the proposed Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act in New York State.

GENDA, which was first introduced in 2003, would ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression in housing, employment and other public accommodations. The bill currently has 72 co-sponsors in the state Assembly and 14 in the Senate. These numbers indicate GENDA could pass next year if it came up for a vote on the Assembly floor.

The bill remains, at least for the time being, in committee due, in part, to Albany's famously stagnant legislative process. LGBT activists (and their constituents) will almost certainly begin to pressure state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver [D-Lower Manhattan] and his Democratic colleagues to bring up the bill for a vote. The New York State Democratic Party endorsed GENDA early last month but an even greater task remains to convince the majority Republican state Senate to pass the bill.

New York Transgender Rights Organization State Director Joann Prinzavelli, a resident of Westchester County, blamed the Assembly leadership for GENDA's delay.

"The message we're getting from... Speaker Sheldon Silver's office is we passed enough LGBT friendly bills this year and we like things the way they are (politically)," she said. "Our friends in the Assembly are letting us down by not voting on and passing this bill."

Empire State Pride Agenda spokesperson Joe Tarver maintained GENDA is necessary to protect transgender New Yorkers.

"A lot of discrimination is not about who you go home to at night; it's about the fact that you are breaking some kind of gender norm in the eyes of your boss or co-workers," Empire State Pride Agenda spokesperson Joe Tarver said.

New York City activist D'Angello Johnson has been involved in the movement for transgender rights in New York through TransJustice and other organizations. He pointed out transgender people often face discrimination based on their gender identification in the Human Resource Administration, other social service agencies and even in homeless shelters. Johnson adds gender non-conformists often face additional difficulties that gays and lesbians simply don't because of their gender identity or expression.

"Sexual orientation can be hidden, not purposefully," he said as he pointed out gender identity and expression is "in your face." "You might not know somebody's sexual orientation right off the bat."

"A lot of discrimination is not about who you go home to at night; it's about the fact that you are breaking some kind of gender norm in the eyes of your boss or co-worker."

Johnson said he is optimistic about GENDA's prospects and what he described as the growing climate of inclusiveness among gay and lesbian New Yorkers in regards to gender identity and expression. He further pointed out this struggle follows the path other civil rights movements have taken over the last century.

"I'm optimistic because it's a process," Johnson said.

Albany, Buffalo, Ithaca, New York City, Rochester along with Suffolk and Tompkins Counties has already added gender identity and expression into their non-discrimination statutes. California, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey and Rhode Island are among the 13 states and the District of Columbia which have enacted similar legislation.

GENDA supporters maintain it is necessary to add gender identity and expression to supersede laws which prohibit discrimination against gays and lesbians. But the current debate rages within the context of political wrangling on Capitol Hill and in-fighting among the movement for LGBT rights over the elimination of transgender-specific protections from the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Openly gay Congressman Barney Frank [D-Mass.] and other Democratic leaders maintain the elimination of gender expression from the bill was more about politics than morality. Others argue the reality that protections against sexual orientation discrimination alone aren't enough.

New York transgender activist Melissa Sklarz told EDGE in a recent interview she feels younger people have a greater understanding of the role gender identity and expression plays among gays and lesbians.

"With the younger generation, there's no difference between the gay and transgender community," she said. "People in their 20s get it - even in their 30s - but over 40, it takes more work and education."

Sklarz added she remains cautiously optimistic about GENDA's prospects in Albany.

"I see progress with each passing year," she said. "It may be small, you may need night goggles to see it, but yes, I see progress."

Cody Lyon is a New York freelance writer whose work has appeared in a number of national daily newspapers and New York weeklies. Lyon also writes a political opinion blog at