May 02, 2017

GENDA is not about bathrooms; it's about saving lives

Author: Ned Hoskin
Source:  NYSUT Communications
LGBTQ Advocacy Day
Caption: L-R: Assemblymember Deborah Glick; Senator Brad Hoylman; President Andy Pallotta; Assemblymember Harry Bronson; Executive Vice President Jolene T. DiBrango; and NYSUT legislative representative Jim Larson. Photo by Marty Kerins, Jr.

The group of students from the Pride club at Jamestown Community College had to be encouraged when Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R–Chautauqua, said he fully agreed with 95 percent of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, or GENDA.

But it wasn’t enough; he said he couldn't vote for it.

“If you agree with 95 percent of this bill, that’s an A plus,” said student Mitchell Smigel. “That’s the part of the bill that will save lives.”

The 5 percent that troubles Goodell is the part that would allow people to choose bathrooms and participate in sports according to their own gender identity.

But that’s irrelevant when compared to what’s at stake, said Hannah Laurenc, another JCC student.

“People are being murdered, and people are killing themselves,” she said, because of legal discrimination.

The GENDA bill would add gender identity and expression to the current list of classifications that are protected by state law from discrimination.

Currently, legal discrimination can occur in employment, in rentals and housing and in refusal of business and services. Transgender individuals also are not specifically protected from the threat of and actual physical harm.

“If you’re a trans person, the state Division of Human Rights doesn’t protect you,” said Greg Rabb, a member of the Faculty Association of JCC. As president of the Jamestown City Council, Rabb is the only openly gay elected official in the eight counties of western New York. “We need to separate sex from sexual orientation and gender from gender identity,” he said.

This energized band of Jamestown activists was among a couple of hundred who gathered in Albany today for the LGBTQ Day of Advocacy organized by a massive coalition of labor, education and social justice groups. It is only the second annual LGBTQ advocacy day.

NYSUT President Andy Pallotta, Executive Vice President Jolene T. DiBrango and First Vice President J. Philippe Abraham, who is the officer responsible for social justice issues, attended the morning sessions.

LGBTQ Advoacy Day
Comptroller Tom DiNapoli with students from Jamestown Community College. Photo by Marty Kerins, Jr.

Pallotta introduced to the activists a man he called “too good to be in politics,” State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, who said it’s time to pass GENDA, which has been pending since he was in the Legislature more than a decade ago.

DiNapoli urged participants to continue and connect with lawmakers over the long term. “Build relationships so they know who you are, and they know you are watching,” he said.

Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, D–Manhattan, said it is important for LGBTQ activists to get community groups — churches, fraternal organizations, parent groups — to join with them. “Partner with the people lawmakers don’t expect to hear from on your issues,” she said. Sen. Brad Hoylman, D–Manhattan, and Assemblyman Harry Bronson, D–Rochester, joined her.

philippe abraham
First Vice President J. Philippe Abraham. Photo by Marty Kerins, Jr.

In addition to GENDA, the volunteer lobbyists for a day, advocated for an anti-conversion therapy bill. It would prevent mental health professionals from engaging in efforts to change sexual orientation and gender identity of minors. It also would expand the definition of professional misconduct with regard to mental health professionals.

They also advocated:

  • The Child-Parent Security Act, which recognizes the legitimacy of children born with the aid of assisted reproductive technology and legalizes surrogate parenting contracts. It would provide clear legal procedures to ensure that a child’s relationship to his or her parents is legally recognized.
  • A bill to designate all single-occupancy bathroom facilities in public places and in all public and private schools as gender neutral.
  • A bill to extend the anti-discrimination protections of the Human Rights Law to cover public as well as private schools.

Gabriel Blau of the advocacy group Equality New York told the grassroots advocates to keep it all in perspective: “This is a coalition effort; we cannot do this alone. Everything we do is about people, not policies. … Our work starts with, and ends with, people.”