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Tuesday December 12th 2017

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Local trans people talk about the need for GENDA

By Susan Jordan

This spring the Republican-dominated NYS Senate voted down GENDA, the bill which would codify basic anti-discrimination protections for trans New Yorkers. The NYS Assembly has passed the bill for 10 years, and the Senate has for nine years blocked it from coming to a vote on the floor.

This year, GENDA lead sponsor Sen. Daniel Squadron (a Democrat), forced the bill onto the floor, where it was voted down 6-3 by Republicans and Bronx Democrat Ruben Diaz Sr., described by Paul Schindler in Gay City News as “an implacable foe of LGBTQ rights”.

How does the continued blocking and rejection of this basic civil rights bill affect the personal lives of trans and gender expansive members of our community?

Shauna O’Toole

Shauna Marie O’Toole, Director, We Exist Coalition of the Finger Lakes:

GENDA seems to be a sticking point in the Republican-held NY State Senate. All it does is add five words to already working anti-discrimination laws: Gender Identity And Gender Expression. All this fear seems to be centered on this made-up notion of bathroom issues.

It is not about bathrooms. Not really. This is a contrived issue that is no different than the controversy over water fountains and bus seats were in the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s. This is about removing public accommodation of a minority group. Without access to public accommodations, we can’t work. We can’t shop. We cannot do anything that other groups do! All the easier to remove a People from the public eye and facilitate all forms of discrimination. Out of sight — out of mind, and out of luck. That is what is keeping GENDA from coming to the State Senate floor for a vote is all about. Fear.

Genesis Nunlee

Genesis Nunlee, trans activist:

GENDA is important because as comfortable as you may be with your gender identity, and as much as you may not be trans, discrimination based on ignorant biases and stereotypes about trans people will still likely affect you as a cis queer person.

While gender and sexuality are not inherently related and gender expression is incredibly personal and nuanced, society as a whole has the habit of blurring lines for simplicity of understanding. What this translates into is mainstream society not distinguishing cis queer people and trans queer people, which means that majority violence perpetuated against one is violence perpetrated against all.

However, Inside the community there is a struggle, because while we seem to be able to unite in the face of violence and adversity (perpetuated by the heteronormative mainstream society), we stumble and fracture when we attempt progress which leaves behind the most marginalized groups in our community (anyone who isn’t white, cis, and traditionally masculine presenting) for a false veneer of unity. The concern seems to be “how do I get my privilege back” rather than “how do I dismantle the systems of inequity that cause everyone to suffer”.

This is where education comes into play in a variety of ways. But if education is the sword then proactive legislation is a vital shield. As a trans person, I am willing (though often forced) to become my own weapon in the fight against ignorance. The passing of GENDA affords me at least some sort of armor when that fight inevitably gets ugly. The repeal of sodomy laws (and subsequent passing of hate crime statutes) certainly did not end homophobia in America but rather than having to rush naked into battle, de jure protections ensured there would be some kind of defense or net to fall back on. As a trans and gender nonconforming person I am currently not protected in my fight and GENDA would definitely help in that.

Trans people cannot do this alone, and we need allies from all sides. We need our cisgender and heterosexual allies to speak to their communities and we need our queer siblings to recognize that our battle as trans people continues to rage on despite all the legislative progress that has been made. Painful words and actions will come from those who disagree with our humanity, but that is precisely why we need GENDA, so that those disagreements don’t turn into legally protected persecution and worse.

Ultimately, GENDA is about being able to express yourself as you see fit and not having to worry about legally being discriminated against because of it. And while this is important to everyone, it is imperative to recognize that the trans and gender non-conforming community is currently unarmored and we need this protection if we are to survive, let alone thrive.