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Equality for all: transgender activists.Photo by John Whipple

If at First You Don’t Succeed

After being excluded from a landmark gay-rights bill last year, transgender New Yorkers are fighting back. On Monday, close to three dozen activists lobbied the Legislature for the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act. Passage of the bill would make it illegal, under New York state humans-rights law, to discriminate against people based on gender identity or expression in employment, housing, education and credit.

“Persons of transgender experience,” said Sen. Thomas Duane (D-WF-Manhattan), “and those who do not conform to a perceived stereotypical gender identity or behavior, do not deserve to be denied basic human rights. I am proud of this legislation and will do everything in my power to see that this becomes law in the near future.”

Last year’s passage of the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, which took 31 years to be signed into law, made it illegal under the human-rights law to discriminate against people because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or straight. There was no explicit inclusion for transgender people in the bill’s language, leaving many without the same protection as other New Yorkers. The state’s largest gay-rights advocacy group, Empire State Pride Agenda, would not include transgender language in SONDA for fear that it would kill the bill’s chance of passing, causing quite a rift between ESPA and many transgender people. But on Monday, that seemed to be water under the bridge, as representatives from ESPA, along with transgender advocates and the bill’s two sponsors, Duane in the Senate and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-WF- Manhattan), introduced the legislation.

“While current law may provide some protection from such discrimination,” said Ross Levi, legislative counsel for ESPA, “the Pride Agenda wholeheartedly feels that New York’s human-rights statutes should be amended so that it is crystal clear that no New Yorker will be held back because of the way he or she expresses gender or sex.”

At this point in New York state, only Buffalo, New York City, Rochester and Suffolk County have transgender- inclusion anti-discrimination provisions in their human-rights statutes, while nationally, Minnesota and Rhode Island are the only states to have enacted such legislation.

—Nancy Guerin

Photo by Teri Currie

Silence Speaks Volumes

Thousands of students and faculty members across the nation took a vow of silence last Wednesday [April 9] to make a stand against discrimination in schools against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. Instead of speaking, participants handed out note cards explaining the reason for their silence. Locally, 18 school districts participated in the event. A rally called Breaking the Silence took place at the Egg, where students had the chance to speak out about their experiences. The Student Theater Outreach Program (pictured) performed at the rally along with various other artists, musicians, poets and activists.

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