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Gaining Rights Quietly

Gender identity and expres- sion was added to the city of Albany’s antidiscrimination bill at the Common Council’s meeting on April 7. The fact that it passed easily, 13-1, with little fanfare is perhaps as telling as the fact that it was added, and gives hope to proponents of transgender rights.

“It was not the multiple-year fight we had when we wanted to add sexual orientation in 1992, and that’s good,” said Councilman Richard Conti (Ward 6), who introduced the resolution. “We didn’t have the philosophical or ideological opposition. . . . We’ve come a long way, and the city has really shown it wants to be inclusive.” He noted that now 55 percent of the state’s population lives in municipalities with antidiscrimination laws that include gender expression, nearly twice as many as in the rest of the country.

Conti introduced the resolution last June, and let it sit on the agenda for a while “for people to look and comment and see if they had concerns, and none developed.”

“I saw this as an update to what we did in ‘92, and an effort to be as inclusive as possible in protecting the citizens Albany,” he said. “It’s something that was long overdue.”

The measure passed with little enough drama, in the midst of a busy council meeting, that some local transgender activists hadn’t heard of its passage until contacted by Metroland.

“Finally, finally, finally,” said longtime transgender activist Helen Farrell. “I can live here now,” she added with a chuckle.

Charlene Dodge of the Albany Gender Project said her first thought when she heard was “Oh wow, it passed!”

“It’s good to see that things are moving at the political level,” she added, saying it was an important step toward the larger fight of getting a statewide bill passed. Transgender protections were left out of the statewide Sexual Orientation Non- Discrimination Act in 2002 as a compromise to get the bill passed. The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act was introduced in the state Legislature last year, and is currently in the judiciary committee.

“It’s just a matter of time and pressure,” said Dodge. “We’ll get a diamond out of it yet.”

—Miriam Axel-Lute

Can You Hear Us Now?

Cell-phone companies should be forced to provide improved consumer protection, according to consumer advocacy groups AARP and the Public Utility Law Project, and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

“One of the great things about our free market system is that if someone does a bad job, you can find a better company and take your business there. One of the exceptions to that rule, however, is the cell phone industry,” said Schumer when he introduced his “Cell Phone User Bill of Rights” in February 2003. Cell-phone companies currently require large cancellation fees that restrict consumers from exploring other plans for one to three years. AARP found that dissatisfied customers rarely switch their phone service, either because of early termination fees or because they want to retain their cell-phone number.

In reponse, AARP and PULP are proposing the “Wireless Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 2004” in New York state. As with Schumer’s federal bill, the New York bill proposes stricter guidelines for wireless providers’ billing procedures and requires certain enhanced services. PULP expects it to be introduced shortly in both houses of the Legislature. Schumer’s bill is still in committee.

The bills would mandate more comprehensible disclosures, including clearer fees and surcharges, detailed coverage maps, and unambiguous explanations of airtime minutes. The bills’ supporters want to end practices that permit the addition of surcharges to monthly bills, which add up to $82 million yearly for New Yorkers, according to a study conducted by Schumer’s office. The bills would also require the implementation of e911, which would allow for the immediate tracking of cell phone users calling for emergency assistance, and the ability to cancel a cell- phone plan within 15 days of receiving the first bill.

“A national survey . . . found that the main reason for seniors to use wireless phones is for safety and security,” said AARP spokesperson William Ferris about the importance of e911.

Cell-phone companies insist that implementing these changes would be costly and time-consuming, something they have said since the 1990s and have used as an argument against wireless number portability.

If successful, New York’s legislation would be the first of its kind in the United States, and could set a precedent for protecting consumers elsewhere throughout the country.

—Ariel Colletti

Staying Put

On rainy Tuesday morning, a Hudson-Park resident’s car bears a sign showing that it’s driver is participating in the first “Park In” day. Residents of downtown neighborhoods are being encouraged to leave their cars parked on the street every Tuesday for 10 weeks to encourage commuters to explore alternative forms of transportation. Though the signs were sparse, Councilman Richard Conti (Ward 6) says many people participated without them. “Just before 8 to 9 o’clock or so, during that period, I can honestly say I saw very few parked cars moving [around the corner of Chestnut and Dove streets], and that’s good,” he said. “I definitely will judge it as being successful.”

Metroland Represents

Metroland picked up eight awards at the New York Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest at the association’s annual conference in Saratoga Springs on April 2-3.

Last year, Metroland also won eight awards from NYPA, but they were all second and third places and honorable mentions; this year, the paper received four firsts, two seconds, and two thirds.

Metroland took home first place in its circulation division (the highest) in the following four categories: Overall Design Excellence; Coverage of Crime/Police/Courts (for Travis Durfee’s cover story on the public-defender caseload crunch, and his story on the defunding of a successful program to keep the mentally ill out of jail); Special Sections (for the Failure Issue, the essay collection “A Nation at War Against Itself,” and the Best Of issue); and Coverage of the Arts (for an article by Kathryn Ceceri, and other arts coverage).

Second-place awards were given for Coverage of the Environment (for Ashley Hahn’s cover story on pollution from the Norlite factory and a couple of shorter stories also by her); and Coverage of Education (for Kathryn Ceceri’s homeschooling story and Travis Durfee’s Green Island school story).

Third-place awards were given for Best Use of Color, and Best House Ad/Ad Campaign (for an advertising campaign promoting our dining section).

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