History was made in New York State recently when the New York State Senate – after 16 very long and often disappointing years – finally passed the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) granting basic human and civil rights protections to the Transgender and Non-Binary communities.
GENDA had previously passed the NYS Democratic majority Assembly 11 years in a row. Also signed into law was the ban on LGBTQ Conversion Therapy, a controversial practice that attempted to change a child or youth’s sexual orientation or gender identity through highly discredited therapeutic means.
GENDA now codifies into law, explicit legal rights and protections against all forms of discrimination for any transgender or gender non-binary person in New York State. Prior to November 2015 when Governor Cuomo signed his executive action granting implicit protections to the transgender/gender non-binary community, it was legal to discriminate against a person in terms of medical/mental health care, housing, employment, finances (including obtaining a loan or mortgage) and access to public accommodations (including lodging, restaurants, or other public facilities).
At that time, the Governor redefined the meaning of the term “sex” when used in the Human Rights Law to include gender identity and the status of being transgender. He also redefined the term “disability” when used in the Human Rights Law to include gender dysphoria (an often severe disconnect between a person’s physical body and their internal sense of self). This was needed, because the New York Senate’s Republican leaders refused to allow GENDA out of committee for discussion, consideration or a vote by the full Senate.
As we’ve seen on the Federal level, executive actions and orders can be easily overturned when a new administration enters office. When the Democrats won control of the State Senate, GENDA was finally able to move out of committee and was passed January 15th. The human and civil rights protections the Republican Party failed to act upon for 16 years, were passed in the first few days of this new Democratic legislative session. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the legislation into law on Friday, January 25, 2019.
The ban on conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth under the age of 18 means our children will no longer be subjected to highly discredited and often disastrous attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity through therapeutic means or enrollment into shock camp-like facilities. Many prominent medical and behavioral health organizations including The American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association have condemned LGBTQ conversion therapy as harmful and ineffective often leading to greater sense of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation. No amount of “therapy” however one defines this term can change a person’s internal sense of self.
In my professional development trainings, I often ask participants at what age did they know their gender identity? The answer that most often comes back is that “we’ve always know who we were!” The same answer holds true for transgender/gender non-binary children, adolescents and adults. This is who we are. We didn’t ask for this, we are not looking to be “changed” or “fixed,” nor will we be denied the ability to live our lives – just as others in society live theirs.
With GENDA and the ban on conversion therapy approved, our work is not done. There is still a great deal of education and training that needs to be done around New York State in schools, businesses, religious and civic organizations. Gender Equality NY, a statewide advocacy group (of which I am a founding board member), has identified several key issues we will be working on in the coming months and years, including:
- Banning Gay/Transgender Panic Legal Defense
- Expanding Gender Neutral Restrooms In Public Spaces
- Improving School Gender Policies Across NYS
- Competency Training for Agencies Serving LGBTQI Youth and Seniors
- Honoring LGBTQI Veterans
- Creating Authority for Birth Certificate Changes
- Affirming Intersex Rights and Eliminating Unnecessary Surgery on Intersex Children
As I’ve so often ended these editorials in the past, the transgender community is not looking for more or special rights only equal protections. Thankfully, some of this vision has become a reality. But real work remains to be done.