With the daily (and sometimes hourly) play by play on New York marriage equality that’s been going on in the LGBT blogosphere and mainstream media in the last week, many, including myself, did not notice another important piece of legislation that actually passed in the Empire State. That legislation is A 5039, better known as the Gender Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or GENDA. While the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, or SONDA, has been in effect for over eight years now, transgender employees in New York are still without statewide protection, and can be fired for their gender identity at any time without legal recourse.
GENDA quietly passed (for the fourth consecutive year) in the Assembly on June 14th and arrived the same day in the Senate as S 2873, where it was immediately referred to the Republican chaired Rules Committee, and thus appears dead on arrival. However, according to State Director of the New York Transgender Rights Organization (NYTRO), Joann Prinzivalli, the passage of GENDA is not entirely without hope.
Prinzivalli’s colleague and fellow NYTRO Director Melissa Sklarz notes that there are currently three Republican Senators on record as supporting GENDA: Senators Alesi, Flanagan, and McDonald. Prinzivalli puts the whip count at 32, so the bill, if voted on tomorrow, would pass with narrow bipartisan support, with notoriously anti-LGBT Senator Ruben Diaz being the only Democrat in opposition. That is, it would pass if only it could get out of committee.
With Senate Republicans continually delaying a vote on the less controversial marriage equality bill on false charges of insufficient religious protections, this is looking increasingly unlikely to occur. Prinzivalli strongly recommends contacting Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, and, if your local Senator is a Republican, contacting her or him as well. (Skelos’ contact info: Phone: (518) 455-3171 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Should the current Senate legislative session end with GENDA dead in committee, Prinzivalli does point to one last ray of hope, short of the Senate shifting to a Democratic majority in the next election. Based on a meeting she took with a member of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration, it seems that the Governor may be willing to put pressure on the Senate to pass GENDA in its next session if he can take care of marriage now. In the meantime, he has signed a continuation of his predecessor Governor David Paterson’s executive order barring discrimination against transgender employees of the state, and additionally has, from his time as NY Attorney General, a win against American Eagle Outfitters for transgender discrimination based on the NY Human Rights Law that at least sets a positive precedent.
While GENDA may not pass this session, it is time to start building the momentum for the next legislative session now. LGBT people across New York are already mobilized to tell their Senators to vote for marriage equality – while we have their staff on the phone, it is vital that we make our support for GENDA known as well.
(h/t to fire cat club for bringing this legislation to my attention)
J. Rudy Flesher, a Philadelphia based actor and author, holds a B.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies from The College of New Jersey, and is an award-winning feminist scholar. Ze blogs here and at The Pistol in Bed Thirteen, works with PhinLi Bookings to connect LGBTQ and sex positive talent with audiences, and is currently writing hir first book, an essay collection on the daily experiences of a genderqueer life.
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