Would you believe that in 2013, in the progressive state of New York, discrimination is still legal? It's true. One group of New Yorkers can be fired from their jobs, turned away from services and even evicted from their homes -- simply for being who they are: transgender New Yorkers. In order to ensure that our transgender neighbors, family and friends have basic civil rights, we strongly support the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, or GENDA. GENDA adds "gender identity or expression" to the state's existing civil rights code, along with race, religion, national origin, age, sex, disability and sexual orientation. It is a bill before the legislature in Albany.
Transgender people -- those whose gender identity, appearance, behavior or expression differs from their assigned sex at birth -- face discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations and other areas of life, and they are particularly vulnerable to hate crimes. Many local governments in New York, from Suffolk County to Rochester, have local GENDA laws, as do many states, and those laws work well. But there is no protection under current New York state law.
Time is running out for this lifesaving measure. This week, New York state lawmakers will close the books on this legislative session and depart for the summer recess. The Assembly has passed the bill. Now it's up to the Senate.
Without GENDA, tens of thousands of people's lives will continue to hang in the balance. They will wonder if the letter from their landlord is an eviction notice, simply for being transgender, and they will know that they have no legal recourse if it is. They will continue to live in fear that a pink slip could arrive at any time, just for being transgender, and they will know that they'd have to pack up their desks and move on. It is unfair and unjust that discrimination is legal.
Nationally, things are looking up for GENDA-type measures, and the issue is a mainstream one. Already, 16 states -- including Colorado, Nevada and Iowa -- the District of Columbia and, as of last week, Puerto Rico have GENDA laws on the books. Hundreds of localities in conservative states, including Kentucky, Idaho and Missouri, protect all their residents equally, and without regard to gender identity or expression.
In the state of New York, already over 60 percent of the population lives in a city or county that protects all its people, including New York City, Albany, Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse, and counties including Suffolk, Westchester, Tompkins and Albany. But this patchwork of measures is only at the local level. A Long Islander who lives in Suffolk County is protected at home, and cannot be evicted because he or she is transgender, but if that person works a few miles away in Nassau County, he or she can be fired from that job for being transgender, with no recourse.
This discrimination also filters down into daily life: Transgender New Yorkers experience disparity in health care, education and mental and physical health in addition to housing and employment.
The good news is that GENDA is popular. Seventy-eight percent of New Yorkers approve of the law. And when was the last time 78 percent of New Yorkers agreed on anything?
New York is the home of Seneca Falls and Stonewall. For civil rights, we like to think we take the lead. Other states follow New York's example. Look what's happened with marriage equality: Since New York passed marriage equality just two years ago, the number of states that allow it has doubled -- and many more are along the way. New York sets the bar.
Please call or email your New York state senator to do the right thing: Bring GENDA to the floor and vote "yes" on basic, fundamental civil rights for everybody in our state. No person should have to wait another day for the rights that their neighbors take for granted and that all human beings deserve.
The Hon. Richard Gottfried is a member of the New York State Assembly and chairs the Assembly Health Committee.
Nathan Schaefer is the Executive Director of the Empire State Pride Agenda.