In New York, great strides have been made in protecting the civil rights of the gay and lesbian community, like the legalization of same-sex marriage. However, if you ask any of the thousands of transgender New Yorkers, they will tell you that they still face severe discrimination and bullying in their workplaces, and even threats of violence in their communities.
But there's a new law being proposed in Albany, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), which calls for protections against discrimination for New York's transgender and gender-nonconforming population. It outlaws discrimination based on gender identity or expression. The passage of this law would be a significant step for the LGBT civil rights movement in the state.
GENDA passed the Assembly last week, but New York's Conservative Party is blocking it in the Senate. Some Republican state senators who have enjoyed the Conservative Party's endorsement in past races fear bucking the party's opposition to GENDA. In past years, the law has stalled in the Senate because of the Conservative Party's opposition.
"Naturally, we're opposed to it," said Michael Long, chairman of the New York Conservative Party, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. "They should be protected, as we all are. We are for equal rights for all human beings. There is no need to create special classifications for individuals."
When the New York Conservative Party was founded in 1962, William F. Buckley was the preeminent voice of an conservative movement looking to limit both the Communist threat here and abroad and the growth of statist power spurred by the New Deal. Correspondingly, the New York Conservative Party was founded on a desire to counter the influence of a now-defunct liberal wing of New York's Republican Party, led by the likes of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, State Sen. Jacob Javits and U.S. Rep. John Lindsey, all in favor of big government.
Buckley was no doubt one of the outstanding American intellectuals of the 20th century, but his legacy as the standard bearer of modern American conservativism is tainted by his racist rationale for opposing the civil rights movement. In 1957 Buckley asserted in a newspaper editorial that Southern whites were an "advanced race" and therefore had every right to oppose big government's desegregation measures, even if it meant breaking federal civil rights laws.
Just as Buckley's racist justification for opposing the civil rights movement taint his legacy, the New York Conservative Party's opposition to equal rights for the LGBT community, as demonstrated by its virulent opposition to the Marriage Equality Act in 2011 and to GENDA today, soils the party's proud legacy of promoting fiscal responsibility and smaller government in New York. In fact, the Conservative Party's opposition to LGBT equality mirrors the self-destructive obsession with social issues that characterizes the Republican Party, once the party of Lincoln, standing up for the equality of all Americans, but now dominated by the evangelical and socially conservative movements.
In 2004 Buckley admitted his mistake, saying, "Yes. I once believed we could evolve our way up from Jim Crow. I was wrong: federal intervention was necessary." That federal intervention involved the passage of "special classification" legislation based on race, and it was necessary in order to bring about desegregation in the South, in spite of the "equal rights" provisions of our Constitution.
Long's and the Conservative Party's opposition to eliminating discrimination and violence against New York's transgender population is nothing more than an extension of Buckley's misguided, racist rationale for opposing the civil rights movement. It's a stance that compromises the original small-government mission of the New York Conservative Party and continues to hinder the conservative movement in this country. Long should stick to leading a party of small government, not one of small-mindedness.
Steven Kurlander is an attorney and communication strategist who writes a weekly column in the Sun Sentinel and the Florida Voice. He blogs at Kurly's Kommentary and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.