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Why The November 6th Election Matters For Transgender New Yorkers

A protest in Times Square in 2017 to protest President Donald Trump's announcement of a ban against transgender people serving in the military.
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A protest in Times Square in 2017 to protest President Donald Trump's announcement of a ban against transgender people serving in the military. Sai Mokhtari / Gothamist

From now until Election Day, The Brian Lehrer Show is hosting a series called “30 Issues in 30 Days.” The idea is to dive deep on one issue a day to give voters a sense of what candidates are saying about the policies that affect their lives. The next issue up: Protections for trans New Yorkers.

The day after the public learned that the Trump administration was considering changes to Title IX that could leave transgender individuals without standard civil rights protections, protests erupted around the country. In New York hundreds of LGBTQ New Yorkers and their allies gathered at Washington Square Park in Manhattan for a rally, decrying the memo and urging lawmakers to take a stand against the federal government.

State Senator Brad Hoylman, the only openly gay State Senator in New York, said, “Trump and his allies are trying to dismantle protections for transgender individuals, and it’s more important than ever that New York step in and fill the void.”

The thing is though: For years New York has been having its own issues fully protecting trans individuals under state law, because a Republican controlled State Senate has continually blocked legislation.

What’s the issue, and why does it matter in November?

This past May the State Assembly voted for the 11th consecutive time to pass The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), legislation to include gender identity and gender expression in the state's list of qualities protected under New York State's anti-discrimination law, which currently includes race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, and disability. For the 11th time the State Senate refused to take up the issue.

“Right now, no statewide law explicitly prohibits discrimination against transgender and gender non-conforming people,” State Senator Hoylman told WNYC. “That means that people who are fired from their jobs, denied housing, mistreated in the workplace, or refused service in stores and in restaurants because of their appearance or gender identity do not have clear legal protection,”

Hoylman argues that the State Senate’s refusal to pass GENDA is not unique: “over the last four years the Republican majority in the Senate has killed every piece of legislation making reference to sexual orientation or gender identity - even when such legislation has bipartisan support.” Examples of legislation that received support in the Assembly and were blocked by the Senate include officially prohibiting conversion therapy on LGBT minors, and requiring medical coverage for HIV medication, among others.

Under current state law transgender New Yorkers do have some recourse if they feel they’ve experienced discrimination on the basis of gender identity. In 2015, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order protecting transgender people from discrimination in New York. But Senator Hoylman argues it’s not enough—"the order hasn’t been tested in court and it could be overturned by another Governor"—and protections need to be enshrined in law. “If Democrats take the Senate that will be a top priority.”

What about at the federal level?

At a federal level House and Senate Democrats are pushing for The Equality Act (first introduced in 2017) which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other pieces of federal legislation to make discrimination on the basis gender identity illegal. If it passed it would make Trump’s most recent interpretation of Title IX illegal.

The Equality ACT currently has 200 total sponsors, 46 of whom are in the Senate (all of them Democrat). In a recent speech, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said passing the Equality Act would be a top priority if Democrats win the House of Representatives.

For more on all this, listen to Brian Lehrer's segment right here:

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