As President, I wanted to reach out to all members and share some information about the role of the League in extending basic civil rights for all New Yorkers. Since 1993 the New York State League has supported equality of opportunity in employment, housing, and access to public accommodations for all people in New York regardless of their race, color, gender, religion, national origin, age, sexual orientation or disability, based on the LWVUS Equality of Opportunity position. LWVUS, Impact on Issues 2008-2010, p. 66. At the 2010 LWVUS Convention, delegates, led in part by Lori Dawson of Saratoga County, voted to amend the LWVUS Equality of Opportunity position to include support for civil marriage equality, the ability of two people of the same sex to marry. As you know, with the failure of marriage equality to pass the state Senate last year, New York is left without a civil marriage equality law.
Since adoption of its equality of opportunity position, the LWVNYS has lobbied for passage of SONDA, the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act. It was successful in 2002, when discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodation on the basis of sexual orientation became a prohibited activity under the New York State Human Rights Law. Although the positions of both the state and national Leagues interpret gender equality to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression, SONDA did not so define gender. Consequently, discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodation (like restaurants and movies) based on gender identity or expression is still legal in New York State, except where prohibited under local law, as is the case in many jurisdictions.
Gender identity and expression refers to the way people self-identify and present their masculinity and/or femininity to the world. Often, but not always, this corresponds to the person's sex as assigned at birth, so that a person born biologically male or female often dresses, adopts a hair style, and uses a name and pronoun in ways that reflect the culturally accepted roles associated with their birth sex. Transgender is an umbrella term used to designate a community of people who regularly present in a gender different from the sex assigned to them at birth and who live a significant part of their lives in that gender. This includes people who have undergone medical procedures to change their sex and those who have not. Sexual orientation refers to one's romantic and sexual attraction. Gender variance is not in itself any indicator of sexual orientation. Just like everyone else, gender variant and transgender people may be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or asexual.
Although the transgender community is small, it faces tremendous societal discrimination. The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), which passed the Assembly last year, would add gender identity and expression to other protected categories, such as race, religion, and sexual orientation, in New York's human rights laws. GENDA would make it illegal across the state to fire someone from a job, evict them from an apartment, deny them a loan or refuse them service in a restaurant simply because they are transgender. It would also add gender identity and expression to the state's bias crime laws to help protect transgender people from violence.
State public opinion polls show the majority of New York's citizens support these issues. Based on strong member interest, LWVNYS plans to lobby actively for marriage equality and GENDA during 2011. If these issues are important to you, we could use your help in one or more of the following ways:
· Save the Date. On Tuesday, May 10, 2011 the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA) is holding its annual lobby day, Equality and Justice Day, in Albany. Registration is required. Go to here to register for this event;
· Our lobbying efforts will focus on Assembly members and Senators who have no stated positions or who are opposed to these bills. We are looking for League members who are willing to call, write, or visit one or both of their own elected officials;
· We are trying to establish a story bank about ways in which the failure to support marriage equality and prohibit transgender discrimination has hurt you or those you love. If you have a story you are willing to share, please send it to us.
If you have questions about our positions, would like more information or wish to volunteer, contact me at 518-426-3711 or Betsey @lwvny.org.