Gender Prison: Calls for effective Civil Rights protections

Monday's editorial by the New York Times editorial board Leadership on Transgender Civil Rights is a long overdue call for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to get visibly involved in the establishment of legal protections in New York for transgender people.

With Maryland recently becoming the 18th state to extend civil rights protections on the basis of gender identity, the editorial hails the event as a good example for New York, which sits along with only Wisconsin and New Hampshire as states which protect its citizens on the basis of sexual orientation but not gender identity.

We are closer today to creating that open, respectful, inclusive world that we want for all of our children.

--Gov. Martin O'Malley of Maryland

The editorial condemns the state for its failure to address the needs of gender-variant New Yorkers.

With less than a month remaining before the legislative session in Albany is scheduled to end, on June 19, it is time for state lawmakers to approve long-stalled legislation — the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act — to outlaw discrimination based on gender identity or expression.

The editorial notices the gap in civil rights protections in New York which exists because "sexual orientation" does not cover transgender.

The result is a patchwork. Some places, including New York City and Suffolk and Westchester Counties, offer protections with varying standards and enforcement mechanisms. In other parts of the state, people who have had sex-change surgery and others whose identities differ from their gender at birth can be denied housing, employment, credit or access to services because of who they are. Basic rights should not depend on where a person resides.

The bill would prohibit unjust treatment statewide, with enforcement charged to the state's Division of Human Rights. With passage, the exclusion in the state's Medicaid program for transition-related care could be removed as it has been in California and Connecticut.

GENDA is sponsored by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and Sen. Daniel Squadron. It is expected to pass the Assembly soon...for the seventh time.

But its prospects in the Senate remain dim because of recalcitrant Republicans and the failure of Senator Jeffrey Klein, the Democratic leader in the Senate’s odd coalition leadership arrangement, to tell his Republican counterpart, Senator Dean Skelos, that blocking this measure is unacceptable.

The only real hope for enacting the bill this session rests on Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a supporter of the bill. “Working behind the scenes,” as Mr. Cuomo’s deputy secretary for civil rights, Alphonso David, says he and the governor are doing, is not enough. Mr. Cuomo needs to wage a strong and visible fight on this bill, as he did in his successful effort to push through same-sex marriage three years ago.

A week ago Feministing's Jos Truitt addressed the issue of civil rights protections in The Guardian, LGBT people still need basic civil rights--not just watered-down legislation.

Truitt notes that it was 40 years ago this week that Bella Abzug introduced the Equality Act in Congress, which would have amended the Civil Rights Act to include protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation. It was 20 years later that ENDA was introduced, which does not include as many protections, being limited to employment discrimination. And we cannot even get a fair vote on ENDA, let alone pass it.

It's now 2014, and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people still have no national law that prevents employers, landlords, hoteliers or even restaurant owners from discriminating against us because of our sexual orientations or gender identities. It's long past time to change that, in sweeping fashion – not just one more bill.

It's pathetic that four decades have gone by without Congress extending basic civil rights protections to LGBT Americans. It's even more pathetic that what's left of Bella Abzug's comprehensive legislation is ENDA – a small-bore bill that is now riddled with giveaways to anti-gay forces, including a religious exemption big enough for an 18-wheeler to cruise through. It's time to pull the plug on this essentially lifeless corpse and demand full equality under the federal civil rights statutes.

--Matt Foreman, former executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

ENDA does not address discrimination in housing, education, federal programs, or public accommodations and would only include the employment protections that the majority of Americans already think we have. Queer Nation calls for more: #endaisnotequal

Yes, ENDA is symbolic...especially for transpeople as we have fought to be included. The unemployment for transpeople is twice the national average, and is even worse for transwomen. And transwomen of color face four times as much discrimination as the national average.

National LGBT organizations have made ENDA the carrot that is dangled in front of the trans community to prove that our issues are being prioritized – when, in fact, these organizations know that even a watered-down ENDA will not pass. House Speaker John Boehner has said that he will not even bring ENDA up for a vote, because he does not consider the legislation necessary.

--Truitt

Meanwhile, LGBT rights opponents have consistently, specifically targeted trans women – who face the highest rates of discrimination by all measures, not just employment – when fighting to prevent any movement on non-discrimination, be it ENDA, protections in schools, or anything else. Anti-LGBT organizations and even Fox News recently spread the "bathroom panic argument", fomenting unwarranted fear that non-discrimination laws will lead to trans women preying on cisgender women in bathrooms.

The reality is that trans women are just women, and we need places to relieve ourselves in private – a basic right almost everyone else takes for granted. And, counter to the conservative arguments, trans women are very likely to experience harassment and even violence simply for trying to use the bathroom. This pernicious fear-mongering is dangerous and frustrating to deal with, and its targeting of those most likely to face discrimination has led to trans issues being quietly eliminated from non-discrimination legislation before.

--Truitt

 

We need a national strategy that includes both these state-based efforts and comprehensive protections at federal level – and, to get that, we need to, as a unified front, push for legislation that actually has teeth.
 

Personally, I believe we should start with the following, after the Equal Rights Act, which as you may recall, was never ratified:

 

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex or gender.
 

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For more on Abzug's support of the Equality Act...

Robyn's picture

...here's the Washington Blade's interview with her lesbian daughter, Liz Abzug earlier this month.

Nobody could believe it. My mother at the time was prescient, and the liberal groups understood, but still couldn’t believe that she did it. And that’s why it was so incredible. She was prescient in everything she did politically.

You got to get the sense of the person. She had enormous courage and enormous intelligence and was radical as they come, and understood the process as a lawyer and as a leader.

--Liz Abzug

Bella Abzug viewed LGBT rights as just an extension of her battle for the Equal Rights Amendment for women.

If you’re going to fight, and you’re going to have a Civil Rights Act that’s going to protect African Americans, and you’re going to fight for women’s rights, and you’re going to fight to ban sex discrimination after you fight to ban race discrimination or religious discrimination, this would be totally the next natural legal, political sort of gut level extension of that. What’s different between that and fighting for the rights of gay people and their civil rights?

--Liz Abzug

Ten years ago Liz Abzug was shocked by the "unreassuring" and "nebulous" support of the concept of equal civil rights as expressed by Barney Frank.

For full equal rights for the LGBT community, you need to have the strongest civil rights act you can have. So, ENDA should have covered every base that the original civil rights act did, and Title VII.

They put this as a priority on their fight because everybody’s been focused on marriage. That’s the other thing, they’re the people that should be pressing for this, and getting young gays and lesbians to understand this.

--Liz Abzug

Liz Abzug says her mother would be less than impressed by the victories that have been achieved by the LGBT community (DADT repeal and marriage equality court rulings) because employment protections are still not the law of the land.

To change the way a system is going takes a long time, but 40 years later, here we are. It’s unbelievable to me that we can’t get this done.

--Liz Abzug

In the words of Queer Nation NY...

ENDA will not make us equal before the law. On the contrary, its religious exemption will enshrine discrimination in federal law and guarantee that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people will continue to experience discrimination in employment.
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