Historic passage of GENDA

History was made in New York state last week when the New York State Senate, after 16 very long and often disappointing years, finally passed the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act granting basic human and civil rights protections to the Transgender and Non-Binary communities. GENDA had previously passed the New York state Democratic-majority Assembly for the previous 11 years. Also signed into law was the ban on LGBTQ conversion therapy, a controversial practice that attempted to change a child or youth’s sexual orientation or gender identity through highly discredited therapeutic means.

GENDA now codifies into New York state legislative law explicit legal rights and protections against all forms of discrimination for a New York transgender or gender non-binary person in New York state. Prior to November 2015, when Gov. Cuomo signed his executive action granting implicit protections to the transgender/gender-non-binary community, it was legal to discriminate against a person in terms of medical/mental health care, housing, employment, finances (including obtaining a loan or mortgage) and access to public accommodations (including lodging, restaurants or other public facilities).

At that time, the governor redefined the meaning of the term “sex” when used in the Human Rights Law to include gender identity and the status of being transgender. He also redefined the term “disability” when used in the Human Rights Law to include gender dysphoria (an often severe disconnect between a person’s physical body and internal sense of self, including one’s gender identity). This was needed due to the New York Senate’s Republican leaders who continued refusal to allow GENDA out of committee for discussion, consideration or a vote by the full Senate. As we’ve seen on the federal level, executive actions and orders can be easily overturned when a new administration enters office.

With the recent wave of Democratic victories in both the New York State Assembly and Senate, GENDA was finally moved out of committee and presented to the full Senate for an affirmative vote on Tuesday, Jan. 15. The human and civil rights protections the Republican Party failed to act upon for 16 years were passed in the first few days of this new Democratic legislative session. Gov. Cuomo will officially sign this legislation into law on Friday, Jan. 25.

The ban on conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth under the age of 18 means our children will no longer be subjected to highly discredited and often disastrous attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity through therapeutic means or enrollment into shock-camp-like facilities. Many prominent medical and behavioral health organizations — including the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association — have condemned LGBTQ conversion therapy as harmful and ineffective, often leading to greater sense of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation. No amount of “therapy,” however one defines this term, can change a person’s internal sense of self.

In my professional development trainings, I often ask participants at what age did they know their gender identity? The answer that most often comes back is that “we’ve always know who we were!” The same answer holds true for transgender/gender-non-binary children, adolescents and adults. This is “who we are,” how we were created BEFORE BIRTH! We did not ask for this, we are not looking to be “changed” or “fixed,” nor will we be denied the ability to live our lives in a way that any other person in our society lives theirs.

With GENDA and the ban on conversion therapy approved, our work is not done. There is still a great deal of education and training that needs to be done around New York state in schools, businesses, religious and civic organizations. Gender Equality New York, a statewide advocacy group (of which I am a founding board member), has identified several key issues we will work toward on behalf of all LGBTQ New Yorkers going forward in the coming months/years. A partial list of future items include:

¯ Banning gay/transgender panic legal defense

¯ Expanding gender-neutral restrooms in all public spaces

¯ Improving school gender policies across New York state

¯ Competency training for agencies serving LGBTQI youth and seniors

¯ Restoring honor of LGBTQI veterans

¯ Creating authority for birth certificate changes

¯ Affirming intersex rights — eliminating unnecessary surgery on intersex children.

As I’ve so often ended these editorials in the past, the transgender community is not looking for more or special rights, only equal rights protections here in New York state. Thankfully, at long last, now this vision has become a reality. Now the real work begins, implementing these protections with much-needed professional development educational training programs all across New York state.

Kelly Metzgar lives in Saranac Lake and is the founder of the Adirondack North Country Gender Alliance.

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