Last week, Gov. Cuomo delivered his 2014 State of the State address in Albany. His speech outlined many of the successful achievements of the previous year as well as setting out a path and agenda for the coming year - a very lofty target full of promises and great expectations, especially in this upcoming election year.
The governor stated, "New York also means justice for all." He spoke about the discrimination and harassment still faced by many New Yorkers based on gender, ethnicity and religion. Mr. Cuomo noted, "Discrimination against women still exists. It's just been another year when government has failed to act on behalf of women. Stop playing politics with women's rights, and pass the Women's Equality Act this year." Further on, Mr. Cuomo suggested proposing a new law for school teachers, administrators and personnel in reporting the targeting of our school-age children based on racial or religious discrimination or harassment.
While I applaud these suggestions, left out of any mention in the governor's speech was any mention of the daily harassment, discrimination and denial of basic human rights regarding the LGBT community in New York state.
In his summation, the governor states, "What makes New York so special are the people. And it's how we treat each other, and it's what we have here. It's how we feel, and it's what we believe. And while other states say we're afraid of diversity we say we're excited by the diversity. We welcome the diversity. The diversity is what made us in the first place, and we believe we can take that diversity and we can take those differences and we can make one from those differences. We believe we can forge community from the people we welcome here. The concept of community is, 'We're all in this together.' There is a cord that connects us, and that cord weaves a fabric, and when one of us is raised, we're all raised, and when one of us is lowered, we're all lowered, because we're part of one community and we're part of one fabric. That is what made New York great, and that's what continues to make New York great. At the end of the day, we are one."
If we are to accept and celebrate diversity in all its many forms and ideals, when will the LGBT and more specifically the transgender community be included in these very basic of human rights?
The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) was introduced in 2003 and has been introduced to the state Legislature every year since. GENDA seeks to extend the protections that every other New Yorker enjoys, including freedom from discrimination in employment, housing, credit and public accommodations to transgender and gender-non-conforming New Yorkers. It has now passed the state Assembly six years in a row but has never been taken up on the Senate floor. It is time for the governor to demand of the Legislature that this important issue finally be acted upon. His absence of leadership in this discussion is a barrier to the passage of this basic civil rights law.
Non-discrimination laws protecting transgender people are on the books in 18 other states. In recent polling, nearly 80 percent of New Yorkers believe in equal rights for transgender people, approval that reaches statewide. It is clear: New Yorkers believe in equal rights for ALL. So why the silence and delay from the most powerful New Yorker of them all? When will the governor live up to his very own words?
We in New York, who use the symbol of "Lady Liberty" standing proud and unwavering in New York Harbor, should be in the forefront on life, liberty, freedom and equal justice for all people in this state. If our Senate leadership is not willing to extend these basic of all human rights and protections, perhaps "we the people" should reject those politicians currently in office and elect a new government dedicated to these very basic values and protections for ALL our people.
Our great nation was founded on the principles of life, liberty, freedom and justice for all, yet even today we fail to live up to these lofty principles we so proudly profess. We deny many basic rights and protections to our very own citizens. The LGB community and especially now the transgender community are not looking for "more" or "special" rights; we are only looking for EQUAL rights already extended to other members of our society.
Kelly Metzgar is a transgender rights advocate living in Saranac Lake.