As I imagine most of you reading this blog know, transgender people face enormous amounts of bigotry and discrimination in the U.S.
But what some of you may not know is that that there is also currently no federal legislation that protects against such discrimination on the basis of gender identity or gender expression. And in most states, there is no such state legislation, either.
Currently, 13 states and DC have some kind of laws on the books that do protect against discrimination on this basis — though that number drops to 12 states and DC if you’re looking at laws that include protections against employment discrimination. Several states, in fact, have passed anti-discrimination legislation to protect on the basis of sexual orientation, while leaving protections on the basis of gender identity and expression behind. And while some local jurisdictions have passed their own laws to protect citizens, in other areas of the country, discrimination is entirely legal.
What kinds of discrimination? Housing discrimination, for example. In places without non-discrimination laws prohibiting it, it’s entirely legal for someone to deny housing to a transgender or gender non-conforming person. Employment, of course, is another. Again, where protections are not in place, it is legal to fire someone because of their gender identity. It’s also legal to, on that basis, not hire them at all. Transgender people are also denied credit, and discriminated against in terms of public accommodations, and kicked out of restaurants, hotels, etc.
Again, this bears repeating: in New York state, for example, it is entirely legal to refuse to hire someone because they are transgender (or otherwise do not meet someone’s gender expectations), to refuse to provide them credit to buy a home, to refuse to rent to them, and to refuse them service at your place of business. Just because of their gender identity. And not a single one of these things is at all uncommon.
Statistics on these matters are hard to come by, but what is available suggests the obvious effects. The number of transgender people who are or have been homeless is outrageously high. The unemployment rate is huge; so is the rate of people who have been fired based on gender identity and gender expression.
GENDA (pdf) is a piece of New York legislation that would protect New Yorkers on the basis of gender identity and gender expression in matters of housing, employment, credit, and more everyday areas that the privileged among us like myself don’t even usually have to consider. It is basic justice. It is common sense. It would bring the law up to par with state protections already in place on the basis of sexual orientation. Perhaps surprisingly, it even has overwhelming support on the part of voters.
And yet, it has been languishing without passage for several years. For several years, the New York legislature has refused to provide basic rights for its citizens. Too risky. Not important enough. Whatever the reason, it’s outrageous, offensive and inexcusable. And it needs to be corrected right now.
The good news is that we’re getting closer to seeing GENDA become law. The NY State Assembly voted last week to pass GENDA. (Big shock — my Republican representative voted no.) They did the same last year, shortly after Equality and Justice Day.
But last year, of course, the bill died in the Senate. The hope is that now the Senate has a Democratic majority, GENDA will go through. But sadly, a Democratic majority is not the same as a pro-LGBT majority (and a pro-LGB majority is not necessarily a pro-trans rights majority), any more than it is necessarily a pro-choice majority. And so, unfortunately, we don’t yet know.
It’s not just a “shame” that GENDA is not yet law in supposedly progressive NY State. It’s a downright travesty of justice. And yes, it is also an embarrassment.
No piece of legislation can ever correct every act of bigotry; that much should be obvious. In practice, it can’t even correct every act of bigotry that it is designed to correct. But what it can do is create a standard that people are worth protecting; it can create a standard of what counts as basic rights that cannot be denied based on bigotry. And it can give legal recourse to those people who are still victims of those kinds of bigotry in spite of the law.
That’s why GENDA is the primary reason that I will be present at Equality and Justice Day tomorrow, April 28. And it’s why any New York resident reading this should contact their senator now to ask them to support GENDA. And then immediately spread the word.