The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA)
testimony on behalf of
the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (NYAGRA)
and Queens Pride House
by Pauline Park
at the public forum called by
New York State Senator Daniel Squadron
& New York State Assembly Member Richard Gottfried
New York, NY
24 October 2012
Senator Squadron and Assembly Member Gottfried,
My name is Pauline Park and I am chair of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (NYAGRA), the first statewide transgender advocacy organization in New York, which I co-founded in 1998, as well as president of the board of directors as well as acting executive director of Queens Pride House, the center for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the borough of Queens, which I co-founded in 1997.
I would like to thank you both for the opportunity to speak today at this forum as well as for your sponsorship of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA). It is important that your colleagues in both houses of the state legislature understand that enactment of GENDA is needed in order to protect transgendered and gender-variant people from the pervasive discrimination they face in this state in employment, housing, public accommodations, education and credit. And it is unfortunate that so much of the debate over this pending legislation has focused on just public accommodations and even more specifically on the use of public restrooms by transgendered people and transgendered women in particular.
As you may know, I coordinated the campaign for the transgender rights law enacted by the New York City Council in April 2002. NYAGRA and the Empire State Pride Agenda led a broad coalition of organizations and persuaded 45 of the 51 Council Members to vote for the bill, with only five voting against and one abstention. That amendment to New York City human rights law defined ‘gender’ to include gender identity and expression, in order to protect transgendered and gender-variant people from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations in the five boroughs. Health care providers are covered under that statute, both as employers and as providers of public accommodations, and the inclusion of health care in non-discrimination law could potentially mean the difference between life and death for some transgendered people.
After the mayor signed the bill into law in April 2002, the New York City Commission on Human Rights convened a working group of activists and advocates to draft guidelines for implementation of the statute; under those guidelines, adopted by the Commission in December 2004, transgendered people living and working int he five boroughs have an explicitly recognized right to use the public restroom consistent with their gender identity and presentation.
The red herring in the debates over GENDA in the state Senate raised by opponents of the bill has been the phantom specter of a cross-dressed male supposedly using the pretext of non-discrimination in the provision of public accommodations to a engage in a violent attack on a non-transgendered woman in a public restroom; but of course, GENDA would not in any way sanction such clearly criminal behavior; and since the enactment of the New York City statute and the adoption of those guidelines, there has not to my knowledge been a single case of such an attack in the five boroughs; nor am I aware of any such incident in any of the 16 states that have enacted legislation that prohibits discrimination in public accommodations based on gender identity or expression. While there are legitimate safety concerns for women in public places, those concerns have nothing to do with the use of women’s restrooms by transgendered women, and the malicious campaign of fear-mongering by opponents of GENDA to forestall passage of GENDA in the Senate is completely baseless and beneath contempt. Rather, it is the safety of transgendered women forced to use men’s restrooms that should be of concern to members of the Senate.
There is in fact no basis for opposition to this legislation than pure prejudice and the desire by opponents of GENDA to deny protection from the pervasive discrimination that transgendered and gender-variant people face in cities and towns across the state. New York should be a leader in civil rights and human rights, but instead, the Empire State lags behind the 16 states and the District of Columbia that have already enacted legislation prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and expression in public accommodations as well as employment and housing, and I would urge members of the Senate as well as the Assembly to act to prohibit such discrimination in our state as well by passing GENDA as soon as the Senate and the Assembly reconvene in January 2013.
Pauline Park, Ph.D. (http://www.paulinepark.com/) is cochair of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (http://www.nyagra.com/) and NYAGRA representative to the transgender rights coalition seeking to advance the GENDA bill; she is also president of the board of directors as well as acting executive director of Queens Pride House (http://www.queenspridehouse.org/wordpress/). Dr. Park led the campaign for the transgender rights law enacted by the New York City Council in April 2002 and served on the working group that drafted guidelines for its implementation adopted by the New York City Commission on Human Rights in December 2004.