whose agenda is GENDA?

July 3, 2007

I went to the pride parade this year for the first time in awhile. Last year, the thought of the gay marriage fanfare mixed with the gross commercialism (shiny-chested altoid boys don’t make me feel so proud for some reason), coupled with humid, rainy weather were enough to make me stay away. This year, weather was beautiful and I was on a mission to be a little less judgmental.

OK, so the commercialism is still alive and well, no shock there. And apparently, so was the gay marriage nausea. A friend who marched behind Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA) noticed that a lot of the marchers’ signs read “GENDA NOW!” As I read over at transadvocate, this was because one side of ESPA’s signs read “Marriage Equality” and the other read “GENDA now.” And surprise surprise, most of the marchers walked with the marriage stuff facing front, so the only people who saw the GENDA part were those marching directly behind ESPA. Curious.

GENDA, for the uninformed, is the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which is now being pushed in the NY state legislature in Albany. GENDA would offer the same protections to transpeople that the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA) already offers to gays, lesbians, and bisexuals – GENDA would make it illegal in New York State to discriminate on the basis of gender expression in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodations, education and credit. Human rights laws in 13 states now cover transgender people, up from 2 states in 2002. So what gives, why has GENDA still not passed in NY state?

ESPA has been accused of putting significantly more energy and resources into pushing “marriage equality” legislation than trans rights legislation, resulting in years passing and still no legislative protections for transpeople. Donna Cartwright writes in a letter to the Gay City news:

Transgender rights appear to have dropped off the radar of the LGBT community – GENDA has received scant mention recently in the gay press, which is saturated with coverage of marriage equality. And ESPA just seems to be going through the motions. The home page of its Web site has told the story – for three straight weeks, as the legislative session in Albany neared a close, the ESPA site featured no less than seven items about marriage equality, and barely a mention of GENDA, nothing about its prospects this year, and no call on legislators to make it a priority.

Finally, on Tuesday, June 19, after repeated complaints by trans activists, a button was added asking visitors to contact their legislators in support of both GENDA and marriage equality.

ESPA, which has ostensibly included transgender rights in its mission for several years now, is the LGBT community’s leading voice in Albany; its staff, lobbying expertise, and financial power give it considerable clout. With that power comes responsibility – to represent the entire LGBT community.

ESPA ED Alan Van Capelle, in his rebuttal, rattles off some lip service about how hard it is to pass bills in Albany (sorry but duh), then adds in this gem:

To be honest, the issue of gender identity and expression has been a brand new issue for many of our straight allies. They, like much of the rest of New York, have to learn about it and be able to move beyond notions that are usually widely disconnected from the reality of what it means to be transgender.

I’m sorry, but if “straight allies” in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington can figure out how to write transphobia out of state legislation, can’t New York “straight allies” handle it? (source)

And while we’re on the subject of pandering to hets, I love these gemmy questions on the FAQ page on the GENDA legislation on the ESPA site:

Would the law require that all public bathrooms be unisex?
Would the law force owners of small and family-owned businesses to hire transgender people?
Would the law apply to people renting out a room in their home?

To which all the answers are, of course, no. Let’s make the worried hets feel better: don’t worry, you can still police the ladies’ room! There are still channels through which you can discriminate against transpeople!

Back at transadvocate, I can’t help but nod when I read these words:

So why do we refer to these organizations as GLBT anyway? True, we worked hard over the years in the 90’s to be recognized as a part of the community, but that didn’t mean our entire fight boiled down to being nothing more than a T at the end of an acronym. It’s like saying our entire goal was to be the butt on a pig, with all the significance. Dandy! So why don’t they just advertise just GL or GLB? Sure, it’s not PC. But what the hell good is being PC if all it requires is just saying “I’m GLBT” and never giving it another thought (at least not until those screaming trannies throw their asses in the fire when they’re forgotten again)?

ESPA doesn’t have a single trans person on staff or on their board. A token trans person on a board, however, would not make a difference. I’d like to see ESPA make some kind of a visible, concrete effort to push trans legislation through Albany – and admit that perhaps transpeople deserve the same legislative protections that ESPA fought for (and won) for gays and lesbians in 2002. One might even say that such protections should take precedence over, dare I say it, “marriage equality,” especially when you consider that transgender people have extremely high rates of unemployment and poverty (some figures say 70% of transpeople in NY state, though none of the figures I found cited sources for their numbers). This discussion involves race issues that no one wants to mention – like perhaps the fact that gay marriage is primarily a white issue and the discourse surrounding it is directed at white people – and the fact that ESPA doesn’t speak to or represent the vast majority of queers in New York. If only Queers for Economic Justice had the resources and lobby power of ESPA.


One comment

  1. I’m supposed to be speaking tomorrow on how GENDA would affect trans youth in new york state (I’m the youth transgirl on the panel, woo), and found this blog entry while trying to find information on GENDA so I could fact check. It’s really sad how hard it is to find information on it, but awesome post. Maybe this year I’ll actually make it to pride ^^

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