The City of Buffalo has moved to strengthen its own anti-discrimination law with the amendment of a city ordinance. Niagara District Common Council member David Rivera and members of Buffalo’s transgender community are calling for lawmakers in Albany to extend similar protection to all of New York State’s citizens.
Rivera announced the change to the city charter at a Transgender Wellness Conference Friday afternoon. He said city law now allows for the right to sue for discriminatory practices that violate civil rights.
“This law applies across the board,” proclaimed Rivera. “You cannot discriminate in the City of Buffalo, whether its employment, housing, accommodations – you cannot discriminate.”
Rivera said the previous wording of the law did not provide adequate protection for all people and only offered the right to sue for discriminatory acts of physical violence and property damage. The span of the law covers employment, housing, and any other public services.
Among a range of identifying factors such as race, creed, and color, the law in Buffalo has always applied to forms of gender identity and expression. Similar legislation, known as the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA), took effect at the state level in 2002, but offered protection only for sexual orientation.
“Trans people were left out of that legislation and we’ve been fighting for that inclusion ever since,” said Ari Moore, co-founder of the Spectrum Transgender Group of Western New York.
“Gender and identity expression,” which applies to transgender individuals, remains left out of the state’s protected classes of people. Moore said legislation that would offer such protection – called the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) – has passed the State Assembly repeatedly, but never gets voted on in the State Senate.
Many trans-gender individuals lose their homes, struggle to attain jobs, and are denied access to medical attention, education and public accommodations due to discrimination, according to Moore. She said it’s because people are uncomfortable.
Moore said the transgender community needs and demands the same protection and rights across New York State that are being provided in Buffalo. Having a law with “teeth behind it” at the state level would be a game changer, in Moore’s opinion.
With Buffalo joining Rochester, Syracuse and New York City in adding to legal protection against discrimination, Rivera is confident the state will eventually follow suit.
“I think it’s just a matter of time before they come to the realization that we have to provide protection for everyone regardless of gender, expression, sexual orientation, [and] colors,” said Rivera.
Rivera faults the hold-up of GENDA on the reluctance of certain Senators to take an up-or-down vote on the issue.
“At some point it will come to a vote, there’s no doubt. It could be this year, it could be a couple of years. There could be a change in the Senate at some point where they will allow it to come before the public, but at some point it will come before the public.”
State Assemblyman Sean Ryan joined Rivera in urging the Senate to approve GENDA in the 2016 legislative session. Rivera said in amending the charter, the city did the right thing on behalf of all its residents.