A nearly 16-year battle ended in Albany Tuesday when both state Senate and Assembly passed a bill called Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act known as GENDA. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley talked to a gay activist from Jamestown who has been fighting for these protections for years.
"I don't know if I should dance - cry - or sing or laugh. I want to go out and hug all my trans friends and all my friends who worked on this," declared Gregory Rabb, professor of Political Science at Jamestown Community College.
Rabb is a former Jamestown City Council president. Rabb notes this is an incredible victory because, in the past, the GENDA bill never even made it to the senate floor. It was always blocked by republicans who controlled the senate chamber. But now, with a new democratic majority in place, it was approved.
“So this is the first time and I don’t know how many trips to Albany, so many of us have been working on GENDA to make sure that discrimination against transgender individuals is illegal in this state. I know I started it when I was a lot younger and I know how long it took for us to protect gay and lesbian people and we sadly left transgender people behind, but we finally corrected that wrong,” Rabb explained.
The Governor is expected to sign the GENDA bill into law. It calls calls to protect transgender New Yorkers at their job and other areas, such as housing and education. But Rabb tells WBFO News it's much deeper. He hopes it could finally support those facing difficult hate crimes and bullying, including violence and even murder and he notes the suicide rates also high among transgender youth.
“You know, last year there was a record number of transgender individuals murdered and we just had the first transgender murder of the year – I think it was last week in Alabama and if you look at the suicide rates among transgender individuals – it’s sky-high – I think close to 40-percent of transgender individuals attempt or kill themselves because they felt like they could be who they were, so the statistics are absolutely horrifying – I’m hoping that this is going to make a difference. At least for New Yorker's it says it’s okay – be who you are – we love you the way you are,” Rabb remarked.
The Senate and Assembly also passed a bill to ban the very controversial conversion therapy. That too is expected to be signed by the Governor.
Rabb, who is now in his late 60's, has been an openly gay educator and elected leader. He served as a former Jamestown Common Council president for a decade. Rabb said he fought hard for the transgender community because he knows what it is like to be discriminated against.
“You know I get so many more trans-students now a days then I ever have because they feel so much more comfortable with themselves and a law like this just makes the young people feel even more comfortable, so they can be free to be themselves – they can get on with their lives and learning and doing all the other important stuff that they should be doing. I remember when the Sexual Orientation and Discrimination Act passed and it was like a heavy weight lifted off of my shoulders because I felt safe and now, I can’t imagine what’s going through my transgender friends – I haven’t had a chance because it happened so quick. We were expecting it, but it actually happened while I was in class, so I could watch it – I was so disappointed,” Rabb reflects.
Rabb said no one should face discriminated for gender identity.
“What don’t people understand about someone when they say they’re transgender?” Buckley asked.
“I think it’s where we were not too long ago – people didn’t understand what it meant to be gay or lesbian and they would say things like ‘well I don’t know any gay or lesbian people’ and overtime, so many of us came out that it became impossible for anyone to say that anymore and I think that getting to know someone and suddenly realizing ‘hey, it doesn’t matter and there’s a lot trans people out there, including down here in Jamestown, up in Buffalo and so many of them, over the years, because of this effort have become my friends and then you know what – you stop thinking of them as transgender and just think of them as human beings,” Rabb responded.