Fear of discrimination is an everyday reality in the lives of transgender individuals. The question of whether or not the state Senate will help alleviate that fear with a vote on protection for the rights of transgender individuals remains to be seen.
That question was reignited last week when Governor Andrew Cuomo took executive action to offer protection against harassment and discrimination for transgender individuals under the state’s Human Rights Law.
Matthew Crehan Higgins, director of the Pride Center of Western New York, said he has heard some people say that the Governor overstepped his role. Higgins counters that opinion, saying that Cuomo is recognizing that there are times when you can’t wait.
“I think the message that he’s putting forth is even if this isn’t the traditional way that things are done, even if this seems like a pretty decisive executive action, he’s saying that people who need these protections cannot wait for the state Senate to decide when they want to take a vote on it, but that they need those protections right now,” said Crehan Higgins.
The legislation in question at the state level is the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA). The law was first introduced 12 years ago and has passed the state Assembly a number of times. Higgins is hopeful that the Governor’s action, along with changes to law in four major New York cities – including Buffalo – will show the Senate that it’s time to act. He recognizes that one of the reasons it hasn’t happened yet is lack of understanding.
“People are opposed to what they don’t understand, and a large part of the population thinks that transgender is a new issue which is simply not true,” explained Crehan Higgins. “There have been transgender people all throughout history. The only thing that’s new is that they are starting to finally see some of the attention that they need to make sure that they have basic protections like other citizens.”
The Governor’s new regulations are set to take effect in a little over a month, following a public notice and comment period.