Opinion : Pass GENDA Now - by Sunny Bjerk

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May 7, 2013

Pass GENDA Now

by Sunny Bjerk

The communications manager of Housing Works on the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act.

 
Since 2002, Housing Works has been at the forefront of the effort to pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), which would give transgender and gender non-conforming New Yorkers equal protections in education, employment, housing, credit, and public accommodations (think banks, bus stations, court rooms, hospitals, hotels, restaurants, libraries, and more). However, this effort to pass GENDA has been blockaded by the New York State Senate, which has refused to bring the bill to vote in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and now again in 2013.

That's six years of stalling by the Senate leadership, which is stacked with Republicans opposed to the bill, and that's also another six missed opportunities to grant thousands of transgender New Yorkers the same protections and access as other New Yorkers to a job, an education, housing, and services and facilities all across the state.

And frankly, we're just not going to take it anymore. This year, Housing Works launched a new campaign to advance GENDA in the state, highlighting the discrimination and harassment faced by transgender New Yorkers, the personal stories of our clients who have been shut out of the civil rights sphere, and a Change.org petition urging the Senate to bring the bill to a floor vote in 2013. A link to our petition, as well as the personal stories of our advocates, is available to view and share at passgendanow.org.

Certainly, after six years of stalling by the Senate, a campaign urging the passage of GENDA in New York State is nothing new, as many New York–based LGBT and HIV/AIDS groups know all too well.

Nevertheless, many organizations, advocates, and transgender individuals have been surprised—and delightfully so—by our GENDA campaign, wondering what transgender issues have to do with Housing Works or HIV/AIDS. Indeed, the question recently posed to me was, "Why has Housing Works—as an HIV/AIDS group—believe it should support GENDA?"

Perhaps the best place to start is by noting that Housing Works is equally interested in ending HIV/AIDS as it is in addressing the social inequalities that drive the epidemic, such as poverty, race, class, gender, sexuality, and indeed, gender identity or expression. As Housing Works CEO and President Charles King has said, "HIV/AIDS is just a disease. But it's a disease that is driven by socioeconomic inequalities that affects the poor and most marginalized populations." In other words, as advocates, activists, and people living with the disease, we know that HIV/AIDS doesn't exist in a vacuum and that the disease continues to disproportionately affect communities of color, men who have sex with men, and those within the LGBT community.

And so our involvement with GENDA is not just endemic to the fact that transgender people have an HIV/AIDS rate five times greater than the general population, or even that the routine, often brutal discrimination transgender people face in housing and employment often leads to a cruel cycle of homelessness and sex work, that in turn places them at high risk for sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS, although certainly these are very great factors behind our push to pass GENDA in New York State.

It's also because Housing Works—in its 23 years—has championed the civil rights of all vulnerable and marginalized populations that have faced significant health disparities and political challenges.

We think it's wrong that transgender individuals can legally be denied medical care just because of their gender identity or expression. We think it's wrong that transgender individuals can legally be denied a home or an apartment because of their gender identity or expression. We think it's wrong that transgender individuals can legally be denied service in an employment agency, polling place, or dentist's office just because of their gender identity or expression.

As social justice advocates and activists, we know that campaigns, movements, and calls for equality do not—and should not—end with identities or our own identifications, however we choose to express, blur, queer, or refuse these demarcations altogether.

Supporting equal access and opportunities for transgender and gender non-conforming New Yorkers in education, employment, credit, housing, and public accommodations is simply the right thing to do.

We hope everyone will support our campaign urging the New York Senate to vote on GENDA in 2013. Please visit the Housing Works passgendanow.org webpage to sign the Change.org petition, share it through your social media networks and encourage your friends and family to do the same.

Search: GENDA, transgender, Housing Works, Sunny Bjerk


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