The inclusion of "gender identity and expression" as one of several categories schools would be required to recognize under new legislation protecting New York's public school students from bias has derailed the passage of a final bill this year. During the final days of the 2003 legislative session, the assembly and senate came close to resolving differences between two bills they had passed that would require schools to address bias-related harassment and violence. But talks broke down over the gender issue. "Students across New York State could be returning to safer schools this fall if there was more consensus among lawmakers on the issue of gender expression," said Alan Van Capelle, executive director for the Empire State Pride Agenda. "Without this language though, the legislation would leave out many of the students it was meant to protect." Van Capelle explained, "If a second grader gets beat up because he's effeminate or she's tomboy-ish, the issue at this early age is not one of sexual orientation. It's about expressing gender differently from what others consider to be normal."
The assembly's safe schools bill, known as the Dignity for All Students Act, includes the gender identity category, while the Senate bill, known as the Schools as Safe Harbors Act, does not. A coalition of more than 165 groups, known as the Dignity for All Students Coalition (Dignity Coalition) have joined forces to pass the Dignity bill. The Pride Agenda and the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network are cofacilitators of the Dignity Coalition. While there were only a handful of significant differences to be worked out between the Dignity and Safe Harbors bills, the Pride Agenda and the Dignity Coalition let the Senate know that failure to include several important provisions in a final bill, including the gender expression piece, would effectively block the legislation.