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Don't Leave Behind Equality for Transgender Americans

Don't Leave Behind Equality for Transgender Americans

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo outlines what he says is the next American civil rights crusade.

I believe that one of government's most important responsibilities is to fulfill the promise of fairness, equality and opportunity for the people we serve. When I became governor of New York in 2011, I vowed to uphold that legacy -- and the passage of marriage equality that year is still one of my proudest moments. I watched as other states followed our lead, and the message gathered steam until the Supreme Court joined us on the right side of history and ruled last June that marriage for all Americans, including same-sex couples, is a constitutional right.

Time and time again, New York has been a progressive leader. We have been a launching point for social movements that have reverberated across the nation and beyond. We started the women's rights movement in Seneca Falls in 1848. The NAACP was founded here in 1909. We championed the fight for human rights when we became the first state in the nation to enact a human rights law in 1945. And we sparked the gay rights and LGBT movements at Stonewall in 1969.

But for years one segment of the LGBT population was shamefully left behind.

Despite all we've accomplished, for too long transgender New Yorkers lacked basic protections under New York's human rights law that other New Yorkers have enjoyed.

In the absence of statewide protection, two-thirds of transgender New Yorkers have experienced harassment, mistreatment or discrimination at work. Nearly 30 percent have faced a serious physical or sexual assault. And one out of three has been homeless at least once in their lives.

It's time to finally put the T back in LGBT. The next civil rights crusade must be for transgender Americans.

Efforts to protect the rights of transgender New Yorkers through legislation have so far been blocked in the state legislature. The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, or GENDA, was passed by the state Assembly eight years in a row, but failed to come to a vote in the state Senate.

Meanwhile, about 60 percent of New York's municipalities enacted nondiscrimination laws to protect transgender residents, leaving transgender New Yorkers in 40 percent of the state vulnerable to harassment and discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression. I believe these protections should be in effect across our entire state, and they should be consistent.

That's why I took the unprecedented step of using my executive authority to put an end to discrimination against transgender New Yorkers. In October I directed the New York State Division of Human Rights to issue regulations that unequivocally prohibit harassment and discrimination against transgender people in every corner of this state.

I simply could not stand by any longer and wait for the state legislature to do the right thing. I refused to accept that transgender people in New York State were still without the protections afforded by our human rights law.

This regulatory action puts all public and private employers, housing providers, businesses, and creditors on notice that discrimination on the basis of a person's gender identity, transgender status, or gender dysphoria is unlawful and will not be tolerated anywhere in the state of New York.

We now have the strongest and most comprehensive protections from discrimination for transgender people in the country.

By issuing these new regulations in the absence of legislation, we are setting an example and sending a powerful message to the rest of the nation, just as we did when we enacted the Marriage Equality Act. New York moved the good fight forward then, and I am proud to say that we have raised the bar once again.

In the words of my father: "There are only two rules for being successful; one, figure out exactly what you want to do, and two, do it." After leading the fight for equality we saw what needed to be done and we corrected an injustice that had gone on for far too long. We refused to allow the fear and ignorance of some to justify the discrimination of many.

While it is unfathomable that we still have to fight this battle, I want to assure every New Yorker and every American that New York State will always be there to stand for what is right and just. On the issue of transgender rights, New York will not look away the way many Americans tried to ignore AIDS a generation ago. We will not rest until every New Yorker enjoys the same rights given to us as part of our American heritage.

I hope that other governors and lawmakers in this nation take a look at what we did here in New York and implement similar changes across the nation. New York put the T back in LGBT; now it's time for the rest of the United States to do the same.

ANDREW CUOMO is governor of New York. Follow him on Twitter @NYGovCuomo.

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