Republicans scored a coup last week when the Republican
majority in the New York State senate introduced the Safe
Schools for All Students Act, which would protect kids
from being bullied in public schools because of their
sexual orientation or gender identity. Jeff Cook,
legislative adviser for Log Cabin, said it was historic to
have transgender people included in what is known in
Albany parlance as a "rules bill" -- a
bill introduced by the majority that is automatically
understood to have the assent of the majority leader.
"It is the first rules bill that we know of
that includes gender identity and expression in New
York State," Cook said.
The bill emerged
after Log Cabin negotiated for several months with
senate Republicans, who currently control the chamber 31-29,
to introduce an inclusive antibullying bill. The state
assembly has passed its own trans-inclusive bill, the
Dignity for All Students Act, every year since 2002.
vast majority of the Republican assembly conference in
support of Dignity every year, we thought there was an
opportunity to move a safe schools bill [in the
senate]," Cook said, adding that the bill had been
held up for lack of a Republican sponsor.
identified 10 GOP senators who had been supportive of the
assembly version and started a process of negotiation with
the senate majority and the Dignity Coalition, a group
of organizations working to advance the gender
identity-inclusive legislation. Cook said the senate
conferenced the bill in June, and Log Cabin "kept up
the pressure" until it was introduced last
The question now
is whether the senate will pass the measure and, if so,
whether the bill will be reconciled with the assembly
version before the end of the year. The state
legislative session has already officially ended, but
as one political operative put it, "nothing is ever
over in the New York legislature." In fact,
legislators have been called back to Albany next week
by Gov. David Paterson to settle the state budget.
it would be a real mistake not to pass the bill,"
Cook says of the Republican senate conference.
"It allows them to continue the narrative that
they've built over the years of incrementally moving
toward full equality for gay and lesbian citizens, and in
this context we're talking about [protecting]
Democratic and Republican, have long felt GOP senators
would have to soften their stances on social issues in order
to keep control of the chamber. Majority leader Dean
Skelos, who took over the post in June upon Sen.
Joseph Bruno's retirement, has had a mixed record
on gay issues -- voting for New York's hate-crimes
bill but against the state's employment
nondiscrimination measure. But Cook said it made
perfect sense that Skelos allowed the Safe Schools bill to
be introduced in his new role as majority leader.
"He has a
different hat on now, which is representing a majority and
trying to keep a majority," he explained.
If the measure
passes in the coming months, the Empire State Pride
Agenda, the state's LGBT equality organization, will
be working to reach a compromise between the senate
and assembly bills. "We would hope, given how
substantively close the bills are, that such an agreement
could be reached and could be reached quickly,"
said Ross Levi, director of public policy and
education at Pride Agenda, which has made the bill a
legislative priority this year.
overall are pleased by the progress that has been made in
the senate. "As a signal from the Republican
leadership, the inclusion of gender identity or
expression in the Safe Schools bill could be a ray of
hope," said Joann Prinzivalli, state director of the
New York Transgender Rights Organization.
said one "disturbing" difference in the
Republican bill is that it provides protection from
disciplinary action or professional misconduct for
school employees who know of, but do not report, acts of
bullying. "This is not a feature in the
[assembly's] Dignity bill, and it makes the
Safe Schools bill much less palatable as an
alternative," she added.
in the coming months will likely be as much a function
of politics as a consideration of equal protection. While
senate Republicans may want to pass the bill in an
effort to hold their majority, state Democrats want to
block that effort. Political insiders wonder whether
Democrats may stall negotiations on the bill until after
the November elections in order to keep the GOP from scoring
a legislative victory.
Even if the
anti-bullying bill fails to be passed and signed into law
this year, activists say introduction of the inclusive
measure last week in the state senate was still a
substantial step forward. "All of this bodes
really well for passage of a final law, whether
that's in a matter of weeks or toward the
beginning of the next session," Ross Levi of the
Pride Agenda noted. (Kerry Eleveld, The