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Trans Rights Bill Lost in N.Y. Senate Committee

Trans Rights Bill Lost in N.Y. Senate Committee


Despite vote counts that indicated it could pass the full New York state senate this month, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which would protect against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression in areas like housing and employment, died Tuesday morning in the senate judiciary committee. The committee vote was 11-12, with all Republicans voting against the bill, joined by Democratic state senator Ruben Diaz, Sr. of the Bronx.

According to an e-mail announcement to supporters Tuesday from the Empire State Pride Agenda, the state's leading LGBT lobbying group, "Today the Senate Judiciary Committee took up the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) and failed to move it forward by a vote of 11-12. All the Republican Senators on the Committee voted against it, as did Senator Ruben Diaz as the lone Democrat vote in dissent. Some senators raised concerns about the use of bathrooms and other gender-segregated facilities, and a number of senators who voted against the bill expressed a willingness to support it if this issue could be sufficiently addressed. Committee Chair John Sampson promised to take these concerns back to the prime sponsor of the bill, Senator Tom Duane, for discussion."

The vote delivers a major disappointment to transgender advocates. As recently as last week, many believed they had enough votes -- 32 -- to pass the measure in the narrowly divided senate. GENDA already has passed the assembly, where Democrats hold firm control.

Hopes increased over the weekend, when Democratic leader John Sampson moved the bill from the investigations and government operations committee to the judiciary committee, which he chairs. Diaz, Sr. is a member of both committees.

"The assumption was that the man's in charge of his people and that this would be a good thing for us," transgender advocate Melissa Sklarz told The Advocate about Sampson's move.

"The senate was confused by bathrooms and dress codes and ignored the last 10 years of reality about trans people in America and stayed with the same tired lame cliches that never pan out in fact," she said.

Duane, the openly gay sponsor of GENDA, said that he was "very angry and extremely disturbed" about the committee's vote. The Manhattan Democrat said the decision to take the bill through committee ran counter to his preferred strategy, which would have been to put the bill through the rules committee and get it to the floor immediately for a vote.

"The decsion to put the bill through judiciary was not my strategy," he said just hours after the loss. "It was the strategy that was supported by the advocates and the highest levels of senate Democratic leadesrship. I had misgivings about putting it through a committee for exactly the reasons that it failed. However, now it is yet again clear that homophobia and transphobia is a virulent disease within the New York state senate and once again it's shown its ugly face."

While the Pride Agenda vowed to continue to lobby senators on GENDA through the end of session, Sklarz expressed pessimism that the long-awaited bill would pass the senate any time soon. Senators likely will come under pressure to make a second attempt on the marriage equality bill after this fall's election.

"My point of view is that 2011 will be all about marriage," said Sklarz. "And so we will sit and wait. We thought 2010 would be our year."

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