On Wednesday, New York governor David Paterson will sign the Dignity for All Students Act, a long-awaited antibullying law that, in a first for the state, includes protections for gender identity and expression.
DASA, as the measure is known, passed the senate in June after being passed by the assembly every year since 2002. Governor Paterson will sign the bill Wednesday at 11 a.m. in a ceremony at the LGBT Community Center in Manhattan.
The law would make New York one of more than 40 states with antibullying laws, 14 of which plus the District of Columbia provide inclusive protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. The signing will occur as antigay Christian groups like Focus on the Family have seized on the back-to-school season to decry antibullying measures as a way to “promote homosexuality.”
According to the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, which invited members to the bill signing via e-mail Friday, “The Dignity for All Students Act would allow teachers, parents, students, and school administrators to address bullying and bias-related behavior of all kinds that interfere with student safety and learning. The act will foster the development of rules to prevent and respond to discriminatory harassment and hate violence. It will establish teacher, staff, and administrative training guidelines. Discrimination awareness will be incorporated into civility and character-education curricula. And incidents of bias harassment will have to be reported to the state education department."
The Dignity for All Students Act will protect students on the basis of gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, race, color, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, weight, and disability.
DASA represents a historic step for New York as the first state law to include protections based on gender identity and expression. Just weeks before the bill passed the senate, the Gender Expression Non-discrimination Act, also an eagerly awaited piece of legislation already passed by the assembly, died in the senate judiciary committee. GENDA would protect transgender individuals from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations, after the Sexual Orientation Non-discrimination Act failed to include them in 2003.
"It's hugely important, particularly because unlike some other states,
which have no laws that protect our community, there is a lot of
frustration with laws that protect for sexual orientation and not gender
identity and expression," said Sarah Warbelow, state legislative
director for the Human Rights Campaign, which works closely on
antibullying measures with groups including GLSEN. "That the
legislature is finally recognizing this is a problem is a huge step
Noah Lewis, a staff attorney for the Transgender Legal Defense and
Education Fund, agreed, saying that the act helps to advance what's already
been decided in courtrooms.
"While discrimination against transgender people has been
found to be prohibited under existing laws, having explicit protections
gender identity and expression sends a clear signal that transgender and
gender-nonconforming people deserve to be free from harassment," he
Warbelow said that the inclusive antibullying law could provide
incentive for the state senate to pass GENDA, but progress still
depends on the often volatile climate in the senate.
"I think it
makes it easier once you have a law on the books that protects for
gender identity and expression, but it doesn't remove all the
roadblocks," she said.
State senator Tom Duane and state
assembly member Daniel O’Donnell, both out elected officials from New
York City, sponsored DASA in their respective chambers.