Transgender Rights Bill Approved By Legislature

“It’s a really victory for us,” is how the first openly elected officials in Western New York described the bill that passed the state Legislature Tuesday that bolsters transgender rights.

Greg Rabb, former Jamestown City Council president and LGBTQ advocate, said he had it on good authority from statewide LGBTQ lobbyist that the legislation was going to be passed Tuesday, but was still overjoyed when he heard the news.

“I didn’t know what to do. Whether to cry, laugh or hug everyone,” he said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said if the state Legislation passed the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, also known as GENDA, bill that he would sign it into law. GENDA is a bill that will protect people from discrimination based on their gender identity or expression. The GENDA Act will amend the state Human Rights Law to provide clear and explicit protections from discrimination based on gender identity/expression, including wrongful employment termination, refusal to hire, rental evictions and denial of public housing accommodations, refusal of business and services and threats of and actual physical harm.

Rabb said currently there is a governor executive order that provides transgender individuals protection. However, if a new governor would be elected, Cuomo’s executive order could be rescinded.

“(GENDA) is a legal statue that is better than a governor’s executive order,” Rabb said. “It’s not going to end discrimination, but it does send a strong message that if you do discriminate you can be taken to court. It shows that we value transgender individuals. It lifts a burden off of their shoulders that will allow them to be who they are.”

The GENDA legislation had been proposed for a number of years, having passed the Democratic-controlled state Assembly, but couldn’t get out of committee in the former Republican-controlled state Senate, Rabb said. However, with the Democrats now in control of the state Senate following last November’s election, the bill passed both state houses.

“The senate Republicans wouldn’t pass it, but when the senate flipped it got out of committee and was passed by the majority,” said Rabb, a registered Democrat. “It was a long time coming. It took us a lot of lobbying and letter writing to get it done.”

Rabb said statewide LGBTQ advocates will get together to figure out their next move, which could be to lobby at the federal level. But, for now, Rabb said he will enjoy this victory.

“I’m in my late 60s and I started working on all these issues in my late 20s. It was a lifetime of work to get sexual orientation passed during Gov. (George) Pataki’s administration, but we felt like we left transgenders behind, and that was a serious mistake and we have finally corrected it,” he said. “Dr. (Martin Luther) King used to say, ‘As long as one of us is without rights, we are all without rights.'”