By Kenneth Lovett
After a more than 15-year long fight, transgender New Yorkers will soon be covered by the state's anti-discrimination laws.
The state Senate and Assembly passed legislation known as the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that prohibits under the state Human Rights Law discrimination on the basis of gender identification or expression when it comes to employment, education, credit, and housing.
It would also update the state's hate crimes law to include offenses motivated by a person's gender identify or expression.
Both houses of the Legislature on Tuesday also passed a bill sponsored by Glick and Hoylman that will ban the controversial and discredited practice of conversion therapy designed to switch someone from being gay to straight..
Gov. Cuomo has said he will sign the bills.
"It's just another day of breaking down barriers," said new Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers).
GENDA is the first major LGBTQ bill to clear both houses of the Legislature since legislation to legalize gay marriage passed in 2011. It comes as the Trump administration rolled transgender protections afforded by former President Barack Obama.
The bill, first introduced in 2003, was passed by the Assembly for the 12th time by a 100-40 margin. But the legislation until this year was always blocked in the Senate by the Republicans who controlled the chamber for the much of the past 50 years and even by the Democrats when they were briefly in charge in 2009-10.
But with the Democrats having won control of the Senate in November, the GENDA bill sailed through the chamber 42-19 on the third day of the legislative session.
"Let us move forward, let us all rise up in support of civil liberties for everyone," said Senate bill sponsor, Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat and the only openly gay state senator.
In the Assembly, the bill was long sponsored by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat who called Tuesday's vote in both houses a "historic day."
"We're saying New York is a place for everyone," Gottfried said.
Gottfried noted that a number of communities in the state, including New York City and Nassau and Suffolk counties, already provide anti-discrimination protections to transgender people.
The state in 2002 left out transgender protections when it passed the sexual orientation non-discrimination act.
Assemblywoman Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan), one of three openly gay Assembly members, suggested the GENDA bill that took 16 years to pass both houses "is not radical. It is not revolutionary. It is decades over due."
Some Republicans who voted against the measure expressed unease at the idea that someone who identifies as a female could use school showers or bathrooms with girls or that pedophiles and sex predators could dress up as women to gain entry.
"What protection does this bill have for the parents and children who may not want to shower with someone whose physical anatomy is different than their daughters'?" asked Assemblyman Andrew Goodell (R-Chauttauqua County)
Gottfried shot back: "The same thing that happens with white parents who are petrified of their child showering with a black person....I'm sure there are parents petrified of the thought that their little boy will use a locker room that a gay boy is using. But you know what? People have gotten used to that. All over New York, this legislation has been the law for years and I've never heard anyone expressing a problem about it, other than some of my colleagues."
Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell, a Manhattan Democrat and one of three openly gay member in the Assembly, argued that trans people face far more danger than others, including members of the gay community.
He and other Democratic lawmakers chastised Republicans for bringing up the bathroom and shower argument.
"This discussion is reduced to a base level," O'Donnell said. "I feel like I'm in third grade. They are here. They are part of our community."
A number of religious organizations, including the state Catholic Conference headed by Timothy Cardinal Dolan and evangelist groups opposed the bill.
"We urge all New Yorkers to treat persons identifying as 'transgender'--as well as everyone else--with dignity and respect, but to recognize that each person's true gender identity as a male or a female is not chosen or changeable," said the Rev. Jason McGuire, of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedom.
The bill to ban gay conversion therapy would make it professional misconduct for a mental health professional to engage in an effort to change the sexual orientation of any patient who is 18 years old or younger.
"You can not change who a person is," Glick said.
Members of the LGBTQ community, who watched the proceedings, celebrated the passage of both bills. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who is gay, viewed the Senate vote from teh chamber gallery.
"It's a new day in Albany," said David Kilmnick, president and CEO of New York LGBT Network, who described the GENDA and the conversion therapy bills as "long overdue and groundbreaking moments for the LGBT community."
With GENDA long stalled in the Senate, Gov. Cuomo in 2015 issued an executive order extending state anti-discrimination protections to transgender New Yorkers. A year later, the governor issued a separate executive order banning private and public health care insurers from covering gay conversation therapy for youth.
He has said he will sign both bills into law as part of his 100-day agenda..
"At a time when the federal government is doing everything it can to roll back the hard won rights of transgender Americans, New York State is once again stepping up for full equality and equal protections under the law," Cuomo said.
With both houses of the Legislature now controlled by the Democrats, the party is intent on addressing many outstanding issues that were blocked by Republican in years past. On Monday ,the Legislature passed electoral reforms.
And next week, both houses will take up a bill to strengthen and expand abortion rights.
"Obviously there's great anticipation and great energy in this chamber and it's for all the right reasons," Stewart-Cousins said.
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