Testimony Delivered by Melissa Sklarz
My name is Melissa Sklarz and I work at a midtown credit union as a collections manager. I am also the female vice president of Gay & Lesbian Independent Democrats, the chairperson of the LGBT Committee of Community Board #2 in Manhattan and a member of its executive committee and in 1999, I became the first out transgender person elected to office in New York when I became a judicial delegate from the 66th Assembly District.
I am thrilled to be here and would like to thank Chairman DeBlasio for this historic opportunity. I would also like to thank Margarita Lopez, Bill Perkins, and Christine Quinn, and Phil Reed for their tireless energy and leadership in helping create a positive and, hopefully, a winning, coalition within the City Council. I would like to thank Ralph Wilson of Empire State Pride Agenda, Paisley Currah And Pauline Park, friends and colleagues who have spoken throughout New York City in helping to define the need for civil rights for transsexual and transgender people.
As for myself, after years of self-destructive behavior due to my inability to cope and understand my conflicted gender feelings, I found myself homeless and in rehab. Lacking appropriate resources, they told me "Go to the LGBT Center on West 13th St." From there, I found the Gender Identity Project. Being somewhat insane and they being somewhat tolerant, I came of age in my mid-30's and discovered a reason to go on living.
In fact, after a few years as a client, I was asked to become a peer counselor that is helping people based on my experience as opposed to my schooling. But after a few years, I discovered that there were still few resources for transsexual people. And so I left my part time post to see what was out there. 6 years later, I sit before you, with my friends, on the verge of creating history.
Today, sadly, there are still few resources. Funding has dried up in the aftermath of last year's nightmare. Whereas our political leaders are willing to help lead, businesses and our neighborhoods are fighting to survive and to maintain. Formerly progressive allies respond to loud angry voices that say "Not in My Backyard, or Front Yard, or in the Street, or anywhere near my kids and who invited you to this neighborhood anyway!!"
In Community Board #2, in Greenwich Village, powerful voices insist that we who look different have no place in Our Town. The quality of Life feels threatened by transsexuals in transition. We are told this is not about race, or sexuality, or gender identity. It is about good people and bad people. It is about good behavior and bad behavior.
Intro 24 is our hope and our light. It is a belief that all New Yorkers deserve civil rights, that is the right to work, and have a home, and receive quality non-judgmental health care, regardless of appearance. It is our chance for a legal identity, one backed by New York's political establishment and the courts.
Last year, at this hearing, the Mayor's men told us that transsexuals and transgender New Yorkers are covered by law as disabled. Although everyone in this Chamber laughed, my thought was how come no one told us. I am not convinced that the Human Rights Commission is open and available to the basic needs of transsexual New Yorkers.
I am convinced that this is the beginning of a new time for me and people like me. It is a signal to non transsexual New York that it is okay to stay in school if transgender, it is okay to go to college if transgender, it is okay to go to work if transgender, whether at the beginning of the process, at the middle, at the end, or years after finishing. If thirty localities around the United States can embrace the transgender experience, then I believe New York can also.
Today, you will hear that the idea of transgender is a myth and a fraud. This is unfortunate. Then imagine the strength of a hallucination that drives thousands of New Yorkers to cut themselves off from all familiar resources such as family and neighborhood. Imagine the fear of the unknown and of doing it anyway. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who at age 15 or 25 or 35 or even 45 that willingly walks away from everything they know of reality.
Please know that this idea is spreading, that new language and scientific techniques and public hearings for ideas such as these are helping to create new unthought realities. The old ideas of gender and gender identity are melting away. We do not ask you to walk with us into the unknown, but we ask that a few of the cultural barriers be eliminated to make it less difficult.