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Fighting for Transgender Rights

A New York Transgender Rights Coalition Forms

[ALBANY, NY] - Representatives of transgender rights groups convened in Albany recently to mobilize the New York Transgender Coalition, a new statewide organization dedicated to fighting for the rights of transgendered and gender-variant New Yorkers.

"We wanted to gather people from around the state, to give us the chance to reach out regionally and locally," explained Bali White, New York City representative of the coalition's speakers' bureau. "We are organizing a training so the coalition can start speaking at schools, gay groups, corporations, and human resources department, so that they can better learn how to deal with the needs of transgender people."

Inspired in part by the leadership of the late Sylvia Rivera, a New York City activist who died in February, and with the support of the AIDS group Housing Works, the Albany gathering sought to organize and mobilize transgendered and gender-variant people to secure civil rights through empowerment, education, advocacy and the dissemination of information.

The group, which will meet again in July, is currently working on hammering out the administrative details of the organization's structure, organizing the lobbying and education training sessions, and addressing concerns with legislators on the state and federal level.

"There was a real effort to avoid the kind of appointing a leadership thing, so we created workgroups and representatives elected to a coalition council," said Mark Hayes, state issues organizer for Housing Works.

White said that the coalition will hold lobbying training sessions in New York City and upstate to allow members to become more effective in talking to politicos about anti-discrimination protections, vocational work for trans people, and improved access to housing and trans-sensitive health care, among other matters.

"We want to further the idea of educating ourselves as well as other people, the idea that there is legislative protection that can be had out there, and that there is a much larger support group statewide," said Melissa Clark, from Central New York.

Some successes

In April, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed into law a measure prohibiting discrimination against transgendered and gender-variant people in Gotham.

The measure amends the city human rights law by including a person's "gender identity, self image, appearance, behavior or expression" as part of the prohibition against gender discrimination. The human rights law prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

The bill received a hearing in May 2001, but failed to move forward due to the fact that the speaker at the time, Peter Vallone, shared Giuliani's assessment that the measure was gratuitous and unnecessary.

This year brought a new mayor, as well as a new speaker -- Gifford Miller -- who supported the bill.

The city of Rochester already has transgender-inclusive anti-discrimination provisions in its human rights statute, as does Suffolk County on Long Island. The city of Ithaca, meanwhile, has added "gender presentation" to its local hate crimes law.

Despite the gains, activists say much more needs to be done. For example, many transgender rights advocates have expressed disappointment that the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, a statewide gay rights bill, fails to include protections for transgendered New Yorkers.

"I have an investment in this because of my transgender identity," said Camille Hopkins, speaker for the Western New York/Buffalo area. "We were always told we should wait in line, and I've always had a problem with that because political expediency doesn't address the ethical nature of the issue. The gay community should know better than anyone about exclusion."

Hopkins said her efforts in Western New York will include recruiting speakers, educators, and some local trans-inclusive groups to identify the needs of their community.

"We just want our lives to be normalized, and the only way that can happen is through legislative changes -- [and] also education," said White. "The reason why we're willing to go to these environments and speak to schools and corporations is so we won't be seen as some abnormal thing. That is what I view the coalition as doing."

Both White and Hopkins share an expansive vision of the group's future, planning to tackle federal legislation once New York state protections are secure.

"I think most of the individuals I met have the vision that protection from discrimination shouldn't end outside of a certain geographic area," said Hopkins. "We shouldn't stop until every place in the U.S. has some kind of coverage."


New York Transgender Coalition
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Copyright 2002 New York Blade News, Inc.

Related Stories:

May 1, 2002 - NYT Editorial: Civil Rights for the Transgendered

Apr 24, 2002 - NYC Council Passes Transgender Rights Bill (NYAGRA Press Release)

Apr 24, 2002 - New York City Council Votes to Include Transgender People in its Human Rights Law

Apr 24, 2002 - Council Passes Transgender Bill; Mayor Says He'll Sign

Apr 23, 2002 - Testimony Delivered By Carrie Davis

Apr 23, 2002 - Testimony Delivered By Melissa Sklarz

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