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NY Times: Leadership on Transgender Civil Rights

New York Times editorial board, 5/26/14

“We are closer today to creating that open, respectful, inclusive world that we want for all of our children,” Maryland’s Democratic governor, Martin O’Malley, said of the law making Maryland the 18th state to extend civil rights protections to transgender people.

Maryland sets a good example for New York, which fails on this issue of fairness. With less than a month remaining before the legislative session in Albany is scheduled to end, on June 19, it is time for state lawmakers to approve long-stalled legislation — the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act — to outlaw discrimination based on gender identity or expression.

The measure would close a gap in civil rights protections. The New York statute that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, education, credit and public accommodations does not explicitly cover transgender people.

The result is a patchwork. Some places, including New York City and Suffolk and Westchester Counties, offer protections with varying standards and enforcement mechanisms. In other parts of the state, people who have had sex-change surgery and others whose identities differ from their gender at birth can be denied housing, employment, credit or access to services because of who they are. Basic rights should not depend on where a person resides.

The bill would prohibit, statewide, unjust treatment, allow for enforcement by the state’s Division of Human Rights, and open the door to removing the exclusion in the state’s Medicaid program for transition-related care. States like Connecticut and California have pointed to their own nondiscrimination laws as reason to end the bar on such coverage under their Medicaid programs.

The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and Senator Daniel Squadron, is expected to pass the Assembly soon for the seventh time. But its prospects in the Senate remain dim because of recalcitrant Republicans and the failure of Senator Jeffrey Klein, the Democratic leader in the Senate’s odd coalition leadership arrangement, to tell his Republican counterpart, Senator Dean Skelos, that blocking this measure is unacceptable.

The only real hope for enacting the bill this session rests on Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a supporter of the bill. “Working behind the scenes,” as Mr. Cuomo’s deputy secretary for civil rights, Alphonso David, says he and the governor are doing, is not enough. Mr. Cuomo needs to wage a strong and visible fight on this bill, as he did in his successful effort to push through same-sex marriage three years ago.