JAMESTOWN – Human rights groups and equality advocates from across New York are celebrating the historic passage of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) by the state legislature, as well as legislation protecting LGBTQ youth in the state from the practice of so-called “conversion therapy.”
GENDA would solidify existing law by explicitly adding gender identity and expression to the New York Human Rights Law. The bill has passed the New York Assembly eleven times, and Tuesday marked the first time it has passed in the State Senate. It now heads to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s desk to be signed.
Long-time LGBTQ Advocate and Jamestown Resident Greg Rabb said the GENDA legislation was long overdue.
“As an openly gay man I know what it’s like to be discriminated against,” Rabb told WRFA on Wednesday. “I also know how hard we worked to pass SONDA – the Sexual Orientation Non Discrimination Act – quite some time ago, which made it illegal to discriminate against gay and lesbian people. But when we got that done, sadly transgender individuals were left behind with the promise that we would come and get you. We were working at that promise for so long, I know SONDA was signed into law by Gov. Pataki so we’re going way back.”
Rabb added that with the passage of GENDA, individuals who are trans or gender nonconforming can feel more accepted by society, which is crucial for the mental health and well being.
“Those of use in the movement argue that transgender rights are human rights and if transgender folks can’t live their life as how they’re meant to be, then how can they get on with the rest of their life?” Rabb asks, adding, “If you look at the statistics last year there was a record number of murders in the U.S. against transgender individuals and a record number of violent acts. In addition to that the suicide rate is horrific. The number of trans individuals who attempt suicide and sadly succeed is significantly higher than any other group in the country. So I argue we are saving people’s lives. How can you be against that?”
Not every one was in favor of the GENDA legislation. In fact, both of Chautauqua County’s representatives in Alabny – Senator Cathy Young and Assemblyman Andy Goodell – voted against the measure, despite efforts by Rabb and others to convince them it was something they should support.
“I always like to paraphrase Dr. [Martin Luther] King, especially when we’re approaching his birthday and celebration of it. He said that, ‘If one of us has no rights, then none of us have our rights.’ So I think this is not only a victory for trans individuals but it’s a victory for anyone who believes people should be treated the same, regardless of who they are,” Rabb said.
In addition to GENDA, the legislature also banned so-called conversion Therapy. Rabb said that is something else he was pleased to see on Tuesday.
“If it wasn’t so tragic it would be the silliest scientific concept present. It would be like converting you from white to black or male to female. There’s no such thing. You can’t do it,” Rabb said. “Some of this stuff was just counseling but sometimes it was worse, you know, physical abuse. A good friend of mine who’s closer to my age, when she came out to her parents a long time ago that she was a lesbian, they subjected her to conversion therapy and basically she was sent to an institution and received electric shock treatment. She’s still a lesbian today and she’s still scarred from that situation.”
While both the GENDA and conversion therapy ban are considered big wins by Rabb and other LGBTQ and Human Rights Groups, Rabb said the fight for equality under the law isn’t over, especially considering these are only state laws and not enforceable across the border in Pennsylvania, and many other states as well.
Rabb is a professor at Jamestown Community COllege and the former president of the Jamestown City Council.