Just when it seemed like two years of Democratic Party control of the state Senate which the gay community worked its heart out to make possible in 2008 might conclude with nothing of moment to show for it, Albany finally delivered a win to L.G.B.T. New Yorkers last month.
After a vote hastily arranged for late in the evening on June 22, the Senate voted 58 to 3 a jaw-droppingly wide margin, given how long the day had been in the making to approve a school anti-bullying measure that includes protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
It is sign of just how slim the pickings have been for the gay community, of course, that a law based on the inarguable premise that schoolchildren should not be beaten up simply because of who they are is considered a significant milestone in human rights in a state that has for so long fancied itself the nation’s progressive conscience.
Still, glibness ought not be the final word on the matter. For the first time in state history, the rights of transgender and other gender-nonconforming New Yorkers have been codified in law. Coming two weeks after the Senate Judiciary Committee narrowly rejected a transgender civil rights measure the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, or GENDA the favorable vote on the Dignity for All Students Act, or DASA, is an encouraging sign that obsessive fear-mongering about men putting on dresses to raid the ladies’ room need not define public policy debate about a marginalized and victimized minority within the broader gay community.
To say that the GENDA debacle two weeks before was dispiriting is an understatement. The Senate Majority Conference leader, Democrat John Sampson of Brooklyn, had taken the bill to his committee confident that he had the votes to win agreement to advance it to the full floor, where at least some advocates said the ducks were in order for passage. Instead, the committee’s Republicans voted in lockstep, joined by the Democrats’ house homophobe, Ruben Diaz, Sr., to beat back Sampson’s efforts.
The aftermath wasn’t pretty.
Openly gay Chelsea Democrat Tom Duane, the lead sponsor on the marriage-equality, transgender rights and bullying measures, said taking the bill to Judiciary was not his idea, pointing his finger at advocates. The Empire State Pride Agenda, in turn, said it hadn’t been consulted on the matter, a disavowal that didn’t keep Duane from suggesting that the group be asked again.
Meanwhile, the Pride Agenda’s former executive director, Alan Van Capelle, got back in the game on his Facebook page, complaining that Duane had passed up his chance to appear as a guest of the Judiciary Committee to argue for his own bill. For good measure, Van Capelle pointed out that Duane had also been MIA for the Democratic conference meeting that took place in the hours prior to the Senate taking up marriage equality last December and delivering a devastating 38-to-24 rebuke to the hopes of L.G.B.T. New Yorkers.
Anyone who closely followed the yearlong run-up to the December vote, however, knows well that the effort was riven by divisions, not only between ESPA and Duane, but among other advocates as well.
Advocates and legislators have different roles, and tension is inevitable, but to avoid the problems that plagued advocates efforts in Albany last year, people must get on the same page. Gay and lesbian elected officials and advocacy organizations must put aside any petty differences and focus on the tall orders at hand.
This editorial originally appeared as Paul Schindler's Editor's Letter in the June 24, 2010 Gay Pride issue of Gay City News.