Equality and Justice
The Curvature, USA
Equality and Justice for Whom?
Last Tuesday, I attended Equality & Justice Day in Albany. It is the LGBT
lobby day for New York, run by the Empire State Pride Agenda. I generally
had a good time, and was glad that I attended to show my support.
But I also noticed something throughout the day that, while I may not be in
the best position to do so as a straight and cis person, seemed to me to
deserve a strong critique.
I wrote earlier that the main bill I am concerned about seeing pass is
GENDA. <http://thecurvature .com/2009/ 04/27/in- support-of- genda/> The Gender
Expression Non-Discrimination Act would protect people from discrimination
on the basis of gender identity and expression in the areas of employment,
housing, credit, and more. Right now, in New York, no such protections
exist for trans or otherwise identifying gender variant people ó despite the
fact that such protections are in place (as they obviously should be) on the
basis of sexual orientation.
Last year after Equality & Justice Day, I was surprised and pleased to see
that GENDA, while it did not ever reach the Senate floor with Republicans in
charge, was given seemingly equal attention to marriage equality and
DASA<http://www.prideage nda.org/IssuesEx plained/Youthand SafeSchools/ QuickFacts/ AnswerstoCommonQ uestions/ tabid/228/ Default.aspx>(Dignity
for All Students Act). It could be that Iím simply more aware of
trans issues and their marginalization within supposedly LGBT communities
than I was last year ó though I was already aware of this issue last year,
and for that reason made a specific point to watch out for its presence.
But whatever the reason, I noticed a significant shift, and I feel obligated
to mention it.
It started, or at least it became noticeable to me, when Governor Paterson
came out to give his speech as the first official speaker. It was a great
speech, it really was, and I was happy to see him there. Except. Well, it
was a great speech if we were only there to talk about marriage equality.
Because thatís all his speech was about. And thatís not the only reason
we were there.
Of course, itís entirely possible that the Pride Agenda had no control over
the content of the Governorís speech. When itís the governor speaking, does
an organization have any say in the topic of his remarks? I really honestly
do not know. But it seemed to set a tone.
Because marriage equality, though on paper it was not supposed to be, was
the focus of this day. While GENDA and DASA were often mentioned as
sidelines, for a majority of the morning speakers, they were not the focus,
and they were not even usually given equal treatment. In fact, Iíd say that
GENDA received the least treatment of the three issues in question. Because
though I donít remember who it was, I do specifically remember someone
talking at decent length about bullying in schools. I also admittedly
missed a chunk of the afternoon rally ó but from what I saw, it was much of
the same. It seemed from the program that there was only one speaker at the
rally there to represent trans issues; and I saw her speak, and she only
spoke for a minute or two.
I saw the same dynamic in my lobby visits. Now, I want to be clear that the
Pride Agenda has no direct control over what goes on in the lobby visits.
The lobby visit facilitators are volunteers who do not officially represent
the organization. And I will also say that I like the facilitator from my
group very much and spent a good deal of the day in his company.
But when we got to the meeting for our senator ó and remember, GENDA has
passed the Assembly, so the Senate is what matters ó he had people in our
group talk at length about marriage equality. Then he had people talk at
length about DASA. (I personally said something about both bills.) And
then, before I knew it, the meeting was over. When I realized what was
happening I tried to catch my facilitatorís eye to say ďWhat about GENDA?Ē
but he didnít look my way, and it was too late. When the one person in our
group who had identified herself as trans questioned him on it after the
meeting, the response was basically a fairly sheepish ďyeah, well, I guess I
only got to fit two in.Ē
When we got back to the banquet hall for the closing, we watched a short
video <http://www.youtube. com/watch? v=MJF5TREeliw> which debunked many of
the myths that marriage equality opponents use to scare people out of their
support. There was, it probably goes without saying, no similar video for
GENDA, though the myths and
scare-tactics<http://thecurvature .com/2009/ 01/13/because- the-not-in- my-shower- campaign- worked-so- well/>surrounding
such legislation are well-known, rampant and appalling.
There is clearly a problem here.
And that problem could, certainly, have been one that was clearly visible
last year and I simply missed due to ignorance on my part. I have not
entirely ruled that out ó though again, I was actively expecting and looking
for it last year. So if I had to guess, I would actually, and sadly, place
my money on something that I find even more appalling.
Last year, marriage equality didnít have a chance in hell. Sure,
legislators and activists talked the same big game, but everyone knew it.
Republicans controlled the legislative body. It likely wasnít going to get
introduced, and if it was, it was going to get shot down.
This year? Things are significantly different. 53% of New Yorkers recently
polled said that they would support marriage equality in New
York.<http://www.buffalon ews.com/cityregi on/story/ 646140.html>Democrats
are now in charge, and while thatís definitely not a guarantee,
itís a lot better. And the governor has been actively promoting a bill.
In other words: marriage equality has a real, legitimate chance this year.
It might actually make it through. Before 2009 is over, we might have it.
When marriage equality had no real shot, it seemed to me that GENDA was
portrayed as equally important to it. It was regularly discussed in
conjunction with the other issues. And last year, I also had the same lobby
visit facilitator, and we managed to discuss GENDA substantially in all of
Now that marriage equality is a very real possibility, GENDA has taken a
back seat ó despite the fact that it has significantly greater favor with
voters<http://www.gayallia nce.org/index. php?option= com_mojo& Itemid=114& p=2933>,
but much of the same resistance among lawmakers, and establishes rights that
are easily as important, and quite arguably more so. And so, it seems to me
that the rights of trans people only matter when the real goal, the
currently trendy one, isnít really on the table.
I am, in all honesty, not particularly surprised by this. But I am
extraordinarily disappointed and saddened, and also angry. Because what I
have outlined above, if accurate (and Iím sure the Pride Agenda would
vehemently deny it), is tremendously and unforgivably fucked up. And even
if Iím wrong about the reasoning ó even if things were just as bad last year
ó it doesnít erase the disparity or make it any less of a major issue.
I hope there is no doubt that I would absolutely love to see New York become
the next state to gain marriage equality. But I donít want it on the backs
of trans people. (Of course, there are many trans people who would also
benefit from marriage equality; but I think it would be disingenuous to act
as though itís the thinking at play here.)
What I donít want is marriage equality in New York while itís still fucking
legal to deny a transgender person a place to live. I donít want New York
to become the sixth state to instate marriage equality when it is not yet
even the fourteenth state to instate anti- discrimination laws on the
basis of gender identity.
And yet, Iím worried that itís exactly whatís going to happen. I worry that
weíre going to end up looking a hell of a lot like New
Hampshire<http://shakespeares sister.blogspot. com/2009/ 04/we-matter. html>.
And that in that event, as so often happens, the rest of the supposed
coalition wonít come back for transgender people.
Iím not saying ďthe Pride Agenda couldnít care less about trans people.Ē
Some certainly would make that argument, but again, as a straight and cis
woman, I donít think Iím in a position to make that call.
I am, however, in a position to simply report what I saw. And what I saw
was a day that was supposed to be about rights for all LGBT New Yorkers
largely toss out the T. I saw a day whose focus was on marriage equality,
not marriage equality, GENDA and DASA. I saw a disparity, and I saw a
NOTE: This is not a place for 101 questions. If you have one, google it.
http://thecurvature .com/2009/ 05/07/equality- and-justice- for-whom/
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
'Be who you are.'
Let no one define who you are.'
I definitely talked about that with my friends who were there. We didn't think the other stuff was "ignored" as such, but that the day was about MARRIAGE (oh and some other stuff but whatever).
Part of the issue is that there are many people who may very well consider themselves allies who are definitely already on board with both GENDA and DASA. They're seen as less risky. So, when lobbying those people, it makese some sense to focus on the one issue they're still maybe on the fence about. But the speeches etc. for the rest of the day? : - (
I totally agree that they're following the (dangerous) national trend of equating "marriage" with "equal rights", like that one thing is the biggest, most important issue and will magically fix all the other ones.