NY bans discrimination against transgender state employees

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Wednesday December 16, 2009

Governor David Paterson received a standing ovation at the LGBT Community Center in lower Manhattan earlier today as he signed an executive order to ban discrimination against transgender state employees.

"For far too long... the transgender community has had to wait for the same equality others enjoy based on employment," he said. "That ends today."

Empire State Pride Agenda executive director Alan Van Capelle, Michael Silverman of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, Melissa Sklarz of the New York Transgender Rights Organization, Glennda Testone of the Center and Pauline Park of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy were among those who joined Paterson on the stage. State Sen. Tom Duane, state Assemblymembers Deborah Glick, Dick Gottfried, Micah Kellner and Danny O'Donnell and City Councilmember-elect Danny Dromm were also in attendance.

"Transgender people, like all New Yorkers, need stability, and it starts in the workplace," Sklarz said.

Silverman agreed.

"This executive order will ensure that hard-working transgender employees of New York State can work without fear of discrimination, and provide for themselves and their families," he said in a statement released earlier in the day.

National LGBT organizations also applauded Paterson's directive.

"Governor Paterson has taken significant action to advance equality for all New York state employees," Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said. "The ability to provide for our families is non-negotiable. We applaud Governor Paterson for his commitment to the LGBT community and look forward to working with fair-minded New York legislators to pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act which will protect private employees."

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, agreed.

"New York and the rest of the country benefit when good, competent workers are allowed to do their jobs free from discrimination," she added in a statement. "The governor's action today will help ensure this happens.

New York is among the handful of states that includes Delaware, Indiana and Pennsylvania that specifically ban discrimination against trans public employees. A dozen states and the District of Columbia include gender identity and expression in their employment non-discrimination laws. And the federal hate crimes law President Barack Obama signed in late October contains trans-specific protections.

Paterson signed the executive order roughly two weeks after the New York State Senate voted 24-38 against a bill that would have allowed gays and lesbians to marry. And the directive seemed to energize activists who continue to lobby state lawmakers to pass a trans-inclusive non-discrimination bill and the Dignity in All Schools Act-in addition to nuptials for same-sex couples.

"Today is a good first step," Van Capelle said. "It is not the end of our fight."

The governor agreed.

"This executive order is only a prelude," Paterson said before he referenced back to the state Senate's marriage vote on Dec. 2. "You've only seen the first act. You haven't seen the grand finale."

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.