The progress of transgender and transsexual civil rights has been slow and halting in New York State, but there is no surer mark of progress than when the powerful bend to notice our struggles.
On Monday, May 23, 2011, the New York-based Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund will mark its 6th anniversary. Its special honoree is the Honorable David A. Paterson, 55th Governor of the State of New York.
What has Governor Paterson done to deserve this honor? My headline reflects my somewhat dyspeptic Bilerico view of the trans advocacy scene, but to the question "Why?" there is, in this case, a somewhat happy answer. Governor Paterson has stood up for trans rights in a state where trans civil rights have been consistently denied. New York State hasn't got much to celebrate about trans rights, but what little there is originates with the Governor. New York is the state where gay advocates made a deal with the devil to exclude transgender and transsexual people from statutory protection. In 2002, in order to pass a sexual orientation-only civil rights bill, gay advocates strongly opposed gender identity protections. People from out of state think "New York" means "New York City," but it's not so, Dorothy. Most LGBt advocacy groups then moved blithely onto a full court press on marriage rights, with a few making a token effort on the GENDA bill.
In a state like this, filled with feckless politicians and craven advocacy groups, trans civil rights has been at the bottom of the barrel, and it takes special courage to say, hey, wait a minute, fellas, this ain't right. Governor Paterson has done that, and good for him. Well, you ask, what exactly has he done? Well, I'll tell you. But please take a moment to support the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund's 6th Anniversary event, another lone voice in the New York State wilderness. We must support those who are moving the ball forward.
Governor Paterson noticed our struggles when, on December 16, 2009, he announced that New York would be the ninth state in the Union to have an executive order protecting public employees from discrimination based on gender identity. He also signed New York's Dignity For All Students Act into law, the first New York State law to include specific protections based on gender identity. He is also a strong supporter of the NY Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act legislation, which has unfortunately floundered in the dysfunctional New York Senate.
While Governor Paterson definitely deserves thanks for his active support, he deserves even more thanks for his willingness to the guest of honor at an event that is explicitly about transgender rights. How many of our state's highest executives have done that?
The event, to be held at the Chelsea Art Gallery, is hosted by the talented Laverne Cox, a woman who had led by example as a successful and proudly-out trans woman. It will also honor Dr. Christine McGinn, founder of the Papillon Gender Wellness Center, Kye Allums, the NCAA's first trans basketball player (though it looks like GWU ended his season early for specious reasons), and Kimberly Reed, director of the award-winning documentary Prodigal Sons. I'm thrilled to be honoring these out and proud heroes.
I'm also proud of the the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, which has been in the forefront of the fight to end trans discrimination, fielding lawsuits in partnership with major law firms to fight job discrimination, refusal to correct birth certificates, and clarify marriage rules for trans people, to name only a few. Michael Silverman, Esq., TLDEF's executive director, has been tireless, and deserves to be honored himself.
I'm co-hosting the event, so let me not forget to remind you to click here to get more details and to support the event. Last year's event was fabulous and successful, and I hope you will join us to make this year's event even more so.