GENDA: How the Fight for a Basic Civil Rights Law Inspired A Movement in New York State

It was a beautiful day at the State Capitol last April 30, as hundreds of activists and advocates from all over New York State gathered in Albany for Equality & Justice Day. The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, or GENDA, had just passed the State Assembly for the sixth consecutive year, and there was a palpable excitement as activists attended workshops, networked, planned events, and spoke directly to their state representatives about the need for transgender rights.

The momentum was unmistakable. Surely, this would be the year GENDA would finally make it to the Senate floor. Surely this was the year it would finally pass.

It didn't pass.

In fact, the Senate didn't even bring the bill to the floor for a vote. But what obstructionists don't understand is that blocking GENDA cannot stem the rise of transgender rights in New York. GENDA is not an end, but a beginning - a focal point for a larger, cohesive community that has already galvanized an entire movement.

This past October, I attended a meeting of the New York Transgender Rights Coalition; a statewide coalition with more than 80 different non-profit organizations, service providers, grassroots groups and individuals, all working together to advocate for transgender equality and justice throughout New York State. The room was filled with the passionate energy of those who have devoted themselves to the passage of GENDA, and we spent plenty of time planning our campaigns to pass the bill in 2014. But GENDA wasn't the only item on our agenda. Nearly 50 representatives, from all walks of life and all corners of the state, sat in that room and offered presentations and strategies for navigating countless other issues that affect the trans community in New York - access to healthcare, disproportionate rates of homelessness, incarceration, unemployment, the limits to legal equality, and how to organize and build community beyond the scope of any one law.

That meeting was the microcosm for what has been a decade-plus of organized efforts. The Coalition started as a small group of organizations and individuals from Buffalo to Bay Shore and everywhere in between, working to ensure that the legislature would pass GENDA, and has grown stronger and stronger. Grassroots neighborhood meetings, community trainings, and church assemblies have gone hand-in-hand with legislative teach-ins, governmental hearings, statewide rallies, and national conferences.

As Transgender Rights Organizer for the Empire State Pride Agenda I can say that our number one legislative priority is the passage of GENDA. We are so proud to also work for transgender rights in regards to access to healthcare, birth certificate policy, policies around how trans people are treated and housed within the criminal justice system, and protecting trans and gender non-conforming youth from damaging and discredited "therapy" that tries to change who they are. But at the end of the day, if transgender people like myself don't have legal equality, then there is still work to be done. And that is why the commitment to the passage of GENDA has been and will always remain strong.

We will not give up, for while any of us remain second-class citizens, none of us can truly be free.