Friday, December 18, 2009

Transgender State Workers Expected to Gain Bias Protection

According to this article in the New York Times Gov. David A. Paterson plans to extend antidiscrimination protections to transgender state employees, a decision that signifies the broadest inclusion yet of transgender people in state policy, according to several people with direct knowledge of the matter.

Mr. Paterson will carry out the decision through an executive order, to be signed on Wednesday, that will require state agencies to include transgender individuals in their nondiscrimination policies, these people said.

Though state antidiscrimination law includes gay men and lesbians, it is silent on the issue of transgender people. And while Mr. Paterson’s order will not have the sweep of a statute enacted by the State Legislature because it will apply only to state agencies, gay and transgender rights advocates said it would be a first step toward including gender identity and expression protections in state law.

Advocates for transgender people have succeeded in winning broad antidiscrimination protections in a number of cities throughout the state, including New York, Buffalo, Albany and Rochester. But efforts to add similar protections to state law have so far fallen short. The Assembly has passed a transgender antidiscrimination bill, but the Senate has refused to vote on the issue.

People with direct knowledge of the governor’s executive order described it this week, though the governor’s office has not yet formally issued it.The governor’s office declined to comment.

While supporters of transgender legal protections said they were encouraged by Mr. Paterson’s order, they noted that New York was not a pioneer in extending such rights.

“It has been a long road, and I think New York is behind,” said Dru Levasseur, a transgender rights attorney for Lambda Legal. “So this will bring New York up to par with other states that are taking the lead on workplace fairness.”

Twelve states and the District of Columbia have broad laws prohibiting discrimination based on gender expression or identity, according to gay and transgender rights groups. In addition, more than 100 cities and counties across the country provide similar legal protections. These laws protect not only people who have had gender reassignment surgery or who live as a member of the opposite sex, but also men who are discriminated against for appearing overly feminine or women for appearing overly masculine.

Much like the antidiscrimination laws that have been broadened over the years to include gays, lesbians and bisexuals, transgender antidiscrimination laws have gradually multiplied in jurisdictions throughout the country since Minneapolis became the first city to have such a law in 1975.

“I’ve been working on transgender law for eight years, and when I started there was only one state, Minnesota, that had protections for transgender people statewide with an overall nondiscrimination law,” said Lisa Mottet, director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s transgender civil rights project.

Still, gay rights groups have found that a high percentage of transgender people report discrimination at work. According to a new survey of 6,450 transgender people conducted by the task force, 97 percent reported mistreatment at work.

Two weeks ago, the State Senate defeated a bill that would have allowed same-sex couples to wed in New York. The 38-to-24 vote to kill the bill was a stinging rebuke to gay rights advocates in New York.

New York State has about 300,000 residents who identify as transgender, according to one survey conducted by the State Department of Health.

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