Fordham Students Study Transgender Civil Rights

The Policy and Legislative Advocacy Clinic in The New York Law Journal, May 11, 2012

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Students from the Policy and Legislative Advocacy Clinic at Fordham University School of Law collaborated with the New York Civil Liberties Union on a report calling for state legislation to protect transgendered individuals from discrimination based on their gender identity and expression.

Advancing Transgender Civil Rights and Equality in New York: The Need for GENDA advocates passage of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), which was recently passed by the state Assembly for the fifth time, but remains held up in the Senate's Rules Committee.

The bill would add gender identity and expression to state laws banning discrimination based on gender, religion, sexual orientation and disability. Under the legislations, offenses motivated by a victim's gender identity or expression could be prosecuted as hate crimes.

In January 2011, two Fordham Law students approached the NYCLU offering to help draft the report.

Same-sex "marriage had its own cadre of people supporting it, but this seemed like a fundamental issue that needed more attention," said third-year student Lee Brannon, who worked with 2011 Fordham Law graduate Meredith Siller on the initial research and writing.

In January 2012, second-year John Gurrieri and third-year Ricardo Rodriguez joined the team to complete editing and supplemental writing and research, including attending community forums with transgendered people to discuss their experiences and problems.

The report defines key "terms" like "gender identity," and "gender expression," "transgender," "gender non-conforming" and "intersex" to educate members of the public and legislators who may never have met a transgendered person.

It also profiles transgendered individuals who have faced discrimination in employment, housing, education and public accommodations because of their appearance or gender identity. According to a 2011 national survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 90 percent of transgender and gender noncomforming respondents said they were harassed or mistreated in the workplace or took actions to avoid mistreatment; 53 percent experienced harassment in public accommodations; and 26 percent had lost a job.

Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Ithaca, New York City, Rochester and Westchester, Suffolk and Tompkins counties already have enacted local protections for transgendered individuals, as have 16 other states and the District of Columbia.

Local laws, Gurrieri said, have shown that concerns that anti-discrimination would detract from personal privacy and safety in sex-segregated areas like restrooms and locker rooms "stem from ignorance."

"There are no reports anywhere of any of the misconduct that people are worried about and police chiefs from Albany and Rochester say their antidiscrimination acts increased safety," she said.

The report notes that there are no known links between sexual misconduct and the passage of anti-discrimination laws, but transgendered individuals themselves are often the targets of violence in restrooms.

"This is not asking much of the Legislature except to protect New Yorkers, giving transgendered individuals the same protections afforded to any other discrimination class," said Rodriguez.

Elizabeth Cooper, an associate professor at Fordham Law and director of the clinic, said the report was distributed to lawmakers as part of the Empire State Pride Agenda's annual rally, held May 8. She noted that since New York became the sixth state to legalize gay marriage last year, the focus has now turned to enacting GENDA, which she says has broad support in the LGBT and general community. "This is basic civil rights, nothing special," Cooper said.