Metro Weekly

New York lawmakers vote to pass transgender protections and ban conversion therapy

Activists celebrate two hard-won victories after more than a decade of obstruction

New York State Capitol Building – Photo: Einar Einarsson Kvaran, via Wikimedia.

After years of obstruction from a Republican-controlled State Senate, New York lawmakers approved two bills aimed at expanding LGBTQ rights, approving a ban on conversion therapy for minors and a law that provides nondiscrimination protections to transgender and gender-nonconforming people.

The nondiscrimination law, which adds gender identity and expression to a list of protected classes under New York’s civil rights law, passed the Assembly by a vote of 100-40 and the State Senate by 42-19, largely along party lines.

The measure to ban licensed therapists from subjecting minors to conversion therapy was much more well-received in both chambers, with only three lawmakers in the Assembly and four in the Senate voting against the measure.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has promised to sign both bills into law. Cuomo has long advocated for protections for gender identity in state law, and, in 2016, directed the New York State Division of Human Rights to adopt regulations that would treat instances of anti-transgender discrimination as forms of sex-based discrimination. That same year, Cuomo, a proponent of banning conversion therapy, issued an executive order prohibiting health insurers from covering the practice and state-run mental health facilities from engaging in it at all.

In past cycles, both bills passed the Assembly only to be delayed or killed in committee by the Senate. Even in cycles when more Democrats were elected to the upper chamber than Republicans, the GOP managed to retain control thanks to a group of nine rogue Democrats, eight of whom were members of the “Independent Democratic Conference,” voting to either share power with or caucus with the Republicans in exchange for prime committee assignments and other benefits.

As a result, Democratic legislative priorities on a number of different issues — particularly LGBTQ-related bills — were the victims of this arrangement. With 31 seats, Republicans only needed one rogue Democrat to continue caucusing with them, in order to ensure that bills like the conversion therapy ban and GENDA would be blocked from receiving a floor vote.

LGBTQ advocates were thrilled by the passage of both bills, which had been brought up repeatedly over the last decade only to fall short. 

“Today’s historic action in New York is the result of years of hard work and it is a vivid illustration of the importance of electing pro-equality lawmakers,” said Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, which sent volunteers and staffers to help pro-equality candidates get elected over the past few electoral cycles.

“Due to the efforts of countless advocates and leaders, transgender New Yorkers will now be explicitly protected from discrimination on the basis of gender identity and LGBTQ youth will be protected from the dangerous, debunked practice of so-called ‘conversion therapy,'” Griffin added. “This is a monumental day for fairness and equality across the Empire State.”

Conversion therapy survivor and #BornPerfect co-founder Mathew Shurka and Gov. Andrew Cuomo – Photo: National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Once Cuomo signs the bills into law, New York will become the 21st state to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in employment, housing, or public accommodations, and the 15th state to ban the practice of conversion therapy on minors. Similar conversion therapy bans have also passed in the District of Columbia and numerous municipalities — including several in New York — in states where the legislature has failed to act.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights, which runs the #BornPerfect campaign aimed at ending the practice of conversion therapy in all 50 states, celebrated New York’s step forward.

“After six years working alongside Assemblymember Glick and Senator Hoylman, I’m proud to see this bill pass for the first time by the New York State Senate,” Mathew Shurka, a co-founder of the #BornPerfect campaign and Manhattan native who was subjected to an extreme form of conversion therapy where he was barred from seeing his mother and sisters in an effort to “de-feminize” him in order to change his sexual orientation.

“The trauma inflicted on me by conversion therapy is now illegal,” Shurka said. “This law will save many lives. What’s important now is to ensure that this law is enforced, as we know licensed conversion therapists continue to practice throughout the state.”

Transgender advocates and allies also celebrated the passage of both bills today.

“The State of New York is sending a clear message today that LGBTQ youth are perfect as they are,” Amit Paley, the CEO and executive director of The Trevor Project, said in a statement. Noting that both bills can potentially save the lives of vulnerable LGBTQ youth who are more prone to suicidal ideation, Paley added: “No one should face discrimination or the torture of conversion therapy because of who they love or who they are.”

“Passing GENDA is a long overdue action to protect one of the most vulnerable communities in our state,” Ethan Rice, a senior attorney for Lambda Legal’s Fair Courts Project, said in a statement. “Transgender New Yorkers still face disproportionate rates of violence, discrimination, and harassment, and this law is an important step in combating that injustice. Lambda Legal expresses great appreciation to the New York Legislature for prioritizing passage of GENDA in its first week in session.

“While New York state and federal courts across the country have ruled that sex discrimination protections extend to discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression, GENDA sends a clear and unequivocal message that New York will not tolerate discrimination against transgender and gender nonconforming people,” added Rice. “This long-awaited law will ensure transgender and gender nonconforming people have legal recourse when confronted with discrimination in public accommodations, housing, and employment.”

Tanya Asapansa-Johnson Walker, the co-founder of New York Transgender Advocacy Group, said she was “happy and exhilarated” about the passage of GENDA, which has practical implications for her and other New Yorkers who have been mistreated because of their gender identity or expression.

“As a black transgender woman, U.S. Army Veteran, leader, and LGBTQ activist, I know firsthand how discrimination causes harm to the trans and gender-nonconforming community,” she said. “With these protections, I will be able to go and eat in a restaurant, go to a movie, or go to a hospital and be served and not be asked to leave or harassed.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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