Last month, after a battle that lasted 31 years, New York became 13th state to pass legislation to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination. SONDA, the Sexual Orientation Nondiscrimination Act, was signed into law by Gov. George Pataki. It was a hard-fought battle, and in the end the New York LGBT community came out a winner.
Or did they?
Thirty-one years ago … that was shortly after the Stonewall Rebellion. The shot heard round the gay world. The beginning of the gay-rights movement. And it was Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson who struck the first blows for freedom and equality, right there in the Stonewall Bar in New York City. It is often mentioned that Stonewall was started by the drag queens. But it wasn't until Sylvia Rivera passed away last year that the world learned anything about her and about her life as a transgender woman.
Thirty-one years! Back then, there was very little understanding or even awareness of the transgender community. When the gay-rights activists kicked Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson out of the gay-rights movement, they didn't understand that the only successful movement is one in which no one is left behind. When they disenfranchised those who were just too queer for the queer movement, they didn't realize that they were denying a part of their family. When they left the drag queens and transsexuals out of SONDA 31 years ago, they didn't realize that the LGB community is not complete without the T.
And now, 31 years later, it has become a world where the Human Rights Campaign can do a national survey on transgender awareness, and find that most Americans not only have heard the word 'transgender,' but also understand what it means. It has become a world where 61 percent believe the country needs laws to protect transgender people. It has become a world where another conservative eastern state, Pennsylvania, can pass a hate-crimes law that includes both sexual orientation and gender identity. It has become a world where 14 cities and counties across the country can add gender identity to their human-rights laws … within a single year!
But some things will never change. Discrimination is still visited upon those who are most visibly queer, and those who are singled out for gay-related hate crimes are often those who are gender variant.
In my last column, I said that with all the success the transgender rights movement has had over the past few years, it should be downright embarrassing to leave gender identity out of new human-rights laws. Well, shame on you, Empire State Pride Agenda, for accepting anything less than full coverage for the New York LGBT community.
I know you are feeling empowered now that your bill has passed. I know that you have sworn that you will work for full equality under the law within the next 10 years. I know that inclusion of gender identity is part of your goal of full equality. But do you really have the stomach for it? The average length of time between passing sexual orientation nondiscrimination laws and amending them to include gender identity is 13.8 years! Do you really have the stomach to put up a fight for another 13.8 years? I doubt it.
And how about your supporters and donors? Do your big donors, the ones who have allowed you to hire the high-powered lobbyists, do they have any feeling one way or the other about inclusion of a couple of trannies in their state laws? What do they care? They've gotten their piece of the pie, and now they're feeling fat and happy. And how about the high-powered public relations people that you've hired? Yeah, you know who I mean. Are you going to keep the same consultants who characterized transgender people as representing the 'murkiest depths' of human sexuality?
The Empire State Pride Agenda is so arrogant that they don't even know what they lost when they sold out the transgender community to get SONDA passed. They think that they are a major force in New York, but they lost the trust and respect of much of the community, and of quite a few of the elected officials who should be counted as their allies. Something went terribly wrong in New York. Deals were struck, long-term friends were lost and lifetime enemies were made. And in the end, the New York LGBT community may have actually been the loser.
Could the same thing happen here in Illinois? Who knows? What if the Illinois Nondiscrimination Bill were hanging on one vote, and that vote depended on removing gender identity from the bill? What would you choose?
Miranda Stevens-Miller welcomes your comments at MirandaSt1@aol.com . Also see IGA's Web site at www.itstimeil.org .