By Cristian Salazar | Associated Press

Governor signs order in Greenwich Village, recalls role of trans people in Stonewall Riots blocks away in ’69

Gov. David Paterson

NEW YORK — Gov. David Paterson on Wednesday, Dec. 16, extended anti-discrimination protections to transgender state employees, signing an executive order at a ceremony in Greenwich Village, blocks from where the 1969 Stonewall riots helped spark the gay rights movement.

The order prohibits state agencies from employment practices that discriminate against any person because of gender identity or expression.

"For far too long… the transgender community has had to wait for what are the same freedoms and equalities that everyone else enjoys in terms of employment," Paterson said to dozens of supporters at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in Manhattan.

He recalled the role of transgender people in the June 28, 1969, Stonewall riots, a series of violent confrontations between police and gay rights activists, saying, "among those who rose up were transgender people who were the objects of the greatest discrimination, the greatest disparagement probably of any class."

Supporters say the order will make state government a fairer place to work, and that anti-discrimination policies are important to attracting and retaining good employees.

Melissa Sklarz, the director of the New York Trans Rights Organization, called the governor’s executive order an important step toward ensuring that transgender New Yorkers can support themselves and their families.

"Transgender people need stability, and stability starts with the workplace," she said. "The anchor of having a job is food, keeping a roof over your head and stability."

Sklarz underscored her point by referring to one national organization’s estimate that 50 percent of transgender people are unemployed or underemployed, which some LGBT advocates say is the result of discrimination in the workplace or in hiring.

Collette Carter, co-director of the Audre Lorde Project, a community center in Brooklyn for transgender people of color, said Paterson’s order was a good start, but that training is needed to ensure state agency employees know about it and understand it.

Thirteen states and more than 90 municipalities and counties — including New York, Albany and Rochester — already prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression.

The state Assembly has passed more comprehensive legislation to outlaw discrimination based on gender identity, but it has stalled in the Senate.
Paterson called on the Senate to take up a gender equality bill and "pass it immediately."

The state joins a list of major employers that already have policies prohibiting discriminating against transgender people. American Express Co., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Consolidated Edison are among the New York companies that had such policies by December 2008, according to the Human Rights Campaign. 

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 18, 2009.
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