One of my early political fights as an activist was organizing for marriage equality in New York in 2009. Though the bill was defeated, through the perseverance of activists and advocates, New York would go on to legalize gay marriage two years later, four years before it was legalized nationally. New York can again be a blueprint for other states by passing vital protections for our LGBTQI+ communities, helping realize a future of acceptance, unity, respect, equality, and diversity in our state.
As a socialist, I believe in a New York where everyone can enjoy true health and safety in their homes and in public. But many LGBTQI+ people—especially LGBTQI+ people of color—lack stable housing, good-paying jobs, and healthcare. Some members of our community are denied medical care, and are vulnerable to harassment and violence in disproportionate numbers. We need to remove barriers that LGBTQI+ people face to access the rights to which we are all entitled.
In my first term as State Senator, we overturned the discriminatory “Walking While Trans” Legislation (S1351); passed the Gender Recognition Act (S4402B), which removes burdens placed on those attempting to change a name or sex designation on legal documents such as drivers’ licenses; passed the Hate Crimes Analysis and Review Act (S70A); amended our election law to allow for a nonbinary designations in relation to gendered contests; and passed legislation to allow voters to identify by gender rather than sex on their voter records (S6901B).
As State Senator, I will continue to fight to:
Protect and Respect the Rights of LGBTQI+ People to Self-Identify
Self-identification and a society that respects and affirms it can be a matter of life or death for members of our LGBTQI+ community. For example, studies consistently find that transgender women face extraordinarily high rates of sexual abuse and assault in male prisons. It is incumbent on us to uphold and respect a person’s personal decision to identify in the way they feel comfortable, and no one should be forced to identify themselves as something they are not.
- Pass the Gender Identity Respect, Dignity, and Safety Act. While New York State has made strides in pushing back against discrimination based on gender identity and expression, it has turned its back on providing those same protections to transgender, gender nonconforming, intersex, and nonbinary New Yorkers in correctional facilities across the state. Currently, there are often no standards in New York State and local correctional facilities allowing for the placement and treatment of incarcerated LGBTQI+ individuals. In the absence of such standards, these folks are routinely subjected to discriminatory and harmful placement decisions and other treatment. While we push to decarcerate New York State, this bill would require that transgender, gender nonconforming, intersex, and nonbinary people are presumptively housed in a facility with people most closely aligned with their gender identity, unless the person opts out of such placement. Similar measures have passed in California and are underway in New York City, but we must pass S6677A to make this a statewide law.
Provide Meaningful Support for Our LGBTQI+ Youth
As the chair of the Children and Families Committee, and a former public school teacher, I am deeply committed to making our schools a more inclusive and safe learning environment for LGBTQI+ students. Tragically, gay, lesbian, and bisexual students are almost twice as likely as heterosexual students to report not going to school because they felt unsafe at or on their way to or from,school. For transgender and gender non-confirming youth, school can be even more difficult. In New York, 74% of transgender students (or those perceived as transgender) experience some form of mistreatment, with 50% being verbally harassed, 23% being physically assaulted, and 12% experiencing sexual violence between kindergarten and 12th grade. School victimization has been linked with decreased academic achievement, increased suicidal ideation, increased rates of absenteeism, and negative impacts on their emotional health. It is incumbent on us to do better for our youth.
- Establish comprehensive sex education in schools. New York does not currently require sex education to be taught in schools beyond certain requirements related to HIV/AIDS. Of the public schools that do provide sex education, the curriculum is often inaccurate, incomplete, or biased. It often fails to prepare students to make healthy, informed, and consensual decisions about relationships. LGBTQI+ relationships are often stigmatized or ignored entirely. Even basic information about anatomy is inaccurate, and materials often reinforce negative gender stereotypes. We must pass S2584A and provide for comprehensive sex-education that dispels stigma around sexuality and gender; combats discrimination, bullying, and harassment; and promotes respect for all youth.
- Require local school districts to establish policies and procedures regarding the treatment of transgender and gender-non conforming students. Forty-six percent of New York transgender students have been prevented by their school from using their preferred name or pronoun, and 66% have been required to use a bathroom or locker room of their sex assigned at birth. The victimization and discrimination of LGBTQI+ students has devastating effects. Transgender and gender non-conforming students who experience victimization due to their gender expression were almost three times as likely to have missed school in a given month, had lower GPAs than students who experienced less harassment, experienced lower self-esteem, and had higher incidences of depression and suicidal ideation. We need to do better for our LGBTQI+ youth. Passing S369 would help ensure that the implementation of New York’s Dignity for All Students Act, particularly as the law pertains to transgender and gender nonconforming students, is as effective and tailored to the unique needs of these students as possible.
Real, Accessible Healthcare for LGBTQI+ Individuals
It is no secret that our healthcare system in this country is broken, which is why I have fought tirelessly to pass the New York Health Act (S5474) to establish a single-payer system in New York State. But the ramifications of this broken system often weigh most heavily on LGBTQI+ communities—particularly communities of color—and while we continue the fight for single-payer in New York State, there are significant steps we can take to provide real healthcare for our LGBTQI+ community.
- Mandate that social services distribute educational materials pertaining to sexual health and HIV/AIDS prevention. The fight against AIDS/HIV has deep roots in New York State, and although significant strides have been made in the treatment and prevention of HIV, low-income individuals and those with limited resources are still disproportionately at risk of contracting the virus. Far too often, new infections stem from lack of education regarding HIV prevention and treatment options or lack of access to care. Nonetheless, many Medicaid health plan members are not receiving sexual health and HIV prevention education services that address PEP and PrEP. Populations at higher risk of becoming HIV+, including young same gender loving/MSM/gay/bi men of color, transgender women of color, and women of color, will benefit from additional information about HIV preventative measures. Passing S7618 would require social services to distribute educational materials pertaining to sexual health, including information on HIV prevention and pre-exposure prophylaxis, to individuals enrolled in Medicaid while protecting the privacy of individuals considered part of high-risk populations as well as every individual’s medical history.
- Establish an LGBTQI+ youth and young adult suicide prevention task force. In New York State, suicide is the third leading cause of death in those aged 10–24. LGBTQI+ youth are at much higher risk of death by suicide and suicidal ideation. According to the Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQI+ Youth Mental Health, 45% of LGBTQI+ teens (aged 13–17) have seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. Eighteen percent actually made a suicide attempt. That’s more than twice the rate of suicide attempts among all teenagers, which is 9%. Establishing a task force (S3083) is one of many steps we must take to provide meaningful support and mental health services to our LGBTQI+ youth and young adults. It will also help us begin to understand the complex causes of mental illness in youth, particularly LGBTQI+ youth, and how to better alleviate its causes.
- Provide protections for homeless youth. LGBTQI+ youth are disproportionately represented in runaway and homeless youth shelters. Research has shown that while only 4.5% of the general population identified as LGBTQI+, as many as 40% of the homeless youth population identify as LGBTQI+, nearly 10 times higher. LGBTQI+ youth homelessness often follows aging out of the foster care system. This is why it is imperative that we pass legislation specifically addressing youth and teens in or aging out of the foster care system. California recently passed legislation to allow for a modest universal basic income program for youth transitioning out of foster care, and New York can do the same by passing S8160. Similarly, New York can pass S5419B to update its rent subsidies for foster children living independently, because the current subsidy levels reflect 1980s housing prices rather than the current reality.
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