It was a perfect spring day in West Capitol Park on Tuesday (April 28) as hundreds gathered from across New York state in recognition of the 25th Equality and Justice Day. At the annual statewide gathering organized by Empire State Pride Agenda to support the civil rights of the LGBTQ community, 10 different workshops were offered and guest speakers shared personal experiences and spoke in support of legislation that would ban the practice of conversion therapy intended to modify sexual orientation, as well as prohibit other forms of discrimination based on gender identity or expression; the bill would make such offenses punishable as hate crimes.
The legislation, known as GENDA (Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act), has been introduced in the state Legislature for years—it has passed the Assembly seven times, but has yet to make it out of the Senate. As of this winter, the corresponding bills had both been referred to each house’s respective governmental operations committees; neither seems to have moved since early February.
“For far too many faith communities, it has been place where transgender people have experienced fear, pain and shame,” said Rev. Dee Lowman, program associate at Capital Region Theological Center in Albany and founder of Lark Street TOGETHER, an “inclusive and spiritually rooted new faith community specifically inviting those who consider themselves SBNRs (spiritual but not religious)” in the Center Square neighborhood. Acknowledging the progress made by marriage equality in recent years, Lowman said, “As a faith leader, I have to stop patting myself on the back for having completed this task and know that there are more tasks ahead for the faith community. . . . There is more work to be done. Transgender people expect more from leaders like me.”
“I’m tired of longing for safety,” said Angelica Clarke, executive director at the Albany Social Justice Center and an active civil-rights advocate affiliated with Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration (CAAMI). “Safety from police, from prisons, from heteronormativity, from poverty, from all the other forms of state and interpersonal violence that are out there. There are two things that I’ve been for as long as I can remember—black and queer. And those two things have led me to fear for my safety, but they have also led me on my own path towards liberation.”
“To me,” she continued. “It’s solidarity that will set us free. It means prioritizing the needs of the most marginalized in our communities. And what that means, concretely, is having the challenging and uncomfortable conversations in our organizations. The organizations that we all participate in, that we feel are working towards justice but often forget large swaths of the population—that often don’t mention GENDA, that don’t mention the rights of those within our community that are suffering, that are the most vulnerable.”
Among those who spoke Tuesday afternoon were a 9-year-old transgender boy named Q and his mother, Francisca Montana. A Latina immigrant and single mother of two boys, Montana is a community organizer with Make the Road NY, where she advocates for racial justice through the lens of worker’s rights and consumer fraud protection. She also works for the rights of transgender youth with the group Family Allies for Transgender Equality in NYS (FATE-NYS).
“Transgender means that I can be the human being I want to be,” said Q, who likes hiking, science and Michael Jackson. “For example, I cried when mommy bought me sparkly clothes. But now I can dress how I want and my hair is short. Being trans is awesome.”
Workshops offered this year included a youth speakers’ bureau specifically focused on helping youths navigate the dangers of being open about their sexual identity in environments such as foster care and the juvenile justice system, where homophobia, transphobia and racism are constantly encountered by youths who may have already been failed or endangered by their families and/or communities. Another workshop was aimed at educators and parents of LGBTQ youth and looked at strategies to provide safe schools for all students, regardless of sexual expression or identity. Still others were designed to teach things like advocacy, fundraising or coalition building.
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