BY PAUL SCHINDLER | A statewide poll of 600 registered voters has found that by a staggering six to one margin, New York State residents support enactment of a law protecting transgendered people from discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations.
The poll released on March 5 and conducted on behalf of the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA), the state gay rights lobby, found that 51 percent of respondents would strongly support such a anti-bias measure, and another 27 percent said they would "somewhat support" it, for a total favorable reaction of 78 percent.
Only 13 percent of respondents voiced opposition to such a law.
In 2002, the state enacted the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act to offer anti-bias protections to gay and lesbian New Yorkers, but a follow-up Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) has languished in Albany since then, even though 95 of the 150 members of the lopsidedly Democratic Assembly have told ESPA they support the measure.
Beyond the huge majority voicing support for GENDA, the poll was also striking in the uniformity of responses across demographic categories. An anti-bias bill was supported by 80 of New York City residents, 82 percent of suburbanites, and 74 percent of those upstate. Republicans showed the greatest opposition, but even there it amounted to only 25 percent. Sixty-seven percent of GOP respondents voiced support for a statute like GENDA.
For ESPA's executive director Alan Van Capelle, the message was clear: "The Legislature should move quickly to pass" GENDA.
The poll was carried out by Global Strategy Group. Respondents were asked to voice an opinion about non-discrimination legislation only after they answered eight other questions that probed how much they knew about transgendered people and where their opinions about them ranged on a scale from support, compassion, or interest to confusion, moral disapproval, animosity, or indifference.
Significantly, 71 percent of respondents said they believed it was already illegal to discriminate against transgendered people in New York.
For trans activists, frustrated at the inaction in Albany for the past five years, the polling data confirmed that the time is long past for legislators to put aside any fear that a pro-trans vote could hurt them politically.
"It's important to note that never has a legislator lost his or her seat due to voting for trans legislation, across the United States," said Pauline Park of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy.
Park said that her understanding is that the Assembly has not advanced the measure, despite the clear majority there that supports it, because Lower East Side Speaker Sheldon Silver is trying to protect fellow Democrats in swing districts upstate. Noting the strength the concept enjoys across the board statewide, she said, "If that is Shelly Silver's thinking, he is being overcautious to a fault."
Donna Cartwright, who is the communication director at Pride at Work, an LGBT affiliate organization of the AFL-CIO, did not offer a specific reaction to who might be holding things up in Albany, but said, "There is no significant obstacle in terms of passing this bill. This is clearly viewed as a civil rights matter that is very, very widely accepted."
Dick Gottfried, a Chelsea Democratic assemblyman who is the lead sponsor of GENDA, echoed Park's assessment that leadership is needed from Silver.
"I think this is one of those cases where the speaker feels he is protecting some of his members for their own good and the good of the [Democratic] conference," Gottfried said. "I always respect his judgment, but in this case I think he is wrong. It's possible that some members are giving him that message, but I don't think that's the case."
Speaker Silver's office did not respond to a request for commnt.
The next task, Gottfried said, is to "make legislators including Speaker Silver fully aware of this data." The poll's findings, he said, "makes it even clearer that there is no good reason not to move this to the floor."
Gottfried's West Village colleague, out lesbian Deborah Glick, offered a different assessment.
"It seems as though supporters keep asking the same four people" in Albany, she said, referring to the small caucus of out gay, lesbian, and bisexual Assembly members. "I have to ask, 'Have you talked to anyone else?'"
Noting that ESPA and others involved in the coalition pressing for GENDA's passage turned out at her polling place on Super Tuesday to educate voters on the issue, she said, "You want to lobby in my district? Fine. I am on the damned bill. I am going to chalk it up to naivete. But, don't treat my colleagues that way. They have no obligation to support GENDA from their perspective. Do it with a little finesse."