Housing Works AIDS Issues Update, July 1, 2009
Just in time for the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, nearly 1,000 transgender people and allies gathered, rallied and marched at the fifth-annual Transgender Day of Action on Friday.
The approximately 900-person strong group started in Union Square and took to the streets demanding an end to violence and discrimination towards transgender and gender-nonconforming people.
They then marched to the Human Resources Administration (HRA) to demand that the city agency adopt a policy to prevent discrimination against transgender people seeking and utilizing public assistance, which is yet to be in place despite five long years of negotiations.
The Transgender Day of Action was organized by TransJustice, which is run by the Audre Lorde Project.
What do we want? Trans justice!
Although the weather was sunny, many of the participants carried yellow umbrellas with black writing, calling on HRA to implement a new procedure to prevent transphobic discrimination for people who receive public assistance. HRA is working with a number of organizations, including TransJustice, Queers for Economic Justice and Housing Works, to implement these changes. TransJustice organizers expected the changes to be implemented by last week and marched to the HRA Waverly Center to voice their disappointment that the changes haven’t happened.
When the marchers converged at HRA, protesters screamed “What do we want? Trans justice! When do we want it? Now!”
In addition to fighting the HRA policy, the Transgender Day of Action participants rallied against police brutality, discrimination and a host of other concerns.
Many participants said they appreciated the demonstration as a way to fight back against marginalization in their day-to-day lives.
“I get hissed at every day for being a transsexual female,” said Angela Therien, a member of Housing Works’ Transgender Evening Program who attended the march. “People are ignorant and insult me without knowing what I feel like.”
One issue not discussed at the protest was the Gender Expression Nondiscrimination Act (GENDA). Although organizers endorsed “equal access to employment and education opportunities,” the Audre Lorde Project and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project don’t endorse GENDA because of a provision in the legislation that extends hate crime legislation to transgender people. These organizations believe that hate crime legislation is a tool in the “prison industrial complex” that can actually be used against transgender people.
All protected classes that are added to the New York Human Rights law automatically are included in the law protecting them as victims of hate crimes. Housing Works and other organizations that endorse GENDA believe that the hate crimes statute is a separate issue, and should not stand in the way of GENDA’s passage, which would bar bias on the basis of of gender identity and expression.
Sen. Tom Duane said that he had planned to introduce GENDA to the Senate floor for a vote right before the Senate coup, telling the Update this week that GENDA’s passage is “high, high up, and one of my uppermost priorities.”
But with the New York State Senate out of commission, advocates who have pushed for GENDA are skeptical of its passage.
“I just don’t think it’s going to happen,” said Tracy Bumpus, a transgender activist and Housing Works case manager. “I want it to though. I’m tired of fighting for this every year.”