Last week, I was reading about the latest movements by the New York State Legislature and was so happy to see a harmful statute repealed, securing a big win for transgender and gender-nonconforming people in New York. This is the latest big win for LGBTQ+ New Yorkers and comes after another major legislative victory: the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) in 2019.
Looking more specifically at the latest actions by the New York Legislature, the statute that was repealed is commonly referred to as the “Walking While Trans” law. That is because although its stated purpose was to prevent prostitution and loitering, its broad language allows people to be stopped and arrested for merely presenting in a way an officer found different or suspicious. More specifically, if an officer claims someone is dressed for the purpose of engaging in prostitution, they can detain and arrest the person. Although this doesn’t explicitly single out the queer community, it can be used as a bludgeon against people who are often vilified and marginalized in our society. I say that because it’s not rich white people living in gated communities who are often targeted for this. It’s poor, queer people of color who face this challenge the most. The major takeaway here is that multiple cogs are in motion: using someone’s presentation in such a manner is inherently intolerant, leading to suspicion of anyone who doesn’t fit the onlooker’s own subjective gender expectations. Assuming sexual intent on the part of queer folk is a very old trope that perpetuates the sexualization and demonization of transgender and queer folk as predators. Already-marginalized communities face police brutality and oppression on another level as a result of this statute. Although this law was only on the books since 1976, we should all celebrate its repeal.
Another key piece of legislation the New York Legislature passed was GENDA in 2019. This law expanded antidiscrimination protections to include gender identity and gender expression in state discrimination laws. This hugely important law cemented executive action taken by the governor into law, preventing it from being rolled back by a future governor. But this bill was not passed with unanimous support, and some of the same actors of the past continue to push anti-LGBTQ+ legislation on the state and local levels.
New York State Senator and Binghamton’s own Fred Akshar, voted against both the repeal of the “Walking While Trans” law and GENDA. On the floor of the State Senate, he chose to push the hateful and harmful narrative that providing basic civil rights protections to queer folk endangers cisgender women and girls. This ideology is not borne out of data and merely puts up the guise of protecting cisgender women over blatant transphobic and bigoted action. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter whether Akshar hates queer folk in his heart or not. What matters is that representatives like Akshar actively oppose basic civil rights protections and dress it up as protecting women — unless you’re a trans woman, of course, in which case being harassed by police isn’t worthy of their attention.
Over the past few weeks, the new presidential administration has already reversed various actions taken by former President Trump in the area of LGBTQ+ rights. President Biden has rolled back Trump’s ban of transgender people in the military and expanded federal discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people in accordance with Supreme Court rulings from last June, but we must not forget politics isn’t just national, nor is it just electoral. Local and state governments have enormous impacts on our lives, and taking advantage of their presence can be a tool for good. This means voting for candidates who don’t just say they “respect other’s lifestyles.” Platitudes are easy, but will you protect queer folk from discrimination, enable health coverage to cover gender-affirming medical treatment, mandate sex education, end overpolicing of queer people and so on? Speeches are just that — speeches — unless they bring about action and change.
Elections and politics have consequences. Republicans, after holding the New York State Senate for nearly a decade, finally were beat by the Democrats in 2018. Now that they have a veto-proof supermajority following last November’s elections, Democrats should continue to use their power like how they did last week. Queer liberation isn’t just about stopping direct discrimination. Queer lives don’t matter until Black lives, Hispanic lives, Muslim lives, Jewish lives, undocumented lives, incarcerated lives and all marginalized lives matter as well, because queer people exist in all these communities. Life is intersectional, and the more of us who see it that way, the more representatives we elect with that view, the closer we inch toward justice and equality for all.
Eleanor Gully is a junior triple-majoring in philosophy, politics and law, economics and French.