LGBTQ Equality: Gender Expression Non-Discrimination
Reform Movement Position:
RJV strongly supports the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, or GENDA (S7010/A3358). The Reform movement believes that all people, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, deserve the full and equal protection of the law.
The struggle for civil rights is the struggle to achieve equality of opportunity for all, regardless of race, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. In this context, “sexual orientation” refers to an individual’s physical or emotional attraction to the same and/or a different sex. “Gender identity” refers to an individual’s internal sense of being male, female, or something else.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a landmark law that outlawed segregation in schools and public places. While the legislation was originally intended to aid African-Americans in obtaining equal rights, it was later amended to include protections against discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin. The Civil Rights Act was later supplemented with laws that prohibit discrimination based on age, disability and pregnancy.
It has been over 50 years since the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and while the United States has done much to erase legal discrimination, the fight towards equality for all people endures.
Although provisions have been added to civil rights laws to protect more people, there is no federal law that explicitly and consistently protects against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, public accommodations (i.e. restaurants, movie theaters, hotels, etc.), housing, credit, education, federally-funded programs and jury service. This makes state laws protecting the rights of LGBTQ individuals of critical importance.
Transgender and gender non-conforming individuals face significant discrimination and harassment. In the nation-wide 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, one in ten (10%) respondents who were out to their immediate family reported that a family member was violent towards them because they were transgender. More than three-quarters (77%) of those who were out or perceived as transgender at some point between Kindergarten and Grade 12 (K–12) experienced some form of mistreatment, such as being verbally harassed, prohibited from dressing according to their gender identity, disciplined more harshly, or physically or sexually assaulted because people thought they were transgender, and nearly half (46%) of respondents were verbally harassed in the past year because of their identity
Today, legal protections for LGTBQ people in New York rely on a patchwork of statute, regulations and case law. While together these mechanisms create fairly robust protections for LGBTQ individuals, a court decision which breaks from precedent or an executive action could dramatically reduce these protections. The patchwork nature of protections also means that there is often confusion and uncertainty about which exact provisions or cases protect transgender or gender expansive people when they do encounter discrimination.
GENDA, or the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (S7010/A3358) has been introduced in nearly every legislative session since 2003. It has passed the Assembly ten times but has yet to pass both houses. Currently, GENDA is in the Investigations and Government Operations Committee in the Senate and is on the third reading calendar in the Assembly. GENDA would amend New York State law to add gender identity and expression, actual or perceived, as protected classes in the state’s human rights and hate crimes laws, giving transgender and gender expansive people the same protections as the other protected classes in New York law: age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex, disability, predisposing genetic characteristics, and marital status. Adding gender identity and expression to the human rights and hate crime laws would prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender in employment, housing, and public accommodations, and increase penalties for hate-crimes.
Reform Jewish Values
Judaism teaches that respect for the fundamental rights of others is each person’s duty to God. “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a). As Reform Jews, we are also guided by the basic belief that all human beings are created b’tzelem Elohim (in the Divine image). As it says in Genesis 1:27, “And God created humans in God’s own image, in the image of God, God created them; male and female God created them.” Each of us, created in God’s image, has a unique talent, with which we can contribute to the high moral purpose of tikkun olam, the repair of our world. Excluding anyone from our community lessens our chance of achieving this goal of a more perfect world.