A decade ago, voters in Buffalo approved a local law that provided full civil rights protections to transgender residents.
But New York State, despite its proud, progressive history, has fallen behind its second-largest city -- and 16 states -- in protecting the essential civil rights of hundreds of thousands of transgender and gender non-conforming residents.
For these New Yorkers, the simplest and most fundamental parts of their identity -- their clothing, their appearance, their name -- expose them to hostility, exclusion and sometimes even violence.
People who are transgender or whose appearance does not conform to gender stereotypes often suffer persistent discrimination and harassment. They face challenges earning a living, finding housing and enjoying life's necessities and simple pleasures.
But there is no state law that explicitly prohibits discrimination against transgender or gender non-conforming people. The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, or GENDA, will remedy this injustice. Passed on April 30 by the Assembly, GENDA has the broad support of legislators, law enforcement and advocacy groups that seek to guarantee civil-rights protections and safety -- for everyone.
Like all New Yorkers, transgender and gender non-conforming people deserve freedom from harassment, mistreatment and exclusion. Everyone deserves equal access to housing, employment, education and public facilities, like restaurants, stores and doctor's offices.
New Yorker Kym Dorsey lived the first half of her life as Kenny before transitioning to life as a woman. "We are all human," Dorsey observed.
"We bleed the same. We are taxpayers -- we have sisters, mothers, brothers, uncles. Who decides who's better, who's more deserving of humanity?"
We can't afford to look the other way when the rights of any New Yorkers are violated. Ending institutionally approved discrimination is a matter of essential civil and human rights.
It is a nonpartisan issue that merits the support of every elected leader in the state -- and members of the New York State Senate in particular.
Enacting GENDA is not a radical departure from long-held values. Many of New York's towns, cities and counties have, like Buffalo, enacted laws that prohibit discrimination based on gender expression and gender identity.
But all New Yorkers deserve the same protection. The right to live free from discrimination should not depend on a person's ZIP code.
Melissa Goodman is senior litigation and public policy counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union.