For a long time, New York has been considered a progressive state, especially when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights. It was in New York that the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement began nearly fifty years ago at the Stonewall Inn. And New York was one of the first states to pass marriage equality.
But since marriage equality passed in New York in 2011, progress for LGBTQ+ people has stalled in the state. It's like we pushed for marriage and everyone thought the fight was done, Shijuade Kadree, chief advocacy officer of New York City’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center, tells Refinery29. Yet, New York still has a reputation as one of the more progressive states for LGBTQ+ rights, and Kadree and other LGBTQ+ leaders in New York see that reputation as both an opportunity and a danger. If New York hasn't made any moves since passing marriage, that might allow other states to think that the fight for LGBTQ+ equality has already been won. When, in reality, so many LGBTQ+ people in the state still face major disparities.
So, activists from all regions of New York State have developed an action plan to urge New York politicians to consider LGBTQ+ needs when enacting legislation. The organizations unveiled their legislative plan, "The People’s Platform," on Friday.
Included in the agenda are five areas that Kadree and other activists think are most important: taking action to make public spaces safe for transgender and gender non-conforming people (especially TGNC people of color), increasing access to mental health services for LGBTQ+ people, reforming the criminal justice system, collecting statistical data on LGBTQ+ people, and funding LGBTQ+ economic justice programs.
Some points on the agenda would take care of areas in which New York clearly lags behind other states, Kadree says. With the new action plan, LGBTQ+ activists in the state are urging politicians to get rid of outdated practices like conversion therapy: a dangerous "therapy" that attempts to turn gay people straight and is still legal in New York. They are also calling for a limitation on the use of the "gay/trans panic defense," which allows people who commit hate crimes to fight for lesser sentences by arguing that their victim's sexual orientation or gender identity drove them momentarily insane.
And this is where New York's reputation as a progressive state becomes instrumental, Kadree says, because if New York hasn't bothered to make conversion therapy illegal, then why should other states? People often look to New York as a model, and so the state's legislators have a responsibility to not only stay current, but also push progress forward; That's where other statistics and economic justice come in. In order to know what LGBTQ+ people in the state need, they need to be counted. But LGBTQ+ people are historically left out of data tracking measures, such as the U.S. Census (and will be left out again, when the census is taken in 2020). With this new agenda, LGBTQ+ leaders in New York will be fighting to reinstate Governor Cuomo's 2014 initiative to collect SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) data on New York residents.
Collecting this kind of information will help New York legislators know how many LGBTQ+ people are homeless, how many are low-income, and other areas in which they may need help. And that could inform the need for specific programs that help LGBTQ+ people get out of poverty, such as work training programs.
With each of these areas of focus, LGBTQ+ leaders in New York are attempting to lift the community out of the standstill its seen since marriage equality passed and make it clear to New York legislators that queer and transgender people still need their help.