For years, transgender people have been treated like second-class citizens in New York State. They have been subjected to harassment and discrimination, denied service or housing and even fired from jobs simply for being true to who they are.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has taken action to change that. A few weeks ago, he said his administration would begin interpreting the state's human rights law in a way that protects transgender men and women. That law already bans harassment and discrimination on the basis of such defining characteristics as race, gender, sex and sexual orientation. So, Cuomo's decision is a bold, common-sense move that is based on sound legal reasoning.
Taking a statewide action on this issue is also important because New York has what amounts to a patchwork system of protections. Some cities and counties have local laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity, but many others do not, including Nassau County. Therefore, without Cuomo's move, it is actually possible for a transgender person to enjoy the same protections under the law as every other New Yorker in one town -- and be considered a second-class citizen in the next town over.
That patchwork system also applies to an individual's employer. New York took a statewide action in 2009 to protect public-sector employees from transgender discrimination, but many private employers were not held to the same standard. Cuomo's action ends that disparity and puts everyone on a level playing field.
It is also the right thing to do. Our society has seen progress on LGBT rights in leaps and bounds in recent years, but the transgender community arguably has the farthest to go. We still see harassment and violence against transgender individuals on an almost daily basis, particularly transgender women of color. We cannot forget that equal rights should apply to more than just marriage; we cannot rest on our laurels when some in our society are still condemned to live in the shadows.
Cuomo's decision is a reminder that just as there is more to be done, New York is the place that can make it happen. We are setting an example for the nation, and we must continue to stand up for fairness and equality for all people.
David Kilmnick is chief executive of the Long Island Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Services Network.