Pauline Park at the New York City LGBT Pride Rally Bryant Park

Pauline Park
at the
New York City LGBT Pride Rally
Bryant Park

Seven years ago, we founded NYAGRA — the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy, and it was the first statewide transgender advocacy organization in New York.  We still have a long way to go before all transgendered and gender-variant people in this city and this state have full equality, but in those seven years, we’ve made enormous progress.

Back in 1998, when we founded NYAGRA, no one was thinking or talking about transgender inclusion in law.  It just wasn’t on the agenda of the gay political establishment in this town.  And it wasn’t in the name of any of our major institutions, either.  So we formed the Coalition for Unity & Inclusion.

Seven years ago, we had the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center, the New York Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, and the Lesbian and Gay Pride March.  But working through that coalition, we were able to get all of these community institutions to change their names, so now, it’s the LGBT Community Center, the LGBT Film Festival, and the LGBT Pride March.  And instead of speaking at the Lesbian and Gay Pride Rally, I am speaking to you here today at the LGBT Pride Rally.

But inclusive name change is only the beginning of our work. It’s also about full equality under law.  So NYAGRA initiated the campaign for Intro 24 — the transgender rights bill passed by the New York City Council in April 2002.  We call Local Law 3 of 2002 ‘the transgender rights law,’ but it’s not just for those who go for hormones or sex reassignment surgery; it protects everyone from discrimination based on gender identity or expression — the butch lesbian who doesn’t want to have to wear a skirt as part of her work uniform or the gay man who’s boss thinks he’s a little too ‘fem’ to take along on client presentations.

We’re also commited to addressing bias harrassment in school.  Kids are being taunted, bullied and assaulted every day in our schools because of who and what they are — or who and what other people think they are.  So NYAGRA co-founded a coalition to get the Dignity in All Schools Act enacted last year.  DASA is a safe schools law that prohibits bullying and bias harassment in public and non-religious private schools throughout the five boroughs.  But Mayor Bloomberg vetoed that bill, so the DASA Coalition worked to get the City Council to override that shameful veto.  Now that DASA is law, the Bloomberg administration refuses to implement or enforce it.  In fact, Mike Bloomberg calls it “a silly law.”  Well, I have a message for Mike Bloomberg: there’s nothing silly about the epidemic of bullying and bias harassment in our schools.  So make your voice heard on this issue.

We’re part of a coalition trying to get a similar bill through the state legislature — the Dignity for All Students Act.  But the state Senate won’t act on the state DASA bill because they don’t take bias harassment in schools any more seriously than Mike Bloomberg does.  We’re also part of a coalition trying to get the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act through the state legislature.  GENDA is a state transgender rights bill that would do what SONDA should have done — protect all LGBT people in this state from discrimination.

We call NYAGRA a ‘transgender’ advocacy organization for short.  But our mission is really to fight for freedom of gender identity and expression for all.  It’s about legal rights, but it’s also about social justice and social change.  It’s about nothing less than transforming the way society thinks about gender.  As I like to say, my work in NYAGRA is not about helping a few post-op transsexuals fit more comfortably in the existing boxes of heteronormativity — it’s about helping all of us break out of the boxes to be who we really are.  So I’d like to leave you with this thought — even if you’re not transgendered, ‘transgender’ is your issue, too.  So join us in this cause, because it’s your cause, too.

Next Sunday, I will be the first openly transgendered person to serve as grand marshal of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual AND Transgender Pride March.  It’s a huge honor, and I’m deeply gratified to be chosen as grand marshal.  So thank you, Heritage of Pride, and thank you all for your support.

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