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NATIONAL NEWS

NYAGRA: An ongoing crusade

Friday, July 18, 2003

New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy was co-founded by Pauline Park on June 28, 1998, as a vehicle to further the cause of gender identity and expression. “The idea was that there was no, at the time, statewide transgender advocacy organization in the
legislative arena,” said Park.

From goth boys who wear black nail polish to post-operative transsexuals, everyone is included. “It’s called transgender advocacy for short,” said Park. But NYAGRA’s larger scope encompasses “freeing everyone from pernicious discrimination.”

NYAGRA’s initial crusade was statewide inclusion in the larger gay community. “At that point, ESPA was not about inclusion,” Park said about the Empire State Pride Agenda, the state’s principal gay-rights lobbying group. “We could not persuade them to support full transgender inclusion.” Instead, she said, they made a counterproposal to work together on a local bill. ESPA helped ease passage of the city’s transgender-rights bill.

“That was our greatest legislative victory,” she said. It became the largest explicit protection for gender-variant individuals in the country — in its largest city.

The next struggle is over a statewide bill to include transgender rights, not included in the recently passed gay non-discrimination bill, SONDA. “We never agreed not to pursue transgender inclusion in SONDA,” Park said. “NYAGRA simply agreed we would revisit the issue at a later date.”

In addition to working on legislation, NYAGRA also holds transgender-sensitivity-training sessions for both public and private organizations. “Legislation cannot succeed without education,” said Park.

This past spring, the state assembly passed Dignity for All Students Act, prohibiting discrimination and harassment in public schools statewide. NYAGRA was able to negotiate transgender inclusion. Even though it did not make it through the Senate, it represented more visibility. “It’s very important to recognize that DASA was the first piece of legislation in New York state legislature to include transgender persons,” said Park.

Today, NYAGRA has 30 paid members and a mailing list over 200 supporters. Its five board members include Park; Moonhawk River Stone, first co-chair and secretary, who lives in Albany; Winston Lin; Stuart Chen-Hayes; and Sophia Pazos.

Stone has been working for a half a year on an amendment to Albany’s human rights law. “We’re expecting it to pass sometime this year in the fall,” Stone said. “It is currently in the Human Resources Committee.”

NYAGRA meets every other month (every third Saturday) at the Center. In November 2001, NYAGRA held its first fund-raiser at the Parkside Lounge in the East Village.

Some of the challenges the trans-community faces today, Park said, are lack of access to healthcare. Some doctors refuse treatment to those who have undergone sex-reassignment surgery. Still others are not aware of health concerns specific to gender variant people. “It’s difficult to get funding for trans-related research,” Park added.

Park is also working on a state bill that would allow the right to sue for attorney’s fees and punitive damages. Unless you can sue for attorney’s fees, said Park, the state’s human rights law are largely ineffective. “Most of the trans community are economically marginalized,” she added, which makes it almost impossible to retain attorneys in discrimination cases.

“When SONDA passed, it added ‘sexual orientation’ to the law,” she said. But, she added ruefully, “There’s still no full legal redress.”


MORE INFO
NYAGRA
Pauline Park
212-675-3288, ext. 266
www.nyagra.tripod.com

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