Governor David Paterson Signs New York's First Bill Ensuring Transgender Protections

Today marks an important step in the advancement of protections for the LGBT community in New York. This morning, Governor David Paterson signed the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) at the LGBT Community Center in downtown Manhattan – the first legislation to include protections for transgender individuals under New York State law.

DASA prevents public school students from bullying and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, as well as other protected categories including but not limited to race, religion, national origin, and disability. It will ensure the adoption of more inclusive policies, new tools for harassment prevention, rules for responding to harassment, training guidelines for teachers, incorporation of anti-discrimination measures into academic curricula, and mandatory reporting of bias-related incidents to the State Education Department.

Several LGBT advocacy groups applauded Paterson and have expressed their support for this act. The Trevor Project, which focuses on crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBT youth, calls DASA “a giant step to reducing instances of self-harm and suicide that result from harassment by school peers.” The Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund said likewise that it is a “tremendous step to protect vulnerable students from the discrimination that can undermine their ability to succeed in the educational system and beyond.” The Anti-Defamation League looks forward “to working with the New York State Education Department to determine the best methods of implementing DASA’s provisions.”

DASA was first introduced by the Assembly in 2000, and has passed there every year since with overwhelming bipartisan support. On May 17, it passed with a 138-4 vote, and was passed in the New York State Senate in June by a 58-3 vote. A diverse group of organizations were involved in getting the legislation passed, including the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA), the New York Civil Liberties Union, and others.

The law is monumental for the LGBT community because students suffer bullying in school at especially high rates as a result of their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. GLSEN found that slightly more than 86% of LGBT students experienced harassment at their school in 2007. About 61% felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation, and about a third skipped a day of school in a one-month period because they felt unsafe. Bullying for any reason has a detrimental effect on students’ grades and overall development, leading to decreasing academic achievements, higher rates of school dropouts, and increased suicide rates among youth.

The inclusion of specific transgender protections is historic.  The Advocate points out that just weeks before DASA was passed, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which “would protect transgender individuals from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations, after the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act failed to include them in 2003,” died in the New York Senate Judiciary Committee. New York is the 43rd state to provide comprehensive anti-bullying legislation, but joins only fourteen other states and the District of Columbia in explicitly prohibiting harassment based on both gender and sexual orientation. The legislation will take effect July 1, 2012.

GLAAD applauds the passage of DASA and will continue to elevate stories that shine a light on the need for comprehensive anti-bullying protections nationally.