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New York governor signs executive order prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and expression in state workforce

(WASHINGTON D.C.) New York Governor David A. Paterson yesterday issued an executive order extending anti-discrimination policies to gender identity for state employees.

Currently, 12 states and the District of Columbia have comprehensive laws prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and expression in employment; nine additional states (Delaware, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Maryland, Michigan and now New York) have executive orders covering public employees only.

“Governor Paterson has taken significant action to advance equality for all New York state employees,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “The ability to provide for our families is non-negotiable. We applaud Governor Paterson for his commitment to the LGBT community.”

An executive order prohibiting discrimination in state employment is the furthest extent to which any governor is able to exercise his or her executive power. Extending protections to private employees must be accomplished by the state legislature.

“New York and the rest of the country benefit when good, competent workers are allowed to do their jobs free from discrimination,” said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "The governor’s action will help ensure this happens. People should be judged on their performance, not their gender identity or expression, period.”

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force recently released preliminary data from a forthcoming and groundbreaking survey on discrimination against transgender people in the United States that it conducted with the National Center for Transgender Equality. Data from this large-scale survey show that discrimination in employment against transgender people is a nearly universal experience: 97 percent of the respondents reported being mistreated or harassed at work, and nearly half (47 percent) said they had lost their jobs, were denied a promotion, or denied a job as a direct result of being transgender.

Survey respondents experienced a series of damaging outcomes, many of which stem from the challenges they face in employment. Almost one-fifth (19 percent) of respondents reported becoming homeless because of being transgender. Transgender people also reported limited access to employer-provided health insurance: Only 40 percent of respondents reported access to employer-provided health insurance coverage as compared to 62 percent of the population at large.

Of the New York respondents, 19 percent said they earned $10,000 or less a year (compared to 7 percent of the general population); 14 percent reported being unemployed (at the time of the survey, unemployment nationally was 8 percent); and 40 percent said they did not get job, were fired or denied a promotion solely on the basis of their gender identity.

“These figures show how devastating bias and discrimination are to the transgender community," said Carey. "Employment protections are key to providing stability and a fair playing field for transgender people. Our data show that many of the severe problems transgender people face, including housing insecurity and lack of health insurance, are rooted in job loss or in workplace harassment and bias that force productive transgender employees off of the payrolls and onto the streets.”

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has joined the HRC and the Empire State Pride Agenda in urging for the passage of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), which would amend New York state’s human rights law to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and expression in employment (both public and private sectors), housing, public accommodations and credit. It would also expand the state hate crimes law to explicitly include crimes against transgender people. The Assembly passed the bill by large bipartisan margins the past two years, but the Senate has yet to act. Paterson supports the measure.