Chicago Tribune, IL, USA
Gender law next up for gay rights
[Albany] Times Union
11:30 a.m. CDT, May 7, 2012
ALBANY — Its marquee goal was achieved last year, but now members of
one of the state's oldest gay rights organizations is pivoting to a
new focus: GENDA, a bill that would prohibit discrimination based on
The Empire State Pride Agenda has hired the same political team that
worked with a coalition of gay rights groups in 2011 to shepherd
same-sex marriage into law, clearing the Republican-controlled state
Senate for the first time.
Over 600 people are expected for its annual lobby day on Tuesday, a
sort of public re-emergence for the organization. It's pivot after
same-sex marriage was not seamless: In March, executive director Ross
Levi was fired, the Gay City News reported.
Several people familiar with its lobbying efforts said the Pride
Agenda's board was unhappy that the organization was not first among
gay rights groups in leading the charge for same-sex marriage, either
publicly or privately. There were also questions about what the
primary focus would become; either more focus on advancing an LGBT
agenda in New York or pushing for some more basic gay rights
milestones at the federal level and in other states.
Lynn Faria, the organization's interim executive director, said a
strategic planning process is underway. In the meantime, the group has
hired Jennifer Cunningham of SKDKnickerbocker, a public affairs firm,
to help in its rebranding. Cunningham, who ran Gov. Andrew Cuomo's
2006 gubernatorial campaign, helped quarterback the push for same-sex
marriage, coordinating the work of the Pride Agenda and other groups,
including the Human Rights Campaign, Freedom to Marry and Marriage
Equality New York. ESPA has also hired lobbyists Emily Giske and Mike
Avella, veterans of same-sex marriage, to help with GENDA.
"The focus in the prior year had been on marriage, but we've continued
our other work, and that continues today," said Marla Hassner, a
co-chair of ESPA's board.
"Bringing on the same team that was so successful on the marriage
fight and working in concert with those who were part of the coalition
is new to this particular effort, and we're going to make the case,"
said Lynn Faria, Levi's interim replacement.
Neither would comment on the circumstances that led to his dismissal,
and Levi could not be reached for comment. In March, he put out a
statement reiterating his long record of legislative achievements with
GENDA prohibits discrimination based on gender expression. It mirrors
a 2002 bill that prohibited discrimination based on sexual
orientation. GENDA, though, does not have the same constituent base as
other bills that affected a broader swath of the LGBT community. And
with Senate Republicans already moving one landmark gay rights bill --
and reaping political rewards in the form of campaign contributions --
many question whether the legislation will go anywhere.
Religious conservatives argue against the measure, mocking it as the
"bathroom bill," because one effect of its passage would be to allow
people to use whichever bathroom they chose.
"It's very difficult to advocate for a mostly faceless invisible
community. The liberals know our trans community and use the cause as
their own, the moderates have to be convinced," said Melissa Sklarz,
leader of the Stonewall Democratic Club and a person of transgender
experience. "I'm always optimistic that, when we go and travel, that
people who are unaware of the issue will learn more about it."