NY GOP’s Gay Politics Offer Lesson In Progress

Ten New York Republican Senators made some serious gay headway when they introduced a queer inclusive anti-bullying bill last week. The move surprised many, especially considering that Senatorial Republicans have for six years dismissed a similar bill, the Dignity Bill. It’s not that oppositional Senators support bullying, but many objected to the bills’ explicit inclusion of gender identity and expression, ananathema for right-leaning lawmakers.

Entitled the “Safe Schools for All Children Bill,” this latest measure looks a lot like the Dignity Bill, including trans protections, but there are subtle differences. Perhaps most importantly, “Safe Schools” leaves no room for litigation. That is, students and parents aren’t granted the right to sue, a subject the Dignity Bill didn’t address. Safe Schools also includes the pragmatic cyber-bullying stipulation, another piece left out of Dignity.

Legislative differences aside, an examination of Safe Schools’ success over the oft-dismissed Dignity Bill provides some lessons in political persistence, timing and a bit of post-9/11 geography.

Jeff Cook, a political consultant who has worked with the organization since 2002, describes how he and his peers pushed for marriage equality in the Senate last year and, facing resistance, decided to venture into new territory.

When we started to look at what was most attainable in the short term, we felt like that soft spots in the Dignity Bill – that was something that we had an opportunity to address and to use our political capital to try to move that forward.

Cook and company’s political capital may have meant nothing had it not been for then-Senator Joseph Bruno, the resigned party leader who Cook credits with jump starting negotiations:

We had a face-to-face meeting with Senator Bruno and we talked about the Safe Schools bill and said we thought it made a lot of sense and he said, ‘We should get that done this year,’ and his staff started paying attention, so from that we started working with the staff. So we started on crafting and negotiating language.

Foreseeing challenges with gender identity and expression, the Cabinites worked with gay non-profit Empire State Pride Agenda to add another level to the argument. Rather than focusing on the “trans” implications of such legislation, the group highlighted the fact that many students aren’t targeted for being “gay,” but for not conforming to gender norms. That may be a simple fact for some of you, but New York’s Republican party’s not always the most progressive.

After a series of back room meetings, Cook says, they had finally rallied enough support to introduce the bill. Newly inducted Governor David Paterson, however, would throw an inadvertent wrench into their well-timed plan.

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  • Timothy Kincaid


  • K-Dogg

    Its a start…

  • Cam

    The fact of the matter is, there were some very pro-gay republicans on the national stage, William Weld was a rising star in the party but then Jessie Helms fucked him over and basically stopped the pro-gay GOP wing of the party dead in it’s tracks. It’s time for those sad old fucks like helms “The ones who are still alive” to realize that you can’t keep scaring up votes by demonizing those who are “Different” it won’t work forever. good for New york and it’s about time.

  • seitan-on-a-stick

    Oh, I thought this was about the GOP learning how the Democratic NYS House and Senate Majority want their Cawfee when both houses Go Dem in 2009 and Gay Marriage bitch-slams them into the Stone Age!

  • Joann Prinzivalli

    The Dignity for All Students Act (DASA), passed by the Assembly and sponsored in the Senate by Senator Thomas K. Duane, is a better bill, but Democrat-sponsored bills get no traction in the State Senate.

    The Senate bill coming from the Rules committee means that the Republican leadership supports the bill.

    The really good news is that this bill is the first Senate bill in New York with Republican sponsorship that includes “gender identity or expression” as a protected class.

    The 2003 Senate “Schools as Safe Harbors” bill did not include gender identity/expression (GI&E) protection – and I am pleased that PFLAG, GLSEN and ESPA all stood firm at that time, and the Assembly stood firm on this aspect as well, when that bill was conferenced with Dignity for a compromise. At that time, the Senate Republicans were sadly not ready for GI&E.

    Since a respected polling agency earlier in 2008 showed that 78% of New York voters statewide support legal protection of GI&E as a protected class, the Republican leadership seems to be signalling a willingness to be inclusive on this issue.

    An analysis comparing the Safe Schools Bill with DASA indicates the bills are very similar – but there is one spot in which the Republican Senate bill is weak – and that is in the reporting requirement. Both bills provide that school employees aware of bullying/harrassment must report incidents, but the Republican bill provides protection from disciplinary action or professional misconduct for school employees who know of, but do not report, acts of bullying.

    Despite this fundamental flaw, I would recommend passage of this “Safe Schools” bill in the Senate, with a hope that the Assembly can eliminate this particular weakness in a conference between the houses. Democrats in the Senate should highlight the weakness in floor debate, but should not let the flaw keep the bill from passage.

    Joann Prinzivalli
    State Director
    New York Transgender Rights Organization (NYTRO)

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