Joanne Barden said she has attended nearly every Nassau County Legislature meeting for the last eight years asking for the same thing – equal rights for the transgender community.
“I’m not asking for special treatment, I’m asking for justice,” Barden said at a news conference in front of the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola on Monday. “What we want is no more and no less than what everyone has in Nassau County.”
The North Woodmere resident is seeking protection under the Nassau County human rights law, which currently does not contain language protecting the transgender community.
The legislation, which was filed for many years by the late Legislator Judy Jacobs and never called for a vote, has been refiled by her successor, Legislator Arnold Drucker (D-Plainview).
There are no plans for the Republican majority to call the legislation to a vote soon, according to Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park), who said the current human rights law already protects the transgender community.
Drucker was joined by members of the minority, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, Comptroller Jack Schnirman, Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder, Hempstead Town Clerk Sylvia Cabana, North Hempstead Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth, North Hempstead council members Peter Zuckerman and Anna Kaplan, and transgender rights advocates on Monday at the news conference.
Curran called the amendment “common sense” and the “right thing to do,” adding that it is not a political issue.
The event followed a transgender rights rally from the weekend before and also fell the day after the Long Island Pride Parade in Long Beach.
Drucker’s office reached out to members of the majority, according to the minority’s press office, but none attended Monday’s event.
“As lawmakers, it is our duty to ensure that Nassau County is inclusive and welcoming to people from all walks of life,” Drucker said. “Our transgender residents deserve every opportunity to live honest, productive and authentic lives without fear of retaliation or discrimination.”
Whereas Drucker says the law specifically leaves out members of the transgender community, Nicolello said it’s “clear the current human rights law already protects the transgender [community].”
“[There’s] no reason to change it, so again what they’re proposing really does not accomplish anything,” Nicolello said.
In a previous interview, Drucker said there should not even be a perception that the transgender community is not protected under county law.
“There’s no such thing as redundancy when it comes to legislation, and making sure you protect anyone,” Drucker said. “It leaves no ambiguity.”
He also called those opposed to the amendment “narrow-minded” and “out of touch with our society of 2018.”
Both New York City and Suffolk County have laws protecting transgender rights, making Nassau the largest county in the state without protection.
On the state level, Democratic lawmakers face their own battle trying to pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, or GENDA.
When the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act was put together in 2003 it did not include language protecting the transgender community.
Drucker, who also supports GENDA, said “there is no better time than now to bring this county up to speed.”
The North Hempstead Town Board unanimously voted to add gender identity as a protected class under town law in 2015.
“This should not be considered a great accomplishment,” Bosworth added. “It’s a basic human right.”