Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Shot Over The Bow

The New York Transgender Rights Organization




My name is Joann Prinzivalli. While I am a member of the Advisory Board, and have been a member from its inception in 2002, I am making these comments, not in the capacity of advisor to the County Executive, but in my role as State Director of the New York Transgender Rights Organization.

Since the Advisory Board’s inception, the board has sought to provide education, guidance and advice to the County Executive on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender issues.

The board has made a good deal of progress on sexual orientation issues, but has been almost completely frustrated at every turn on issues affecting the transgender community.

Recommendations made to the County Executive that relate to getting his support for a bill in the County legislature to amend the county human rights law to provide explicit protection to transgender people in the county have been met with “we’re not ready for that yet.”

In 2007, and again this year, the Advisory board made a recommendation to the County Executive that he issue an executive order protecting transgender people in county employment. I was told that the 2007 draft was sent to the Law Department, and it wasn’t approved in time for the 2007 Town Hall meeting. When I asked in January of this year what progress was being made, and if there were any issues, I was told that no one knew about the executive order draft.

So I asked the Board to resubmit it this year. And the result is that we get the answer, “we’re not ready for that yet.”

Late in 2007 there was an incident involving the County Police arresting a transgender individual. The individual advised the arresting officer that he was still physically female, but since his hormone treatment had already lowered his voice and allowed him beard growth, the arresting officer did not believe him and did not advise the desk officer. The individual was placed in the male holding tank. I determined that this could have had bad consequences. After doing extensive research, I drafted a procedural memo for the purpose of starting a dialogue with the Commissioner of Public Safety. The Advisory Board approved the recommendation and forwarded it to the County Executive with the further recommendation that the County Executive help arrange a meeting with the commissioner to discuss appropriate procedure.

After months of being stonewalled, I was advised that county officials had determined that the County Police already have appropriate policies in place. But when I asked if the policies were in writing, there was no response. Apparently, it’s just a matter of “we’re not ready for that yet.”

Two years ago, the County Executive was ahead of the curve when he issued an executive order recognizing out-of-state gender-neutral marriages for county agency purposes. It was only this past month, nearly two years later, that Governor Paterson has done the same thing for state agencies.

But when it comes to transgender issues, we are still getting stonewalled.

This past week, the State Assembly overwhelmingly approved GENDA, a bill that would give human rights protections to transgender New Yorkers. The preliminary vote count was 102 – 33. Even the opponents who rose in debate acknowledged that it is time that transgender people in New York State must be protected under the law.

The writing on the wall – the answer “we’re not ready for that yet” is no longer acceptable.

Perhaps County Executive Spano needs just a little more time to get it.

In January, I was prepared to resign from the Advisory Board if we did not make progress on at least one trans proposal by tonight. With the passage of GENDA last week in the Assembly, I am now prepared to give the County Executive just a little more time.
So I am not resigning tonight as I originally planned. Not yet.

In wrestling with the ethical issues, I came to the conclusion that as long as I am expressly not acting in my capacity as a member of the Advisory Board, I can take action as an individual citizen, or in other capacities, to openly protest the lack of action from our county government.

I will no longer voluntarily restrict myself to quiet diplomacy behind closed doors in attempting to improve the plight of the transgender community in Westchester County.

The time has come. We are no longer willing to wait silently.

Thank you all for your time.

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