On November 16th, 2021, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed legislation that aims to expand protections for the LGBTQ+ community. Bill S.5325/A.6193 requires utility companies to allow customers to use their preferred names and pronouns.
This bill was crafted in response to an uptick in attacks on LGBTQ+ rights and protections around the country. Governor Hochul is attempting to affirm the transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming communities by building visibility through legislation.
Senator Jessica Ramos commented on the legislation, asserting: “The notion of building visibility around the structural challenges experienced by trans and non-conforming New Yorkers has to be more than a gesture. We have to legislate in a way that honors and protects their rights as members of our community.”
This is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, and it is important that other states follow suit. I initially thought that this legislation was fairly insignificant, as it should go without saying that everyone should be expected to respect one’s pronouns. I thought it seemed like a common sense protection. However, the climate in the United States right now is not free of discrimination, and many Americans still fail to respect LGBTQ+ individuals. This is especially important in an environment where we are witnessing a tremendous number of murders of transgender people. Even legislation that may seem like the bare minimum can make a difference by sending a message of support towards the LGBTQ+ community, and by serving as visibility to a community that has fought tirelessly for recognition of their existence.
The signing of this legislation comes at a particularly notable time, as there have been multiple anti-LGBTQ+ pieces of legislation passed in a number of states recently. In April of this year, there were bills introduced in Arkansas and Tennessee that give parents the ability to waive LGBTQ+ related content from their children’s curriculum. Similarly, a bill in Iowa requires parents to give written consent for gender identity to be discussed with their children. And a bill that tackles the pronoun issue addressed in New York’s S.5325/A.6193 was recently passed in Arkansas, requiring teachers to refer to students by their biological sex. These bills are in direct opposition to one another; one state takes a step forward while another takes a step backward. One of the most disturbing anti-LGBTQ+ laws falls under Florida’s transgender sports ban, which permits schools to require genital inspections of children whom they suspect may be transgender.
These are just a few of the thousands of anti-LGBTQ+ legislative initiatives that exist in the United States, some of which have been passed as recently as last month. While each of them differ in details and nuance, they all share one quality: they are an affront to basic human dignity. It is important that acknowledge that many of the anti-LGBTQ+ bills being introduced regard school-aged children. Not only do these bills fail to affirm diversity, they dehumanize individuals who are not cis-gender.
It is critical that all levels of government introduce legislation that supports the LGBTQ+ community rather than promoting a climate of hate and violence. The bill signed by Governor Hochul has been championed by thousands of New Yorkers and celebrated by countless Americans. We need government leaders who are allies to LGBTQ+ individuals and who work to promote equality in all aspects of life. As one of the more progressive states in the U.S., it is not surprising that New York is leading by way of example with regard to inclusive legislation. While S.5325/A.6193 might appear on its surface to be a minor step, it is actually a significant move in the direction of affirming the LGBTQ+ community and standing against hate.