Legislature Wraps Up with a Bang
New York Blade,
June 30, 2000
By Inga Sorensen
Gay civil rights activists say that, when the 223rd session of the New York State
Legislature came to a close June 23, it marked the completion of the most productive
session to date.
That assessment was prompted by the passage of a hate crimes bill that includes sexual
orientation, and sweeping sexual assault reform legislation that activists say will
formally repeal the states "consensual sodomy" statute.
Efforts to pass a hate crimes bill had been unsuccessful for more than a decade because
the Republican-controlled Senate had balked at the inclusion of "sexual
orientation." But on June 7, after some intensive grassroots lobbying in the
districts of targeted GOP lawmakers, a hate crimes measure cleared the Senate. That bill
was introduced at the request of Republican Gov. George Pataki and sponsored by Manhattan
Republican Sen. Roy Goodman. It passed by a 48-12 vote, with the support of 24 Democrats
and 24 of 36 Republican senators; one Democratic senator was absent.
The Senate measure then had to be reconciled with a hate crimes bill passed in February
by the Democratic-controlled Assembly. Both measures sought to stiffen penalties for the
commission of crimes based on, among other categories, sexual orientation.
Both houses approved a final version of a hate crimes bill in the early hours of June
23. It is similar to the Senates bill, but also includes coverage of crimes
motivated by bias against ones "religious practices."
"This was the most successful year that we have ever had in the New York State
Legislature," says state Sen. Thomas Duane, a Manhattan Democrat who is openly gay
and openly HIV-positive.
The first-term senator placed passage of a hate crimes bill at the top of his agenda.
After the GOP leadership refused to allow a vote on a hate crimes bill last year and
earlier this year, Duane offered a motion to discharge a hate crimes bill,
which would have brought it directly to the floor for a vote. Although the motion was
voted down, Duane says the vote put pressure on Republican senators, particularly in swing
districts on Long Island, in Westchester County, and on Manhattans East Side, to
push the GOP leadership to allow a vote on hate crimes legislation.
In addition to utilizing the process to accomplish his goals, Duane also got personal
with colleagues, telling them about his own experience as a victim of anti-gay violence.
(Duane says he was badly beaten in 1983 in the parking lot of a Long Island gay bar by
perpetrators who used anti-gay epithets.)
"I do believe my having a seat at the table made a difference," he tells the
In its push to pass a hate crimes bill, the Empire State Pride Agenda, a statewide gay
advocacy group, distributed more than 150,000 postcards depicting a wound with 11 sutures,
one for each year of Senate inaction, and passed out thousands of pointed fliers
identifying Republican senators by name and photo who ESPA felt could move
the legislation. (All 211 seats of the state Legislature are up for grabs this November.)
"Some lawmakers are feeling vulnerable," says Matt Foreman, ESPAs
executive director. "They knew it could be a campaign issue."
With Patakis signature, the bill will become the first statewide law in New York
to specifically include civil rights protections for lesbians and gay men.
Foreman also is hailing passage of sexual assault reform legislation that he says will
formally repeal the states "consensual sodomy" statute and commit the
legislature to revamping what activists call the penal laws "antiquated
classification of sexual assaults." The reform, says ESPA, will result in the
elimination of the crimes of "sodomy" and the term "deviate sexual
intercourse" from New Yorks criminal laws.
According to ESPA, a state consensual sodomy statute that outlaws oral and anal sex
between unmarried couples was ruled unconstitutional by the state Court of Appeal in
1980, yet has remained on the books.
The reform measure states that the legislature "intends to modernize and
consolidate such language in subsequent legislation." According to ESPA, the measure
puts into law "the Legislatures intent to establish the single offense category
of Criminal Sexual Assault, to encompass the various types of criminal acts now falling
under Rape, Sodomy and other nomenclature."
"This is more than a great symbolic victory it will also stop the isolated
instances in which police use the statute to target gay couples they find in lovers
lanes," Foreman said via a written statement. He adds that, while these charges
are not prosecuted, individuals are frequently compelled to plead to some other offense.
ESPA says the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and the New York City
Against Sexual Assault, made the repeal of the terminology one of their top priorities
among a broad range of reforms.
In a media statement, Susan Xenarios, director of the St. Lukes Roosevelt
Hospital Crime Victim Treatment Center and co-chair of the Downstate Coalition for Crime
Victims, said: "Weve wanted to get rid of this stigmatizing language for years
we know firsthand how it pains sexual assault survivors, whether they are gay or
straight. This was a great collaborative effort between the victim advocate and gay
ESPA also cites passage of a state budget in May as a success because it includes $2.7
million to meet the non-HIV needs of gay New Yorkers.
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Health and Human Services Network, a
coalition of 45 groups coordinated by ESPA, lobbied for the funding. According to ESPA,
the appropriation marked the third consecutive year of non-HIV funding targeted to the gay
community. In 1998, $1 million was allocated to start 11 programs. In 1999, a $2 million
appropriation added another 16 programs. ESPA says the $2.7 million for fiscal year
2000-2001 will help sustain the existing programs and launch at least a dozen new
"Of course wed like to see more, but its something," Duane tells
Another person pleased with the budget is Michael Kink, executive director of Housing
Works, an AIDS advocacy organization. The legislatures budget restored cuts proposed
by the governor in March and increased funding for HIV and AIDS services. It also included
provisions deregulating the sale of clean syringes and decriminalized their possession.
"I think there has been significant progress getting Republicans and non-New York
City members of the legislature to begin to understand the reality of how HIV is
spread," he says.
The budget also included a $10 million increase in the Homeless Housing Assistance
Program. But one of Housing Works major causes passage of the Work and Wellness Act
of 2000, also known as a Medicaid buy-in measure, which would have allowed the disabled to
keep their Medicaid benefits if they returned to work floundered.
On June 5, the Work and Wellness Act of 2000 unanimously passed the Assembly but
stalled in the Senate. The governor, meanwhile, said he did not want to reopen talks on
financial matters with the budget already approved.
The Medicaid buy-in program is a federally-funded initiative with strong backing from
U.S. Rep. Rick Lazio, a Long Island Republican who is in a highly publicized Senate race
with Democrat Hillary Clinton. Housing Works says all that was required from state
lawmakers and the governor was statutory authority to structure a program allowing New
York to apply for tens of millions of dollars in federal funding by July 31.
Two days before the session ended, roughly 150 demonstrators descended upon Albany to
urge for passage of the Work and Wellness Act. A handful of protesters chained themselves
together in front of the governors office and were arrested. The same day, a
coalition of groups representing people with disabilities, HIV/AIDS, and mental illnesses
threatened to hold lawmakers accountable and announced a voter registration drive to do
Duane tells the Blade there is a chance the lawmakers could be called back into session
sometime in late summer or early fall. He says if thats the case, hell intends
for the Work and Wellness Act to be on the radar screen.
In other legislative news, the Dignity for All Students Act, which sought to bar
discrimination and harassment in New Yorks public schools based on real or perceived
race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or mental or
physical disability, cleared the Assembly Education Committee May 23 by a 20-7 vote, but
the movement ended there. In addition to prohibiting discrimination and harassment, the
measure sought to create a program to foster harassment-free school environments. It also
would implement a reporting mechanism so that the state could compile data on harassment
and discrimination in schools across New York.
And the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, which would add sexual orientation
to the states human rights law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual
orientation in employment, housing, public accommodation and credit, didnt make it
either. Dubbed SONDA, the bill has passed the Assembly every year since 1992, but the
Senate majority has never allowed a vote on the bill. Still, SONDA passed the Assembly
June 13 by its largest margin yet, with a 109-39 vote.
Says Foreman: "Well havent given up on those measures.
just the beginning."
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