New GENDA and Anti-Conversion Laws Bring Local Activists Hope
By Edie Johnson
Senator James Skoufis, Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson, and City of Newburgh Councilwoman Ramona Monteverde greeted the City of Newburgh’s LGBTQ Center Executive Director, Rae Leiner and fellow organizers of a tremendously active group in the City that not only addresses the needs and struggles of the LGBTQ community, but many of the city’s other struggles as well. They help homeless and poor and mentally distressed find shelters, life skills, jobs and counseling. They coordinate resources with leaders in surrounding municipalities and help those officials learn techniques to foster better. community inclusiveness. When I arrived, Director Leiner was discussing a cutting edge “light therapy” for a client who has severe anxiety. When asked what else they do, Leiner said “Whatever the community needs”, and by that she meant the entire Newburgh Community, and especially those particularly at risk of violence and poverty, and that particularly includes the LGBTQ community because of the biases they encounter. The attractive warehouse for their center on South Williams Street has been developed and supported by Vince Cianna, and also houses a center for painting and another for pottery. With her co-organizers Laura, Phoenix and Petra, they project the will and determination to accomplish whatever they set their minds to
GENDA and Anti-Conversion Bills Bring Hope
But this day, the group was there to celebrate two far-reaching laws that Senator Skoufis announced as “The very first new laws passed in this legislative session, and that tells you how important we think they are.” Skoufis continued “As the birthplace of the Women’s movement in the United States, it is fitting that these bills have been passed, especially since it is the first bill related to women’s rights passed in 8 years. Yesterday we broke that 8-year streak.”
The GENDA Bill ( Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act) adds violence against transgender individuals to the list of “hate crimes” in New York.
The second bill makes a “therapy” called “conversion therapy” illegal. This is when a therapist tries to change an individual’s sexual orientation (most often children or young teens) from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual using psychological or spiritual interventions. Skoufis called the practice “Archaic and cruel, a form of child abuse.” He also said that the bill will not only stop the practice when called “conversion”. “It’s not just the name, it’s the practice that will now be illegal. Anyone who engages in it will have their license pulled and will be subject to significant fines.”
These new bills, which Skoufis said he expects Governor Cuomo to sign into law within the next 2 weeks, will foster a new attitude, that instead of being treated as if they have some kind of disease or condition, those people with different sexual orientations will become treated with more respect, and the community will become more inclusive.
Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson of Newburgh said he was “Glad we were able to do this so quickly”, and gave a heads up that in addition to passing “Sweeping Voter Reforms”, he expects that next week, which is the Anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, a bill will be passed called the Reproductive Health Act, fostering a ‘woman’s right to choose abortion when she feels it is necessary. Jacobson said he was “shocked that it was not included when the other civil rights laws were passed”. He added that he could not remember when this has happened before, “that we pass a bill in Assembly and it is voted on the same day.”
Putting a face and emotions on the community group’s efforts toward a safer and more accepting community in Newburgh, Phoenix Gale, one of the group’s founding organizers, spoke about the death of her brother “Keeshon”, by gun violence in the streets of Newburgh. Phoenix took the despair she felt about losing her brother, and turned it into love and hard work to make the Newburgh community a better and safer place. Her smile in the photo below says it all, as she held a copy of the bill itself and said “I am so happy to live at this time, when we are ending an evil in society and won’t be allowed to be discriminated in housing and work, or attacked violently.”