Cadence Case knows all about the discrimination at jobs and in landing an apartment, the fear of bullying in the streets, the sideway glances and snickers, the wearisome daily effort of acting as expected.
Case, born a man and transitioning to become a woman, is one of the thousands of transgender individuals nationwide who hope New York will pass a measure to protect the rights of transsexuals and others with a gender identity different from the way they were born.
“It’s work,” said Case, 34, who after months of unemployment lives in Poughkeepsie with her parents, who refer to her as their daughter. “It’s almost always conscious, which is draining for sure. ... I can’t go on much longer. It’s too much. It’s holding me back.”
New York’s bill would protect gender identity or expression from discrimination and subject violators to a potential hate crime prosecution. Gender identity would be added to the law that prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, age, sexual orientation and more in areas including housing, credit and employment.
Case grew up immersed in sports and academics, playing four years of varsity baseball and basketball. But her focus and good grades faltered in college, when she first started questioning her sexuality and gender. Case dropped out and faced unemployment that she blames at least in part on gender identity.
Now in a sales job in a company that protects transgender people, she still feels the need to present an image without a clear gender. She thinks the law could help and make a bigger statement than the 10 local measures in cities statewide, including New York City and Syracuse.
“It would definitely give me more freedom for what I can look for, jobwise,” Case said. “A big part of it, hopefully, will not be just for employment, but in housing. I don’t ever want to have to worry about that.”
The District of Columbia, 16 states and several cities have laws protecting gender identity and expression.
New York’s measure has some powerful Democratic sponsors in Albany, which could be enough to pass the bill. Versions of it have been pushed for years by gay and transgender advocates who helped win New York’s landmark law legalizing same-sex marriage in 2011. But it’s not universally supported.
“Naturally, we’re opposed to it,” said state Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long. “They should be protected, as we all are. We are for equal rights for all human beings. There is no need to create special classifications for individuals.”
As in the gay marriage movement, New York’s large population, many corporate headquarters and national media concentration make it an important state for the effort seen by proponents as the next milestone in the civil rights movement and important for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality.
“New Yorkers overwhelmingly support this bill,” said Vincent Paolo Villano of the National Center for Transgender Equality in Washington. Passage “could be another example of how the state is leading the country in achieving full LGBT equality.”
“If we get a vote, the chances are very good,” said Sen. Daniel Squadron, a Democrat representing parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan who is sponsoring the Senate bill. “People are shocked you can lose your job, or your home or be denied a place in a restaurant because of sexual identity. No one thinks that’s what New York should look like.”
The measure also has the critical support of the Independent Democratic Conference, five breakaway members who share majority control of the Senate with Republicans. Republicans haven’t yet discussed the measure, but aren’t dismissing it in this new era in which more Democratic-leaning bills get to the Senate floor even with GOP opposition.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who pushed gay marriage into law, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Some law enforcement officers testified at recent hearings that the law would help them act more quickly on threats to head off violence.
“Transgender individuals across the state face life-threatening discrimination every day,” said Nathan Shaefer, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda. “It’s too soon for us to reliably predict how everyone will vote. But we’ve already started working with the state Senate and we have a long track record of working across the aisle.”
Meanwhile, supporters like Case’s father wait.
“The problem I have as a dad is, before this job, she had trouble getting work,” said Rex Butt, Case’s father and a professor at the City University of New York. “The trans movement is maybe 30 or 40 years behind where gay rights are right now. The conversation needs to go forward.”