The New York State Senate adjourned a slightly extended session late Friday night without taking votes on "life-saving" LGBT rights legislation, advocates said.
GOP Senate leaders blocked two bills — a transgender rights bill, the Gender Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), and a bill that would establish a ban on licensed medical providers practicing sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts on minors — from going to the Senate floor for a full vote, where advocates said the measures would have passed.
"We had the votes," said Nathan Schaefer, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, in a statement. "… The failure of the Senate Leadership to bring these bills to the floor for a vote leaves thousands of transgender New Yorkers vulnerable to discrimination in their homes, on the job and on the streets of their own neighborhoods. And children are left susceptible to harm in the offices of so-called therapists licensed by the State of New York."
Advocates and sponsoring lawmakers remained hopeful for victory on the gay conversion therapy ban as session was extended into Friday, following its June 16 passage in the State Assembly and the support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but that failed to sway GOP leaders in Senate, the bill's sponsor in the chamber said.
"It's bitterly disappointing that the State Senate bowed to partisan politics and failed to protect our kids in New York from so-called 'conversion therapy,' which considers homosexuality a sickness that needs to be cured," said Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat and the chamber's only out gay member, in a statement. "This bill had the votes to pass the Senate, virtually unanimous support from mental health professionals, and was modeled after legislation passed with bi-partisan support in California and New Jersey, where it was signed by Republican Gov. Chris Christie."
The defeat was especially significant for Mathew Shurka, a 26-year-old New Yorker and survivor of gay conversion therapy efforts he was subject to from ages 16-21 in New York. Shurka came out as gay when he was 23 and today, he advocates against the practice, which has been discredited and criticized by major health organizations, such as the American Psychological Association.
"This bill was huge for me because New York is my home state and people are still going through conversion therapy here in New York City, but unfortunately, it didn't pass," Shurka said when reached by phone. "So I'm asking the Senate leaders, how many more minors or children will commit suicide because of conversion therapy by next year and are you OK with that?"
Shurka said New York should have taken a stand on banning conversion therapy in light of recent comments by Texas Gov. Rick Perry comparing being gay to being an alcoholic and the Texas Republican Party's endorsement of the practice in its new party platform.
Looking ahead, Shurka said there's a new level of awareness around the issue that will likely propel efforts to ban the practice in several states next year. "This is just the beginning of a lot more work moving forward," he said.
As for GENDA, advocates were less optimistic as the clock ticked down on the end of the scheduled end of session Thursday night, with Sen. Daniel Squadron, the bill's sponsor in the chamber, telling BuzzFeed he was "very disappointed" the bill, again, would not see a vote. The long-sought legislation would finally add protections against discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations to existing state nondiscrimination law.
The State Assembly approved GENDA for the seventh time on June 10. Without GENDA, the Empire State Pride Agenda said New York falls behind 18 other states with transgender nondiscrimination protections — like Maryland, which approved a similar bill in late March.
And most people are surprised to learn that New York doesn't already have such protections in place and that transgender people can be fired, or lose their homes, or get kicked out of a restaurant just for being who they are, Squadron added.
Despite the defeats and the end of session, advocates said they will continue to push for the legislation.
"We will not stop fighting for these bills until they pass," said Allison Steinberg, communications director at Empire State Pride Agenda. "Even when the Legislature is not in session, we will work to educate and build support for these bills and we are looking to election season this Fall, which could end up impacting bills like ours in the next session."