On a spring day in New York, Pauline Park took a routine trip to the women’s restroom after a celebratory lunch with friends at Manhattan Mall. As she tried to leave the restroom, she was suddenly surrounded by five security guards – four men and a woman – who demanded to know her gender.
“I asked to speak to their supervisor,” Pauline said, and she stated her case: “What you’re doing is discrimination under the NYC transgender rights ordinance.”
Eventually, the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund filed a claim on her behalf, and she reached a settlement with the private security company, administered by the City’s Commission on Human Rights.
“Most people face discrimination alone and don’t report it, because they may feel too embarrassed or ashamed to mention it to friends or family,” Pauline said, years after the incident. “What is shameful is the act of discrimination, not being discriminated against.”
That case was only one of the many victories of the celebrated gender rights and LGBTQ advocate.
Pauline is the chair of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy and president of the board of directors of Queens Pride House. She co-founded Queens Pride House in 1997 with several other LGBT community members in Queens who wanted to establish a community center in the borough, the first LGBT community center in the outer boroughs; she went on to serve as its executive director from 2012-2015, the first openly transgender person and the first person of Asian descent to serve as the executive director of any LGBT community center in the state.
In 1998, Pauline co-founded NYAGRA with several other transgender activists who felt the need for an organization to advance legislative and public policy change at the state level, creating the first transgender advocacy organization in New York. Additionally, Pauline spearheaded the campaign to pass the transgender rights bill in the New York City Council in 2002 (she literally drafted the statement of legislative findings and intent), and served on the steering committee for the coalition leading the campaign for the New York State Dignity for All Students Act.
“We have to keep on pressing, not only for legal and policy change,” she says, “but for broad social change – the goal has to be nothing less than transforming the way society understands gender.” – Pauline Park
Pauline has been (and continues to be) a monumental force fighting for gender equality and LGBTQ rights. “We have to keep on pressing, not only for legal and policy change,” she says, “but for broad social change – the goal has to be nothing less than transforming the way society understands gender.”
New York has no state statute prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity or expression, though the state Division of Human Rights recently added gender identity and expression as a category under which state residents can bring a complaint of discrimination, and advocates in New York are continuing to work to persuade the state Senate to pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA has already passed the state Assembly).
“We ought to be judged not only by how we try to help those who are like us, but also by how we try to help those who are different from us.” – Pauline Park
Pauline argues that even in places with non-discrimination protections like New York City, people can still face harassment and discrimination based on their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. The fight for full LGBT equality must, of course, include and extend beyond a full win for comprehensive nondiscrimination protections.
Securing those critical non-discrimination protections would mark a monumental progress in the education, understanding, and acceptance of LGBT people, and with the law on their side, advocates like Pauline Park and thousands nationwide will have substantially greater protection from discrimination. The education surrounding the work – and what comes after – will lead to a beautiful awakening across the country of why no one should face discrimination because of who they are or who they love.
“Law and public policy are ways of advancing acceptance and social inclusion of humankind,” Pauline explained. “But we also need to embrace a philosophy that recognizes our common humanity. We ought to be judged not only by how we try to help those who are like us, but also by how we try to help those who are different from us.”
Author’s Note: This post was written by Justin Hashimoto, an apprentice in Freedom for All Americans’ LGBT University Apprenticeship program. For more information on Pauline Park visit http://www.paulinepark.com