Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act History
- June 27-29, 1969 – Stonewall Riots in New York City, considered by most to be the beginning of the modern gay rights movement.
- February 16, 1971 – The first version of SONDA (which sought to add sex, marital status and sexual orientation as protected categories to the human rights law) is introduced in the State Assembly by Al Blumenthal (D-Manhattan). A similar measure is subsequently introduced in the State Senate by Manfred Ohrenstein (D-Manhattan).
- March 14, 1971 – The first-ever gay rights march on a state capital takes place in Albany. Nearly 3,000 people from across the state come to Albany to push for non-discrimination measures, repeal of the consensual sodomy statute, and repeal of the law against cross-dressing and impersonation by one sex of the other. Groups include the Gay Liberation Front of Buffalo, NYC Gay Activists Alliance, Daughters of Bilitis, Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries (STAR), NY Community Center, Buffalo’s Women’s Liberation, the Mattachine Society of the Niagara Frontier and groups from Watertown, Plattsburgh, Binghamton, Olean and Niagara Falls. A contingent even walks all the way from Manhattan to Albany.
- 1974 – The Village of Alfred (pop. 1,000) becomes the first locality in New York to outlaw anti-gay discrimination. By May 2001, another 19 local jurisdictions have passed some form of anti-discrimination legislation that includes discrimination based on sexual orientation.
- 1983 – Governor Mario Cuomo announces Executive Order 28, which prohibits state agencies and departments from sexual orientation discrimination in employment and the provision of state services. (Governor Pataki reissued the Executive Order in 1995.)
- 1983 – SONDA is brought to the Assembly floor for a vote and is defeated by a narrow margin. The measure is withdrawn and no official record of the vote remains.
- June 25, 1985 – A bill to outlaw anti-gay discrimination in housing only, sponsored by Assemblymembers Passanante and Steve Sanders, passes the Assembly by a vote of 76 to 62. It is not brought up again within the Assembly, with the goal of passing a broader bill.
- April 2, 1986 – After a 17-year struggle, New York City adds sexual orientation as a protected category to its tough non-discrimination laws.
- November – Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan) is elected to the Assembly, and in January 1991, becomes the chamber’s first openly gay member. She makes passing SONDA in the Assembly a top priority. Also, The New York State Lesbian and Gay Lobby (based in Albany) and Friends and Advocates for Individual Rights PAC (FAIRPAC) (based in New York City) merge to create a statewide lesbian and gay political advocacy organization called the Empire State Pride Agenda. Passing SONDA is the top legislative priority.
- January – With the retirement of William Passannante, Assemblymember Steven Sanders becomes SONDA’s prime sponsor.
- May 3 – The Pride Agenda organizes a statewide march on Albany, with over 1,000 people from across the state participating. Queer Nation activists burn an effigy of then Senate Republican Leader Ralph Marino (R-C-Nassau) to protest Senate inaction on SONDA and hate crimes.
- February 1 – The Assembly passes SONDA for the first time by a vote of 90 to 50. 81 Democrats and 9 Republicans vote for the bill; 14 Democrats and 36 Republicans vote against it.
- July 2 – For the first time, the Republican members of the State Senate discuss SONDA in conference. Majority Leader Ralph Marino (R-C-Nassau) announces that the conference decided not to bring SONDA to the floor for a vote.
- January – At the Pride Agenda’s request, Senate Minority Leader Manfred Ohrenstein (D-Manhattan) allows Republican Senator Roy Goodman (Manhattan) to become prime sponsor of SONDA. Ohrenstein had carried the bill for 23 years.
- March 23 – The Assembly passes SONDA for the second time by a vote of 88 to 56.
- June – Republican members of the State Senate discuss SONDA in conference; they decide not to bring SONDA to the floor for a vote.
- February – The new Attorney General, Dennis Vacco, removes sexual orientation as a protected category from a 15-year old anti-discrimination policy in the Department of Law.
- March 27 – The Assembly passes SONDA for the third time by a vote of 88 to 57. Eleven Republicans vote in favor of the bill.
- April 1 – The new contract for state workers preserves domestic partner benefits negotiated in the closing weeks of the Cuomo administration, allaying concerns that Governor Pataki might oppose the benefits. New Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-C-Rensselaer) declines to extend the benefits to Senate employees.
- May 6 – The Assembly passes SONDA for the fourth consecutive year by a vote of 85 to 57.
- March 10 – The Assembly passes SONDA for the fifth consecutive year by a vote of 90 to 55.
- June 11 – Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno announces he will no longer seek to end succession rights of gay and lesbian partners in rent-regulated apartments, stating, “These are families…. They consider themselves to be families whether they are married or not, so I think that argument is pretty persuasive.”
- May 18 – The Assembly passes SONDA for the sixth consecutive year by a vote of 87 to 53.
- August 3 – Onondaga County (which includes Syracuse) passes a “Fair Practices Law” outlawing anti-gay discrimination and giving its victims a cause of action in court.
- November 3 – Tom Duane (D-Manhattan) is elected to the State Senate and, in January 1999, becomes the chamber’s first openly-gay and first openly HIV-positive member. A victim of hate violence, he is a strong advocate for hate crimes legislation.
- March 24 – The Assembly passes SONDA for the seventh consecutive year by a record margin of 105 to 43, surpassing 100 yes votes for the first time. Seven Assemblymembers, all Republicans, change their position from 1998 to vote for the bill.
- December 13 – After a bitter 18-month struggle, the Westchester County Legislature passes a broad and tough anti-discrimination law that includes discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Pride Agenda invests $40,000 in the campaign to pass the law.
- January 26 – The Buffalo Board of Education adds sexual orientation as a protected category to its non-discrimination policies and adopts a safe schools policy that addresses prejudices based on sexual orientation.
- June 13 – The Assembly passes SONDA for the eighth consecutive year by a record margin of 109 to 39. Twenty-one of the Assembly’s 51 Republicans back the bill.
- June 23 – Eleven years after the Assembly first gives its approval, the State Senate passes a hate crimes bill that enhances penalties for bias-motivated crimes, including crimes motivated by anti-gay hate. The vote is 48 to 12, including the support of all 24 Democrats (with one absent) and 24 of the 36 Republicans. Signed into law on July 10, 2001 by Governor Pataki, it is the first statewide law to explicitly provide protections to gays and lesbians.
- October 19 – The Sexual Assault Reform Act is signed into law by Governor Pataki. It formally repeals the 150-year old consensual sodomy law.
- December 11 – With the support of all nine Republicans and all 10 Democrats, the Nassau County Legislature passes a bill outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations.
- January 19 – Senate Majority Leader Bruno extends domestic partner benefits to Senate employees.
- February 12 – The Assembly passes SONDA for the ninth consecutive year by another record margin of 113 to 33. SONDA picks up seven new supporters, and comes within one vote of having a majority of Republican Assemblymembers voting in favor of it.
- March 20 – SONDA is voted out of the Senate Committee on Investigations, Taxation & Government Operations by a record margin of 11 to one (three of the ayes are “without recommendation”).
- May 15 – The Rochester City Council unanimously adopts a local non-discrimination law that includes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
- May 18 – Governor Pataki commits for the first time to signing SONDA into law if it reaches his desk. His previous position had been that he was “inclined” to sign it. On June 19, he calls upon the Senate to pass SONDA.
- May 21 – Senate Majority Leader Bruno says publicly, for the first time ever, that he is open to reviewing the bill and bringing it before the Senate Majority Conference for discussion; it is the first time since 1994 that the bill is conferenced. According to several GOP senators, vehement opposition to SONDA within the conference blocks Bruno’s attempts to bring it to the floor for a vote by the end of the 2001 session.
- September 20 – Suffolk County Legislature significantly strengthens its anti-discrimination protections for gay men and lesbians, putting in place real enforcement mechanisms. The law also protects transgender people from discrimination.
- October 4 – Governor Pataki delivers his first major address to New York State’s gay and lesbian community at the Pride Agenda’s annual dinner in New York City and pledges his full support for SONDA, saying “America is the greatest place in the world, but once we pass SONDA, the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, our great country will be a little greater, and I pledge to you I will do everything in my power to make that happen.”
- October 11 – Governor Pataki issues an executive order granting surviving partners of gay victims of the World Trade Center attacks equal benefits as spouses from the state’s Crimes Victims Board. This is the nation’s first substantive government policy change regarding gay relationships to come out of the WTC tragedy.
- January 9 – Saying, "There is no place in our society for bigotry, intolerance or hatred," Governor Pataki calls for passage of SONDA in his annual State-of-the-State address to a joint session of the legislature, the first time any Governor has done so in a State-of-the-State speech.
- January 28 – For the tenth year in a row, the Assembly passes SONDA by a record margin of 113-27. For the first time ever, a majority of Republicans present vote “Yes.”
- May-June – The New York State Legislature unanimously passes several bills, three of which are 9/11-related, recognizing the rights of domestic partners, including same-sex domestic partners, for the first time ever in the history of the state. The Governor signs all of them into law.
- October 3 – George Pataki and Carl McCall vie for gay support in their race for governor at the Pride Agenda annual dinner in New York City, when Mayor Bloomberg delivers a message from Governor Pataki about a near-term vote on SONDA and Carl McCall counters that the Governor had broken his commitment to passing SONDA. The incident is reported widely in the media and SONDA becomes a much higher profile issue in the campaign.
- October 22 – In the heat of the governor’s race, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno surprises the political establishment by announcing he will put SONDA to a vote in the State Senate in December, thereby breaking a 31-year impasse on the bill. Governor Pataki immediately praises Senator Bruno for his decision. The next day, news of the pending vote is carried in papers across the state and makes the front page of The New York Times.
- November 15 – Senator Bruno announces that he will call the Senate into special session on December 17 to vote on SONDA.
- November/December – The NYS Conservative Party, Catholic Church, and right wing groups spread misinformation about SONDA that plays on the fears of those opposed to equality for lesbian and gay New Yorkers. Some members of the transgender community announce opposition to passage of the 31-year-old measure because it does not include gender identity and expression as a protected category.
- December 17 – Hundreds of activists converge on Albany to witness the historic vote in the State Senate. Christian right and transgender activists clash in dueling press conferences on the south steps of the Capitol. The Pride Agenda continues to work with Governor Pataki and the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders up to the time debate begins on SONDA to ensure the votes are there to pass the bill.
Senator Nancy Larraine Hoffmann (R-I-Syracuse) as cosponsor of the bill leads the Senate debate on SONDA. A number of Senators speak in support and opposition to SONDA. A transgender inclusive amendment fails 19-41 largely along party lines. Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno takes the floor and urges his colleagues to vote “yes,” saying SONDA’s “time has come.” Senator Michael Balboni (R-C-Mineola) rises and speaks to justify his support for SONDA, a huge blow to the Conservative Party’s traditional lock on the Nassau County delegation. SONDA, as approved by the Assembly for ten years in a row, passes 34-26 with 21 Democrats and 13 Republicans voting “yes.”
Governor George Pataki signs SONDA into law that evening.
- January 16 – SONDA goes into effect as law in New York State. The event is commemorated by the rainbow flag being raised over city halls around the state, and a fireworks display over the state capital.