5 trans rights bills the state still has not passed

15,000 people showed up to the Brooklyn Museum on June 14th to march for Black trans lives.
15,000 people showed up to the Brooklyn Museum on June 14th to march for Black trans lives.
Kevin RC Wilson/Shutterstock
15,000 people showed up to the Brooklyn Museum on June 14th to march for Black trans lives.

5 trans rights bills the state still has not passed

The state and nation made strides in improving transgender rights, but there are still discriminatory practices to abolish.
June 29, 2020

On June 14, thousands of people, all dressed in white, gathered in Brooklyn for a rally and silent march in support of Black trans lives. Organizers estimated 15,000 people attended, making it one of the largest demonstrations in New York City in recent weeks. 

Then, just a day later, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling for gay and trans people: employers cannot fire anyone because of their sexual identity, gender identity or gender expression. In a 6-3 ruling, the justices wrote that Title IV of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, covers sexual orientation and gender identity, meaning that it protects gay and trans Americans. The decision was a major victory for members of the LGBTQ community, affirming their civil rights and providing them legal protection across the country. 

The ruling came amid nationwide Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality and racism. Trans people of color, in particular Black trans women, are disproportionately the victims of violent crime and they are often the subjects of police brutality. Last year, the American Medical Association declared the murder of trans people an epidemic. A 2013 report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that trans people of color were six times more likely to face police violence than white cisgender people.

Two days before the rally, President Donald Trump rolled back health care protections for trans people put in place by President Barack Obama, eliminating guidance that prohibited health care providers from discriminating against trangender patients. It’s unclear how the subsequent Supreme Court ruling on workplace discrimination will impact this decision.

In New York, lawmakers have taken measures to protect the rights of trans people. After years of it stalling in the state Senate when the body was controlled by Republicans, the Legislature passed the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, referred to as GENDA, in 2019. The law amended the state’s Human Rights Law to include gender identity as a protected class, thus making discrimination on the basis of gender identity illegal. The state also enacted a law prohibiting the so-called gay and trans panic defense, limiting a defendant’s ability to use someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity as a defense for violent crime. Both laws codified previous executive orders from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The state also enacted a law requiring competency training for public employees who work with LGBTQ homeless youth. And in 2020, the state began allowing minors to change their sex on their birth certificates soon after the LGBTQ legal organization filed a lawsuit. 

But despite recent action, trans New Yorkers, especially Black trans New Yorkers and other trans people of color, still face discrimination in other arenas. Even though they helped ignite the LGBTQ rights movement that is celebrated every June, for a long time they often were erased from it. 

Here are some of the many bills to expand LGBTQ rights that trans advocates are still pushing for the state Legislature to pass.

Walking while trans ban

This bill would repeal the state’s Loitering for the Purpose of Prostitution Law, which effectively allows police to arrest anyone they suspect of prostitution who is just standing outside. The law has disproportionately impacted Black and Latina women, especially trans women, leading to unlawful arrests, police harassment and criminalization of being trans, advocates say. According to the Human Rights Campaign, arrests under the law increased by 120% in 2018, with 47% of those happening in Queens alone. The bill is co-sponsored by a majority of members in the state Senate and 54 members of the Assembly, but has never been voted on. Repeal of this law, which is sponsored by State Sen. Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Amy Paulin, goes hand-in-hand with the repeal of another law that allows police to use someone’s possession of just one condom as probable cause to arrest someone on the grounds of suspected prostitution. Both pieces of legislation are part of the platform to decriminalize sex work in the state being promoted by DecrimNY, a coalition of groups working to destigmatize sex work. 

LGBT Long-Term Care Residents’ Bill of Rights

The LGBTQ rights movement is not just one waged for and by young people. Older trans and gay people continue to face discrimination, which often gets less attention. This bill, sponsored by Hoylman and Assembly Member Aravella Simotas – who trails challenger Zohran Mamdani in her reelection bid – would update the state’s Elder Law to explicitly prohibit long-term care facilities to discriminate against residents on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status.

Gender Recognition Act

Although the state offers avenues for trans, gender nonconforming and nonbinary people to change their sex, gender or name on identifying documents, the process can be difficult and burdensome. This bill, sponsored Hoylman and Assembly Member Felix Ortiz, would streamline and destigmatize the process, while offering more privacy for those seeking the changes. For example, under current law, someone seeking a name change must publish their birth name, place of birth and date of birth in a newspaper after a court approves the change. The Gender Recognition Act would remove this requirement. It would also add a third gender designation of “x” on drivers licenses for those who don’t identify as male or female.

Expansion of gender-neutral bathrooms

The issue of gendered bathrooms is well known in the fight for trans rights, both for trans people trying simply to use restrooms that align with their identity, and opponents who sow completely unfounded tales of men using female restrooms to prey on women and young girls. In New York, there is legislation – sponsored by Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell – that would mandate that all single-occupancy bathrooms in public spaces, including restaurants and schools, be gender neutral. This way, trans and nonbinary people are not placed in a situation where they are forced to make a choice that may be triggering or potentially dangerous.

Better school gender policies

The state passed the New York's Dignity for All Students Act in 2010, which went into effect in 2012, to help prevent discrimination in schools based on a number of different protected classes, including gender identity, race and gender. A newer bill, introduced by Hoylman and Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, would explicitly codify a requirement for schools to have policies and procedures that make sure trans and gender nonconforming kids are treated in a way that affirms their identity and are afforded privacy regarding their gender status.

Rebecca C. Lewis
is a staff reporter at City & State.
20200929