A New York landlord's claim that he was justified in refusing to let transgendered clients with the Hispanic AIDS Forum use any of his building's rest rooms or common areas should be rejected, the American Civil Liberties Union told the New York State supreme court Friday. "The landlord's contempt for HAF's transgendered clients is truly shameful," said James Esseks, litigation director of the ACLU's AIDS Project, which filed a complaint in 2001 on behalf of the group. "By suggesting that they were justified in excluding HAF's transgendered clients from using the building's common areas and rest rooms, the building owners are ignoring bedrock principles of antidiscrimination law."
The complaint, filed by the ACLU in June 2001, asserts that HAF, the leading Latino HIV/AIDS agency in New York, was effectively forced out of its home of 10 years in Jackson Heights, Queens--an epicenter of the AIDS epidemic in U.S. Latino communities--because the landlord acquiesced to complaints from another tenant that the agency's transgendered clients were using the "wrong" rest rooms. HAF repeatedly tried to negotiate with the landlord to reach an agreement that would be acceptable to all parties over the use of the rest rooms, but the landlord refused to renew the lease, saying he didn't even want the transgendered clients in any of the common areas of the building. "The landlord made it very clear that he had no respect whatsoever for transgendered people," said Heriberto Sanchez Soto, executive director of HAF. "For the sake of all of our clients who have been disadvantaged by this discrimination--but especially our transgendered clients--I hope the judge sends a very clear message that these kinds of attitudes won't fly in New York City."
The landlord had filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, which was the subject of Friday's hearing. According to the ACLU lawsuit, the estate of Joseph Bruno, which owns the building in Jackson Heights, and an associated trust and its trustees violated state and local laws that prohibit discrimination based on sex, gender, and disability. The lawsuit asks for unspecified damages, citing the financial and practical impact the move had on the HAF's ability to reach people badly in need of services. The court has not yet issued a ruling.