N.Y. Governor Acts to Ban Anti-Transgender Discrimination

Andrew Cuomo
Gov. Andrew Cuomo

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will issue new regulations to assure that the state’s Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination against transgender people, the governor announced at tonight’s Empire State Pride Agenda 25th anniversary fall dinner.

New York has banned sexual orientation–based discrimination since 2003, but state lawmakers have repeatedly failed to pass legislation to add gender identity to the law, leading the governor to take this route. It makes New York the 20th state to explicitly ban discrimination based on gender identity and the first to do so on through executive authority, on such a broad basis.

“The scourge of harassment and discrimination against transgender individuals is well-known — and has also has gone largely unanswered for too long,” Cuomo said at the dinner in Manhattan, the New York Daily News reports. “We will not tolerate discrimination or harassment against transgender people anywhere in the state of New York — period.”

Cuomo “will instruct state agencies and introduce regulations to prohibit harassment and discrimination on the basis of gender identity, transgender status, and gender dysphoria in the areas of public and private housing, employment, credit, education and public accommodations,” according to a Pride Agenda press release. “These regulations will carry the full force of law as the New York State Division of Human Rights has statutory authority under Executive Law 2995 to promulgate regulations interpreting the Human Rights Law.”

The regulations will soon be entered into the state registry, and they will go into effect after a 45-day comment period. Then people who have experienced discrimination because of their gender identity will be able to file complaints with the Division of Human Rights, with the state attorney general, or in court.

Transgender New Yorkers face high rates of discrimination, according to Pride Agenda. Seventy-four percent report having been harassed or mistreated on the job, 19 percent say they have been denied a home or apartment, and 53 report having experienced harassment in public accommodations, such as a restaurant, library, store, or public transportation.

For several years, there have been attempts to add gender identity to the Human Rights Law through the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, or GENDA. It has passed the state Assembly eight times, most recently in June, but has never made it through the Senate. Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, a longtime sponsor of GENDA, praised Cuomo’s move but told the Daily News the legislature should still pass the bill, as a future governor could undo the action.

“It always is valuable to have a legislative body to affirm protections,” Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, told The New York Times, while also applauding Cuomo’s action. “Gov. Cuomo is the first to take matters into his own hands,” she said. “And assure this level of equality for transgender people.” (In some states similar orders have applied to public employees only.)

Pride Agenda and many other organizations were likewise quick to praise Cuomo. “After years of tireless advocacy, we’ve won a tremendous victory for transgender civil rights with Gov. Cuomo’s announcement tonight,” said Pride Agenda executive director Nathan Schaefer in the group’s press release. He also lauded Gottfried and State Sen. Daniel Squadron for championing GENDA in the legislature.

Other reactions:

“Millions of New Yorkers have been waiting for this day,” said Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund. “We thank Gov. Cuomo for his leadership in extending protections to the Empire State’s transgender and gender-nonconforming communities, who face discrimination in almost every area of their lives at levels much higher than LGBQ people and the general population. We want to thank all the LGBTQ organizations in New York State who have worked so diligently for this day. ”

“This critically important step by Gov. Cuomo is not only consistent with case law, but is the moral choice to protect thousands of transgender New Yorkers and visitors,” said HRC president Chad Griffin. He noted that the regulations build on state and federal case law, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity’s ruling that discrimination based on gender identity is sex discrimination and therefore a violation of the federal Civil Rights Act.

“As we’ve painfully witnessed again and again this year, transgender people face epidemic rates of violence, harassment, and discrimination in this country,” said Transgender Law Center executive director Kris Hayashi. “Explicit protections based on gender identity and expression, like those New York is adopting and which 19 other states have in place, are a critical part of creating a society where all people can survive and thrive.”

“Once again, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proven that he keeps his promises,” said Kelsey Louie, CEO of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, which had been working with Pride Agenda in the effort to pass GENDA. “It is easy for people to assume that with the recent Supreme Court decision that brought marriage equality to every state in America that the fight for full equality is over,” Louie added. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

“These clear legal protections go a long way toward allowing transgender New Yorkers to enjoy dignity, respect and access to opportunity in New York,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, who also stressed the need to pass GENDA nonetheless. “Gender identity and gender expression should be explicitly included as protected categories under New York State’s Human Rights Law, on equal footing with other protected classes including sexual orientation, race, religion and disability,” she said. “By enacting GENDA, New York can establish itself as a leader in protecting and respecting the rights of all.”

Cuomo has taken “a bold and courageous step,” State Sen. Brad Hoylman, the only openly gay member of the legislature, told the Daily News. “Soon thousands of New Yorkers will no longer be considered second-class citizens simply because they identify as transgender,” he added.

There was no immediate statement from the New York Republican Party, but the leader of the state’s Conservative Party was not thrilled, calling Cuomo’s action an overreach. “I think he’s starting to consider himself not the governor, he’s considering himself the czar of New York, which he is not,” party chairman Michael Long told the Daily News. The Conservative Party is separate from the Republican Party but usually backs Republican candidates.

Long added that everyone should be protected from discrimination, but said GENDA hasn’t passed because Republicans don’t believe in “setting up special categories of people to give them special privileges and rights.”

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