Advocates Call for New York State Trans Equity Fund

Kiara St. James (right) and others are hoping the state will implement a fund to support trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming individuals in New York.
Donna Aceto

One year after California established a $13 million wellness and equity fund to support transgender people in the state, advocates in New York are calling on Governor Kathy Hochul to bring the same initiative to the Empire State.

A group of eight trans leaders delivered a letter to the governor requesting the allocation of resources specifically dedicated to transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming folks in the state to offset the lack of funding distributed to trans-led organizations. Even when funds are directed to the LGBTQ community, advocates say that money doesn’t always directly benefit trans New Yorkers.

“With respect to philanthropic giving, the TGNC community receives just $.04 of every $100 awarded to LGBTQ causes,” the letter noted. “We have reason to believe that should information be made available with respect to how much of New York’s public dollars are going towards organizations led by TGNC New Yorkers, it will display the same kind of disparities that exist within philanthropic giving.”

The letter was authored by New Pride Agenda executive director Elisa Crespo, Trans Equity Consulting founder Cecilia Gentili, Gender Equality New York board member Arrie Moore, Gender Equality New York executive director Juli Grey Owens, New York Transgender Advocacy Group co-founder Kiara St. James, Destination Tomorrow founder Sean Coleman, Empire Justice Center policy and government relations manager Eòghann Renfroe, and Equality New York board member Teri Wilhelm, who is also a TGNC navigator at the Albany Damien Center.

“This is a critical moment in our state’s history,” Crespo said in a written statement. “We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in what is a largely ignored, and deeply marginalized community. The numbers don’t lie.”

St. James described the fund as an opportunity for the government to go beyond just supportive rhetoric.

“Investing in TGNC equity is the best way to move away from the performative to the tangible — and really improve the quality of life for so many in the TGNC community,” St. James said.

The California-based fund was initiated through the State legislature, which passed a law mandating the State Department of Public Health’s Office of Equity to utilize the fund “for purposes of funding grants to create programs, or funding existing programs, focused on coordinating trans-inclusive health care for individuals who identify as transgender, gender nonconforming, or intersex (TGI).” Governor Gavin Newson signed the bill into law in 2020 and the funding was authorized in the state’s budget the following year, giving the state’s trans community access to funds for health services, cultural initiatives, mental health programs, and housing.

The request follows Hochul’s January 18 announcement outlining a $216 billion budget for 2023. The group of leaders praised the governor’s Equity Agenda, but said it does not provide an adequate economic boost to the trans community.

The advocates hope they can establish the fund during the 30-day budget amendment process. If that effort is unsuccessful, they will seek funds through the One House budget. Governor Hochul’s office did not respond to Gay City News when asked about the initiative.

The LGBT Community Center, Equality New York, Albany Damien Center, and Princess Janae Place are among organizations helping to generate momentum for the initiative.

Notably, at least a dozen elected officials are also supporting the effort — including five out elected officials: Assemblymembers Jessica González-Rojas of Queens, Daniel O’Donnell of Manhattan, and Harry Bronson of Rochester, as well as State Senators Jabari Brisport of Brooklyn and Brad Hoylman of Manhattan. Others on the list include Assemblymembers Nathalia Fernandez and Karines Reyes of the Bronx, Catalina Cruz of Queens, and Linda B. Rosenthal and Harvey Epstein of Manhattan, in addition to State Senators Julia Salazar of Brooklyn and Robert Jackson of Manhattan.

“Properly funding the work of transgender, gender-nonconforming, and intersex-led organizations would be a life-saving measure for innumerable New Yorkers,” Hoylman, who helped lead the push to repeal the state’s so-called Walking While Trans ban, told Gay City News on January 21. “I strongly support efforts to include a Transgender Wellness & Equity Fund in this year’s budget, just like [it] was done last year in California. I congratulate Elisa Crespo and the New Pride Agenda for this important initiative.”

Brisport agreed, emphasizing that it is the state’s duty to use such a fund to fight back against transphobia.

“New York has both the opportunity and the responsibility to not merely reject the wave of anti-trans legislation sweeping other states — but also to actively combat the systemic marginalization of transgender and gender non-conforming people,” Brisport said in a written statement to Gay City News. “A New York TGNC Wellness & Equity Fund is long overdue.”

A spokesperson for O’Donnell echoed that sentiment and said organizations serving trans, gender non-conforming, and intersex New Yorkers are “chronically underfunded.”

“The increased pressure of responding to COVID-19 has only further strained the resources of these groups,” O’Donnell’s office told Gay City News. “Committing to an equitable pandemic recovery means we must explore all avenues to lower the barriers that the TGNC community faces in securing quality healthcare, housing, and economic opportunity… [O’Donnell] is fully committed to working with lawmakers and advocates to ensure these organizations have the necessary funding to serve more New Yorkers in need.”

Bronson, when reached for comment on January 25, expressed support for the initiative and stressed that more work is required to address the needs of the community.

“For too many years and too many bruised and bloody bodies, this country and state has turned a blind eye toward transgender, gender non-binary, and intersex people,” Bronson said. “I am proud to join the network in the request for funding to provide better medical health services, mental health programs, housing and more. The TGNC Wellness and Equity Fund will help give people the resources to seek out solutions to common concerns, and to make the family of New York a welcoming and inclusive community.”

Out lesbian Assemblymember Deborah Glick did not provide a response to a request for comment.