Advocates rallied on December 3 to keep the pressure on city and state lawmakers ahead of a City Council hearing on a pair of resolutions encouraging the State Legislature to repeal a discriminatory loitering law known as a ban on “Walking While Trans.”
The virtual action and subsequent hearing marked the latest developments in a longstanding campaign to repeal Section 240.37 of the New York State Penal Law, which has long been used to discriminate against trans women — especially trans women of color.
A bill to repeal that law has gained more than enough support to pass in both houses of the State Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo has endorsed it. But the legislation, led in the upper chamber by out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman of Manhattan and in the lower house by State Assemblymember Amy Paulin of Westchester, has collected dust while advocates continue to wait for Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to signal a timeable for a vote.
New focus on ensuring lawmakers seal records of victims targeted by loitering law
In the meantime, the City Council is looking at two resolutions supporting the legislation in an attempt to bring a sense of urgency to the cause. The main resolution, which was first introduced last year by Councilmember Carlina Rivera of Manhattan, calls on the state to repeal the main loitering law, while the other resolution asks the State Legislature to pass another bill sealing convictions of people busted under that measure.
Advocates underscored the importance of sealing convictions because those who have been busted under the law have faced barriers to employment, public benefits, and other basic needs due to their criminal record.
Out trans women who have been victimized under the loitering law delivered emotional speeches during the rally and the City Council hearing, which was led by the Committee on Women and Gender Equity. TS Candii, the lead organizer of the Repeal the Walking While Trans Ban coalition, recalled a time when she was living in the Bronx and went outside to smoke a cigarette, but was stopped by police officers in an unmarked vehicle. The officers threatened her with arrest under the loitering law unless she performed oral sex on them.
“It’s very important we repeal this law so Black transgender women can reclaim our existence and our humanity so we can get employment, we can get housing, and so we can be able to live,” TS Candii said.
Bianey Garcia, an organizer for Make the Road New York, also conveyed how the law has been used against her in discriminatory ways. She said she was 18 years old when police officers ambushed her as she went for a walk with her boyfriend.
“We were holding hands when all of a sudden undercover cops got out of a van and pushed me in front of the wall, took my bag, and threw everything on the floor,” Garcia said via a translator.
Even as her boyfriend reassured police that they were a couple, the officers didn’t believe him.
Those stories are backed up by numbers. Paulin pointed to statistics showing that there was a 120 percent increase in the arrests made under the loitering law in 2018 and 91 percent of the people arrested for loitering that year were Black. In 2019, she said there were 30 arrests in Queens and 13 in Brooklyn, while 2018 saw 77 arrests in Queens, 40 in Brooklyn, and 42 in the Bronx.
Other advocates, like Association of Legal Aid Attorneys president Jared Trujillo, put the issue into a legal perspective. Describing the loitering law as a “direct result of Jim Crow laws,” he cast doubt on the constitutionality of it and stressed that other cities, such as Seattle, have repealed loitering laws recently. He also emphasized the long-term impact of unsealed records on victims who have to deal with the fallout for the rest of their lives.
Rivera and her City Council colleagues, including Manhattan’s Helen Rosenthal and the Bronx’s Vanessa Gibson — who once voted against same-sex marriage rights and opposed adoptions by unmarried couples during her time in the State Assembly — urged state legislators to swiftly move forward with the repeal effort.
While the City Council weighs the resolutions, all eyes remain on the state. Paulin notably said in September that the bill was being held up by the upper chamber, telling Gay City News that the “Assembly reached out to the Senate and the word I got back is the Senate has no interest in this bill right now.”
On December 3, Paulin again sounded eager to pass the legislation when she told advocates during the Zoom demonstration that “we will get this done.” She expressed hope that the bill would move forward before the end of the year.
Hoylman, meanwhile, pointed to the wave of LGBTQ rights bills passed last year and cited gains Democrats made in the State Senate during the November elections as he reaffirmed his desire to wipe out the “Walking While Trans” ban altogether.
“While we celebrate these victories, we can’t let anyone believe there isn’t more work to be done.” he said. “I hope we get back to Albany soon, but we know this virus has, at the same time, exposed the discrepancies and the inequalities that exist in our communities.”
The repeal bill reached the Assembly floor last year, though it did not get a vote and failed to advance from the Senate Codes Committee.
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