City Council Prods State Legislature to Repeal Walking While Trans Ban

LGBT Caucus Chair Daniel Dromm of Queens (in background) and Women’s Caucus Co-Chair Vanessa Gibson of the Bronx are among those who want the State Legislature to repeal the “Walking While Trans” ban.
New York City Council/ William Alatriste

Leaders of the City Council’s Women’s Caucus and LGBT Caucus penned a letter to the Public Safety Committee seeking a hearing for a resolution encouraging the State Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo to move ahead with legislation repealing the loitering law commonly known as a ban on “Walking While Trans.”

The resolution was first introduced last year by Councilmember Carlina Rivera of Manhattan in support of pending legislation at the state level spearheaded in the upper chamber by out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman and in the lower house by State Assemblymember Amy Paulin of Westchester. 

In the June 29 letter addressed to the committee and its chair, Councilmember Donovan Richards of Queens, city lawmakers reiterated the way in which law enforcement officers have used the law to stop women — especially trans women of color — for bogus reasons such as the way they walk or what they wear.

There is also a sense of urgency at a time when deadly violence targeting Black transgender women nationwide has continued at alarming rates into the summer months. At least three Black trans women have been found dead in the first week of July after two other Black trans women were killed in the final week of June.

“As the City Council recently passed a package of police reform legislation to protect marginalized communities from police misconduct and profiling, we believe that urgent action must also be taken to ensure we support our TGNCB community, particularly Black Trans women,” stated the letter, signed by LGBT Caucus Chair Daniel Dromm of Queens and Women’s Caucus Co-Chairs Farah Louis of Brooklyn and Vanessa Gibson of the Bronx. “In just this year to date, we have seen the reported death of 16 trans and gender non-conforming people and in 2019 that number was 26 — with most of them being Black Trans women.”

A spokesperson for Gibson said advocates and the two caucuses are coordinating a virtual press conference for the resolution on July 9.

The Repeal the Walking While Trans coalition, which has led advocacy efforts surrounding the repeal effort, posted a tweet on July 7 thanking the Women’s Caucus and LGBT Caucus for seeking the resolution. 

“There is still a lot of work to do towards addressing racial injustice in our city,” the coalition tweeted. “@NYCCouncil pass Reso 0923 + support the Repeal of the #WalkingWhileTrans Ban! @DRichards13.”

The bill reached the Assembly floor last year, even though it never got a vote, and stalled in the Senate Codes committee. But this year, thanks in large part to the activism of the Repeal the Walking While Trans coalition, there is more widespread support for the repeal effort. Governor Andrew Cuomo and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul have endorsed the campaign to repeal the law, and dozens of organizations signed onto a letter last month pushing state lawmakers to include the legislation in future criminal justice packages. Last month, the State Senate clinched the necessary support to pass the bill in the upper house.

“It is an archaic law that was passed in the late 1970s and our laws need to reflect New Yorkers’ right to walk in public without fear of being profiled for their gender expression,” the letter noted.

The letter concluded, “As a Council, we cannot idly sit back and allow state law to further penalize and criminalize anyone on the basis of their clothing, gender expression, or gender identity. We are asking for Resolution 0923-2019 to be heard in the Public Safety committee so that New Yorkers can speak to the Council and share their testimony on why this law must be repealed.”

While the state will ultimately have the final say on the law, the city took an incremental step last year when the NYPD updated its patrol guide to stop targeting individuals on the basis of “gender, gender identity, clothing, and location.”

A spokesperson for Richards did not respond to an email seeking comment about the letter.

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