A bill requiring utility, water works, and phone companies to respect the names and pronouns of customers has already passed both houses of the State Legislature, but embattled Governor Andrew Cuomo has yet to sign it — and now dozens of local and national LGBTQ groups are pushing him to approve the bill once and for all.
Customers seeking to update their names and pronouns with the companies have faced numerous barriers — including a requirement that folks produce a court order to prove updated information, according to a letter 57 groups sent to Cuomo urging him to sign the bill. Dubbed the Affirming Gender Identity in Utilities Act, the legislation would require companies to give customers the option to request the use of their correct names and pronouns across written and verbal communication and documentation.
“To a transgender individual, being confronted with their dead name is extremely distressing and traumatic, which is why it is essential to streamline the process for utility corporations to respect customer’s gender identities,” the letter stated. “Moreover, this legislation would help prevent the risk of individuals being found by an abusive family member or partner and reduce the risk of harassment in housing.”
The letter was signed by New York City-based groups including Black Trans Nation, Destination Tomorrow, Hetrick-Martin Institute, and Princess Janae Place, as well as statewide groups such as Newburgh LGBTQIA Center in Newburgh, New York; the LOFT LGBT Community Center in Westchester; and GLSEN – Lower Hudson Valley Chapter in Hudson Valley. The national organizations on the letter included the National Center for Transgender Equality, Transgender Law Center, and the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund.
While the legislation aims to remove barriers, it does not necessarily get rid of all verification requirements. If a customer’s name is not the same as their “legal name,” water-works companies can “require such customer to provide reasonable proof of identity using their legal name…,” according to the bill’s text.
The legislation was carried by out lawmakers Brad Hoylman of Manhattan and Jessica González-Rojas of Queens. It cleared the Assembly in May and the Senate in June.
“The New York State Supreme Court ruled over a century ago that utility companies are mandated to provide service to their customers free of discrimination and we must hold them accountable,” González-Rojas said in a written statement. “This legislation will help reduce the traumatic impact on New Yorkers who simply want to access services and not be dead named and/or misgendered. It will also help survivors of domestic violence. It is our moral obligation to reduce harm whenever and however we can to New Yorkers. I join advocates in urging that A6193/S5325 be signed into law now.”
Hoylman also voiced a sense of urgency, saying the bill needs to “be signed as soon as possible.”
“Nobody should suffer the humiliation of being deadnamed or misgendered,” Hoylman noted in a written statement. “The dignity of our fellow New Yorkers must not be delayed any longer.”
Elisa Crespo, who took over in July as executive director of the statewide LGBTQ advocacy group New Pride Agenda, stressed that there should be no need for such legislation but nonetheless underscored the importance of the bill in light of the realities facing customers across the state.
“Utility companies in New York are lagging behind other major institutions that have already taken it upon themselves to make these changes,” Crespo said in a written statement. “This is about dignity and respect. New Pride Agenda is glad Assemblymember González-Rojas and State Senator Hoylman have championed this bill and now it’s time for the Governor to sign it into law.”
Cuomo, facing fresh heat following Attorney General Letitia James’ explosive report concluding that he sexually harassed multiple women and violated laws in the process, did not respond to a request for comment by deadline on August 2.
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