Letitia James threatens Nassau County executive over anti-trans sports policy

State Attorney General Letitia James.
State Attorney General Letitia James.
Donna Aceto

The Office of New York State Attorney General Letitia James sent a cease-and-desist letter to Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman on March 1 demanding that he rescind his executive order barring transgender individuals from participating in sports in accordance with their gender identity at county-run facilities.

“The order’s immediate effect is to force sports leagues to make an impossible choice: discriminate against transgender women and girls, in violation of New York law, or find somewhere else to play,” wrote Sandra Park, who heads up the attorney general’s Civil Rights Bureau Office and signed the letter. The attorney general said the order violates New York’s civil and human rights law, and she also cited the Supreme Court’s 2020 landmark decision in which the court ruled that gender identity discrimination constitutes unlawful sex discrimination. 

James is giving Blakeman five days to rescind what her office describes as “this unlawful order” and turn over all documents pertaining to his decision to issue the executive action. If he fails to comply, James said he faces further legal action.

“The law is perfectly clear: you cannot discriminate against a person because of their gender identity or expression,” James said in a written statement after the letter was delivered. “We have no room for hate or bigotry in New York. This executive order is transphobic and blatantly illegal. Nassau County must immediately rescind the order, or we will not hesitate to take decisive legal action.”

The letter comes one week after Blakeman rolled out the executive order, which stipulated that “any sports, leagues, organizations, teams, programs, or sports entities” must be classified based on participants’ gender assigned at birth in one of three categories: “males, men, or boys,” “females, women, or girls,” or “coed or mixed.” The order bans the Nassau County Department of Parks, Recreation, & Museums from issuing permits in violation of that policy. Notably, Blakeman’s order states that the Parks Department cannot issue permits for sports involving trans girls, but can issue permits for sports involving trans boys and men.

In a Feb. 22 press conference, Blakeman echoed the anti-trans rhetoric circulating statehouses in red states, where Republican-led legislatures have mounted an elaborate campaign to target transgender individuals in sports, healthcare, and even bathrooms. Blakeman voiced blatantly transphobic and false remarks about trans athletes, saying “there is a movement for biological males to bully their way into competing in” girls’ or women’s sports.

Blakeman’s focus on trans girls and women appeared to draw the attention of the attorney general, who warned that the order’s impact extends beyond just Nassau County.

“Not only will the order impact a wide array of Nassau-based teams and leagues, it will undoubtedly deter inclusive teams and transgender women and girls who participate in women and girls’ sports from other parts of the state who want to participate in sporting events and competitions in Nassau County,” James wrote. “And by requiring teams and leagues to exclude transgender women and girls as a condition of using covered facilities, it invites invasive policing of the sex and gender identity and expression of all girls and women. Pernicious discrimination such as this is precisely what New York’s Human and Civil Rights Laws proscribe.”

The executive order sparked immediate outrage from the LGBTQ community and political leaders, including Governor Kathy Hochul, who accused Blakeman of “bullying trans kids” and warned him that New York has some of the nation’s strongest laws protecting the LGBTQ community.

Blakeman’s office did not immediately respond to a phone call or voicemail seeking comment on March 1.