Council passes bills to report on trans incarcerated population and protect gender-affirming care

The City Council approved separate bills to support transgender individuals in New York City.
The City Council approved separate bills to support transgender individuals in New York City.
Matt Tracy

The New York City Council on July 13 voted to approve two pieces of legislation intended to protect transgender individuals, including a bill requiring the Department of Correction (DOC) to report on information pertaining to trans people in custody. 

City lawmakers also voted for a separate bill barring the city from cooperating with out-of-state investigations related to gender-affirming care, backing up an executive order signed by Mayor Eric Adams last month and complementing a state-based law of the same nature that was signed by Governor Kathy Hochul on Pride Sunday in New York City.

The DOC bill, which passed out of the Health Committee on July 13 in unanimous fashion, was approved by the full City Council later that same day. The legislation requires the DOC to report on information pertaining to those in custody whose gender identity is not aligned with the one they were assigned at birth. The legislation stipulates that the DOC must report on housing placements as well as when individuals request to be housed in accordance with their gender identity but are rejected. 

The bill calls for the commissioner to submit the report — which would contain information including the number of trans people in custody and their housing settings — to the mayor, the City Council speaker, and the public advocate, and to post it online. 

The lead sponsor of the bill is Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. Co-sponsors include Councilmembers Gale Brewer, Carlina Rivera, Kristin Richardson Jordan, and Shaun Abreu of Manhattan; Tiffany Cabán of Queens; and Crystal Hudson, Sandy Nurse, Lincoln Restler, Farah Louis, and Alexa Avilés of Brooklyn. Cabán and Hudson are co-chairs of the Council’s LGBTQIA+ Caucus. 

Pointing to the need for such legislation, Williams cited the story of a public defender who he said represents seven transgender women on Rikers Island who were placed in men’s housing units and remain there to this day despite facing sexual and physical assaults. The city’s treatment of transgender individuals in custody has been in the spotlight for years, particularly in the aftermath of the 2019 death of Layleen Polanco, a trans woman who died of a health emergency after officials failed to respond appropriately in a case that led to a nearly $6 million settlement

“In a space that is dangerous for people on both sides of the bars, transgender and gender non-conforming people face even greater threats and challenges,” Williams said in a written statement. “This legislation is designed to help ensure that TGNCNBI people are receiving the services and accommodations they are entitled to, and provide a metric for accountability when those needs are not met. TGNCNBI people deserve the same respect and dignity as their cisgender peers, and this is not negated when they are incarcerated. We have seen the tragic results of a failure to recognize and address this, and until DOC makes changes to ensure that city jails are safe for everyone, we will continue to lose valuable members of our communities.”

The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on July 13 regarding that bill.

The separate piece of legislation protecting gender-affirming care for youth also gained unanimous support from the Health Committee on July 13 before passing the full Council. That bill bars the use of city dollars to detain an individual for providing gender-affirming care in or outside of New York so long as that care is legal in New York. The bill also prevents the city from aiding any investigation of an individual for facilitating gender-affirming care elsewhere.

“Protecting the right of all people to seek, receive, and provide necessary and vital medical treatment is a prerequisite to preserving civil liberties in our country,” Hudson said in a written statement. “Against the backdrop of a national surge in anti-TGNCBI legislation, enshrining our city’s commitment to serve as a safe haven for gender-affirming care by passing Int. 1074 is crucial and timely. Nearly 50% of trans youth reside in states where they have lost or are at risk of losing access to crucial gender-affirming health care due to discriminatory legislation. As New Yorkers, taking this stance is a tangible demonstration of our resolve to serve as a beacon of hope and create an environment where all people can live freely as they are with the dignity, respect, and care we all deserve.”

Both of the bills passed just weeks after the LGBTQIA+ Caucus unveiled the Marsha and Sylvia Plan, a comprehensive LGBTQ policy plan that included calls to improve conditions for LGBTQ people in custody and protect those facing restrictions on gender-affirming care.