State Lawmakers Make Final Push for LGBTQ Initiatives in Albany

New York State Capitol in Albany, New York
The legislative session is slated to conclude on June 10.
REUTERS/Angus Mordant

With the legislative session winding down in Albany, a handful of LGBTQ-related bills are pending in the State Legislature.

One piece of legislation, called the Survivors of Trafficking Attaining Relief Together (START) Act, would more comprehensively vacate convictions for sex trafficking victims. It has cleared both chambers and awaits the governor’s signature.

While there are already pathways for trafficking victims to vacate sex work-related convictions, this legislation goes a step further by scrubbing convictions for other offenses victims have been forced to commit.

The bill has the support of more than 100 organizations statewide and has been a key priority for LGBTQ advocates since the state repealed a loitering law described as a ban on Walking While Trans, though advocacy for the legislation has been in the works for some time. The late Lorena Borjas, a Queens-based trans activist and community leader who died of COVID last year, championed the effort after she realized some of her own convictions remained on the books.

“I tried to use New York’s vacatur law to deal with my criminal record that resulted from having been trafficked,” Borjas said prior to her death. “The judge felt that even though all these convictions were tied to my being trafficked, only the prostitution-related convictions could be vacated because of the way the law is written.”

State Senator Jessica Ramos of Queens is the lead sponsor of that bill in the upper chamber, while Assemblymember Richard Gottfried of Manhattan carries it in the lower house.

Meanwhile, a separate legislative proposal pertains to implementing a research-driven pilot program featuring 30 runaway or homeless youth who would receive monthly cash payments and supportive services for a one-year period. The bill, led by Brooklyn State Senator Jababri Brisport of Brooklyn and Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal of Manhattan, would ensure that the funds received by participants for the pilot program would not be considered income for the purpose of public assistance benefits.

The bill points to the disproportionate number of people of color and LGBTQ individuals experiencing homelessness and notes that those populations are vulnerable to sexual exploitation. The Senate approved that measure in May, but it has yet to move through the Assembly.

Among other pending bills, Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell and State Senator Brad Hoylman, both of Manhattan, are pushing for the “Gender Recognition Act,” which would allow for an “x” designation on driver’s licenses and waive an outdated rule requiring folks to publish a notification in a newspaper when they change their name in New York State. The bill passed the State Senate’s Codes Committee in March.

Another bill, spearheaded in the State Senate by Robert Jackson of Manhattan and in the Assembly by Jessica González-Rojas of Queens, would suspend unnecessary state-funded travel to US states that have imposed laws allowing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

“States have passed dangerous laws,” González-Rojas wrote in a tweet about the legislation. “NY must act.”

Exceptions to the rule would include any travel deemed necessary for public health, welfare, and safety, as well as any travel required to meet contractual obligations in accordance with New York State law. That bill has yet to advance in either chamber.

The legislative session, which spans from January until June, is scheduled to conclude on June 10.