More than 90 organizations signed onto a letter addressed to Governor Andrew Cuomo and other top lawmakers in the state urging them to ensure forthcoming criminal justice packages include repeal of a discriminatory loitering law frequently used by law enforcement to stop, profile, and arrest innocent transgender women of color.
The June 3 letter, which was also addressed to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, included organizations from across the state as well as national groups supporting the bill that would repeal the loitering law, also known as a ban on “Walking While Trans.” Out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman of Manhattan is leading the bill in the upper chamber and State Assemblymember Amy Paulin of Westchester is carrying it in the lower house.
The letter was delivered one day after the State Legislature’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus did not include repealing the “Walking While Trans” ban in a 12-part police reform package that was unveiled in the wake of protests stemming from ongoing police violence targeting Black Americans nationwide.
The June 3 letter from advocates aiming to repeal the loitering law, meanwhile, stressed that “it is imperative that as the state considers police accountability measures, they do so with a gender analysis that includes the ways Black cis and trans women, trans men, and gender expansive people experience police violence as well.”
Among the dozens of groups that signed onto the letter included ACT UP New York, Athlete Ally, Black Youth Project 100, Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, Equality New York, GAPIMNY — Empowering Queer & Trans Asian Pacific Islanders, Gays Against Guns, Housing Works, Lambda Legal, the Latino Commission on AIDS, Make the Road New York, New York Civil Liberties Union, New York Transgender Advocacy Group, Planned Parenthood of Greater New York, the Reclaim Pride Coalition, Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders (SAGE), the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, and VOCAL-NY.
“Black cis and trans women, trans men, and gender expansive communities have a long history of being profiled for gender expression by laws such as PL 240.37,” the letter noted, referring to the loitering law advocates hope to repeal. “This unconstitutional statute has enabled police to stop and harass TGNC communities for having the audacity to exist in public space for four decades.”
Last year, the NYPD updated its patrol guide to stop targeting people on the basis of “gender, gender identity, clothing, and location,” but that only represented an incremental step toward eradicating the problem and did not, of course, apply beyond the confines of the city.
The latest legislative push comes one year after sex work decriminalization advocates with the DecrimNY coalition worked with state lawmakers to propose a comprehensive decriminalization bill known as the Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act. Although that bill has yet to move, advocates feel more confident in the chances of repealing the loitering law after it reached the Assembly floor last year — though it still awaits a vote — and stalled in the Senate Codes committee. Governor Andrew Cuomo and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul are among those who have thrown their support behind striking the law from the books.
“The reason why [repealing] ‘walking while trans’ is at the forefront is because it is a bill that should have never been created and never been passed,” Black Youth Project 100 policy and advocacy manager Saye Joseph told Gay City News in late January. “And it can pass this session, whereas the larger conversation around decriminalization of sex work will require a lot more political education.”
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