New York City’s Trans Anti-Discrimination Law Gets a Groundbreaking Facelift
New York City will start the new year with firmer trans rights protections that civil rights groups have called the “toughest” in the nation. Here’s what those rules will mean for trans New Yorkers, and why there’s still more work to do.
Technically New York City banned anti-trans discrimination in sectors like housing, public accommodations and employment since 2002′s Transgender Rights Bill which expanded existing sex protections to cover gender identity. However that ban did not specify exactly what constitutes discrimination on grounds of gender identity. This ambiguity means that the estimated 25,000 transgender people who reside in New York City were still vulnerable to some forms of discrimination.
To that end, new guidelines were issued on Monday, December 21, by New York City’s human rights commission and serve to clarify exactly what constitutes anti-trans discrimination.
For example, under the clarified rules failing to use a person’s preferred name or gender pronouns constitutes a violation. While an unintended slip of gender pronouns would not be classed as discrimination as some might claim, a sustained campaign of misgendering would violate the city’s rules against discrimination. In addition, the document says that attempting to condition someone against identification with their court affirmed legal name or requiring an individual to provide their medical history or proof of having undergone particular gender affirmation treatment (for example, genital change surgery) also constitutes discriminatory practice.
Refusing to let trans individuals use single-sex programs or facilities, including changing facilities, that accord with their gender identity would also be a violation of the law. This means that trans individuals cannot be kept out of programs because they do not conform to sex stereotypes. A key example the guidance highlights is the following:
For example, a women’s shelter may not turn away a woman because she looks too masculine nor may a men’s shelter deny service to a man because he does not look masculine enough.
The new rules also specifically say that forcing a trans person to use single use facilities when gender appropriate facilities are available would also violate these rules because it amounts to segregation.
The rules also stipulate that enforcing a dress code, requiring uniforms or other standards that impose different requirements on an individual cannot be used to discriminate against someone based on their preferred gender. While businesses can expect employees to adhere to general uniform guidelines, something that is not at issue here, they cannot use those uniforms as a means to misgender or otherwise undermine a person’s gender identity.
The rules also maintain that an employee cannot be denied health benefits that cover gender affirming care, and also that businesses must make reasonable accommodations for people who are undergoing gender affirmation care where equivalent accommodations could reasonably be argued to have been provided by other employees.
The guidance also specifically prohibits “entities from considering gender when evaluating requests for accommodations for disabilities, or other requests for changes to the terms and conditions of one’s employment, participation in a program, or use of a public accommodation, which may include additional medical or personal leave or schedule changes.”
As an aside, the changes outlined in the new guidance will also benefit same-gender couples whom the guidance protects by saying that employers cannot discriminate based on sex expectations when it comes to deciding partner benefits.
“New York has always been a diverse and welcoming city and our laws are designed to protect every New Yorker, regardless of their gender identity,” Mayor Bill de Blasio is quoted as saying. “Today’s new guidelines strengthen those laws by ensuring that every transgender and gender non-conforming person in New York receives the dignity and respect they deserve.”
Civil rights groups have said they believe the clarifications issued in December represent the most extensive transgender rights protections offered by a city in the United States at the moment. Their significance cannot be underestimated in New York State either where it took executive action from Governor Andrew Cuomo to put in place trans protections after successive bills were blocked by New York state’s lawmakers.
“It’s a huge step forward and really catapults New York City to the forefront of the struggle for transgender rights,” Yahoo News quotes Michael Silverman of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund as saying. “This is an extremely positive development for transgender New Yorkers who face enormous rates of discrimination, unemployment and difficulty accessing things like health care that people take for granted.”
Harassment against trans people is still significantly higher than the general population, so these changes are incredibly important. While the federal government has taken steps to broaden how existing sex protections enshrined by the Civil Rights Act are enforced and therefore lend protection to trans people, New York City’s move to specify just what constitutes discrimination shows why federal trans-inclusive legislation like the Equality Act is so important.
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