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N.Y. Legislature Approves Bill To Repeal 'Walking While Trans Ban'

The New York Capitol Building in Albany
Hans Pennink
The New York Capitol Building in Albany

State lawmakers in New York voted to repeal a part of state law Tuesday that’s become known as the "Walking While Trans Ban," a part of the penal code that’s been used to target transgender individuals under the guise of curbing prostitution.

The bill approved Tuesday would repeal a decades-old statute that criminalized “loitering for the purposes of prostitution,” but had been used to arrest transgender individuals without cause.

It was sponsored by State Sen. Brad Hoylman, an openly gay man representing part of Manhattan, and Assembly member Amy Paulin from Westchester County. Both lawmakers are Democrats.

“This outdated and discriminatory law has led to thousands of unnecessary arrests and a broader culture of fear and intimidation for transgender and gender nonconforming New Yorkers, particularly for those of color,” Hoylman said.

According to a memo from the bill’s sponsors, the statute targeted for repeal was originally intended to cut down on public solicitation by sex workers. But the law was vague, which gave police officers discretion on how to enforce it, the memo said.

Over the years, it became an instrument to target transgender people who gathered together in public, according to the bill’s sponsors.

It’s also been enforced disproportionately against people of color, according to state data. Between 2012 and 2015, about 85% of people arrested under the statute were either Black or Latinx. Those arrests were usually made against women, the bill’s sponsor said.

The Legal Aid Society, a legal services organization in New York City, brought a federal lawsuit against the statute in 2016, claiming it was unconstitutional and had been enforced discriminatorily by the New York City Police Department.

That lawsuit, which was brought partly by transgender women of color, ended in a settlement, so the statute has remained on the books.

The NYPD amended its patrol guide two years ago to prevent officers from using the law to arrest transgender individuals without cause. The change prohibited officers from arresting individuals based on their gender, location, clothing, and other factors.

But, in the meantime, Democrats renewed their campaign for repealing the statute after they took full control of the state Legislature in 2019. They garnered enough votes to approve the measure last year, but it didn’t move at the time.

“I am proud to be the sponsor because repealing this statue helps people,” Paulin said. “And it helps get rid of the last blatant discriminatory language against women in New York state law.”

Republicans largely voted against the measure Tuesday, but a few crossed the aisle to support it. Assembly member Andy Goodell, R-Chautauqua, fell into the former column, saying the law may have been abused, but that he agreed with its original intentions.

Goodell argued that Democrats, who hold the majority in both chambers of the state Legislature, should have narrowed in on how transgender individuals have been targeted through the law, rather than repeal the statute altogether.

“Prostitution at its core involves the objectification of women. It’s demeaning. It’s dangerous. It’s unhealthy,” Goodell said.

In recent days, the measure had received support from the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York, an organization representing the state’s prosecutors.

If the legislation is signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, it would take effect immediately.