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New York Democrats try to repeal state’s “Walking While Trans” law

The Brookyn Liberation - An Action for Black Trans Lives Protest held in Brooklyn, New York on June 14, 2020.
The Brookyn Liberation - An Action for Black Trans Lives Protest held in Brooklyn, New York on June 14, 2020.Photo: Kevin RC Wilson / Shutterstock

The New York state legislature will consider repealing a law that has become known as the “Walking While Trans” ban. A bill proposed in the state senate would repeal an archaic loitering law that was meant to limit prostitution but has instead been used against trans people.

Out gay state Sen. Brad Hoylman (D), who introduced this proposal, said that “we need to get rid of the overly broad and archaic statute that allows transgender women of color, immigrants, and LGBT youth to be profiled just because of the way they look.”

Related: Trans New York City Council candidate Elisa Crespo could make history in the Bronx

The law was passed in 1976, and is currently codified as Section 240.37 of the state Penal Law. Under the rule, also known as the Loitering for the Purpose of Prostitution law, law enforcement in the Empire State can “arbitrarily arrest and detain” anyone walking or standing on the street under the justification that they are “suspicious” or appear to be “loitering for the purpose of prostitution.”

For years, activists have protested the law, as they argue that it unfairly targets trans and gender non-conforming people — especially trans women of color.

Under the law, “A woman can be improperly arrested and detained simply because an officer takes issue with her clothing or appearance,” the Legal Aid Society wrote in 2016.

The New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services reported that the arrests made under the law were 80 percent women, 49 percent Black, and 42 percent Latin in 2018. The sex-workers’-rights group Red Umbrella Project found that between 2013 and 2014, 94 percent of the defendants charged under the law in Brooklyn, New York were Black.

The “Walking While Trans” ban has had legislative support for years, but a push from activists over the last year and a currently Democratic controlled legislature has made it more likely in this session.

After “tens of thousands” attended a “Brooklyn Liberation” march in front of the Brooklyn Museum, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) voiced his support for repealing the ban in June 2020.

“I think that led to a major impression on my colleagues… it was, I think, a moment of reckoning for legislators who saw the public cry for reform such as this,” Sen. Hoylman told Gay City News.

The sponsor of previous “Walking While Trans” ban repeals, Assembly Member Amy Paulin, said that she was “glad that we are finally going to right this wrong in our criminal justice system and repeal this antiquated law.”

“The manner in which the ‘Walking While Trans’ law has been enforced is not justice, it is discrimination,” she said.

“The Senate under my leadership has made it clear we stand for equality and justice,” state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D) told the New York Daily News. “For too long this loitering statute has been used to target LGBTQ people, communities of color, and victims of sex trafficking. The Senate will be repealing this law.”

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas also said, “The repeal of the ‘Walking While Trans’ law is an important step, and I commend the leaders who have championed this issue so tirelessly.”

“We are seeing history being made in regards to trans rights being prioritized, and the passage of this bill will improve the quality of life for all New Yorkers, and especially of Black and Brown trans women who have historically been targeted and unduly profiled simply for our existence,” said Kiara St. James of the New York Transgender Advocacy Group.

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