First Executive in the Nation to Issue State-Wide Regulations Prohibiting Harassment and Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity, Transgender Status or Gender Dysphoria
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today introduced regulations through the New York State Human Rights Law that unequivocally bans harassment and discrimination against transgender people. These regulations affirm that all transgender individuals are protected under the State’s Human Rights Law, and all public and private employers, housing providers, businesses, creditors and others should know that discrimination against transgender persons is unlawful and will not be tolerated anywhere in the State of New York.
This is the first time that any Governor has issued statewide regulations to prohibit harassment and discrimination on the basis of gender identity, transgender status or gender dysphoria. Governor Cuomo announced the regulations in a speech at the Empire State Pride Agenda’s fall dinner, where he was also honored with the group’s Silver Torch award.
“The scourge of harassment and discrimination against transgender individuals is well-known – and has also has gone largely unanswered for too long,” Governor Cuomo said. “New York has always been a beacon for the country on LGBT rights. We started the movement at Stonewall, we led the way with marriage equality, and now we are continuing to show the nation the path forward. We will not tolerate discrimination or harassment against transgender people anywhere in the State of New York – period.”
These regulations represent the first state regulatory action in the nation to affirm that harassment and other forms of discrimination, by both public and private entities, on the basis of a person’s gender identity, transgender status, or gender dysphoria is considered unlawful discrimination. Under state law, the New York State Division of Human Rights has the statutory authority to promulgate regulations interpreting the Human Rights Law. Further, while discrimination against transgender people has been specifically forbidden in New York State by Executive Order since 2009, in practice that order only protects state workers.
Additionally, New York currently has limited pockets of legal protection for transgender people because of municipal ordinances or laws that also ban harassment or discrimination, to varying degrees. However, many municipalities do not guarantee these protections, and there is no statewide ban on discrimination or harassment for individuals not employed by the state. The Governor’s action today will ensure that all transgender individuals do not lose their rights simply by traveling from one county or city to another.
The State of New York has had a long history of protecting the rights of transgender persons under the provisions of the Human Rights Law. In the 1977 case of Richards v. U.S. Tennis Association, it was recognized that discrimination claims under the Human Rights Law may be brought by individuals alleging sex discrimination because of their gender identities, and it has long been the practice of the Division of Human Rights to accept and process gender identity discrimination complaints on the basis of the protected categories of sex, and where appropriate, disability.
Over the years, both New York and federal case law in this area has developed to support protection for transgender individuals on the basis of sex. In the State of New York, the Human Rights Law offers substantially more protection than federal antidiscrimination laws, because gender dysphoria is a recognized medical condition that falls within the broad definition of disability found in the state law, as New York courts have recognized. This additional protection affords increased rights for transgender individuals in New York, such as the right to reasonable accommodation for those who allege a diagnosis of gender dysphoria.
New York was the first state in the nation to enact an anti-discrimination Human Rights Law. The Law, enacted in 1945, affords every citizen “an equal opportunity to enjoy a full and productive life.” Individuals who feel they have been harassed or discriminated against can file complaints in State court, or with the New York State Division of Human Rights, without charge. Those complaints are promptly investigated at regional offices throughout the state.
If the Division determines there is probable cause to believe harassment or discrimination has occurred, the Commissioner of Human Rights will decide the case after a public hearing, and may award job, housing or other benefits, back and front pay, compensatory damages for mental anguish, civil fines and penalties, and may also require policy changes and training as appropriate. Civil fines and penalties can be up to $50,000 or up to $100,000 if the discrimination is found be "willful, wanton or malicious" and, unlike under federal law, compensatory damages to individuals are not capped.
Senator Brad Hoylman said: "Transgender rights are part of the unfinished business of the LGBT civil rights movement in New York and I commend Governor Cuomo for taking this bold and courageous step of enacting housing and employment protections for transgender people through regulation. Because of the Governor's actions today, soon thousands of New Yorkers will no longer be considered second-class citizens simply because they identify as transgender. The Gender Expression Nondiscrimination Act, sponsored by Senator Squadron and Assembly Member Gottfried, has been blocked from consideration for years by the Republican majority in the State Senate. As the only openly-LGBT person in the Senate, I'm extremely grateful to Governor Cuomo for taking this historic step and look forward to working with him, advocates and my Democratic Senate colleagues to codify his actions in a future legislative session."
Senator Daniel Squadron said: "This is a big step to correct one of the state's great injustices. Transgender New Yorkers will now have more confidence that discrimination in homes, jobs, and public accommodations will not be tolerated. I thank Governor Cuomo for this strong executive action; my legislative colleagues, Senator Hoylman, and Assemblymembers Gottfried and Glick, with whom I will continue to push the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act; and, most importantly, the advocates and members of the community who have fought tirelessly to demand basic fairness."
Assemblywomen Deborah Glick said: “Transgender New Yorkers have faced years of discrimination, because our laws have lagged behind the reality of people's lives. But I, and others, have argued that our anti-discrimination laws actually do extend their protections to transgender New Yorkers. I am extremely pleased that Governor Cuomo, once again, is stepping up to ensure that New York is a leader in protecting rights for all LGBT New Yorkers.”
Assemblyman Harry Bronson said: "This is a tremendous step forward for New York State. Harassment and discrimination against transgender people is unacceptable, and Governor Cuomo is absolutely right to take this bold stand. This is about making sure that equality and justice really are ‘for all’ – and we hope other states and the federal government will take action as well."
Assemblyman Richard Gottfried said: “Governor Cuomo’s executive action to interpret New York’s Human Rights Law to cover transgender discrimination is a major step for dignity for all. Employers, housing providers, places of public accommodations and creditors must now apply the interpretation that transgender discrimination is a form of sex discrimination to their practices and policies. But the State Senate is not off the hook and must pass the GENDA bill so there is no question that we support equality for all New Yorkers."
Nathan Schaefer, Executive Director of the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA), said: “After years of tireless advocacy, we’ve won a tremendous victory for transgender civil rights with Governor Cuomo’s announcement tonight.”
ESPA Board Co-Chairs Norman C. Simon and Melissa Sklarz also praised the Governor’s announcement, noting “This victory will only quicken our stride as Pride Agenda keeps moving toward winning full equality and justice for LGBT New Yorkers.”
The regulations will be subject to a 45 day notice and comment period before full implementation.
Today’s announcement builds on Governor Cuomo’s past groundbreaking support for the transgender community. In 2014, the Governor introduced new regulations to include transgender health care services under New York State’s Medicaid program, ensuring that enrollees could receive treatment coverage for hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery. The Governor’s administration also issued regulatory guidance to commercial insurers stating that they may not deny medically necessary treatment for gender dysphoria.
Additionally, this summer, Governor Cuomo announced that New York would be the first state in the nation to commit to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The Governor’s pledge will be accomplished by reducing the annual number of new HIV infections to just 750 (from an estimated 3,000) by the end of 2020 and achieve New York’s first ever decrease in HIV prevalence. This would mark the first time there is a reduction in the pervasiveness of AIDS due to a drop in new cases.