New York lawmakers voted to pass a bill this week that repeals a discriminatory loitering law that has historically victimized the trans and sex worker communities, culminating years of advocacy by people most affected by the measure.
Initially, the New York Senate overwhelmingly approved the legislation by a margin of 45-16. On Tuesday, the assembly matched their energy in another landslide vote of 105-44 and passed a motion to repeal the “walking while trans” loitering ban. The new bill also amends Section 160.50 of the criminal procedure law to seal past convictions under the oppressive law, according to local news outlet amNY.
“COVID exposed low tide in America and the ‘walking while trans’ policy is one example of the ugly undercurrents of injustices that transgender New Yorkers — especially those of color — face simply for walking down the street,” Cuomo said in a statement.
The “walking while trans” ban has obstructed many people from seeking employment, housing and other civil liberties. Advocates who support the revocation said that police officers have used the antiquated law, Section 240.37 of the New York State Penal Code, to harass and detain transgender women of color for simply walking down the street.
After years of advocacy work and local organizing, the repeal bill finally reached the assembly floor in 2019, but it wasn’t voted upon. It would later stall in the Senate Codes Committee. Activists started to question Senate leaders a year later about the bill’s delayed process, amNY reported.
Manhattan State Senator Brad Hoylman, who is gay, and Westchester Assemblymember Amy Paulin, the bill’s lead sponsors, worked with advocates to drum up support from other lawmakers. In June 2020, the New York Senate acquired the co-sponsors necessary to pass the bill and the support snowballed from there.
“The Senate today corrects an injustice in our penal code that has permitted law enforcement to arrest transgender women — namely those of color, along with immigrants and LGBTQ youth — simply for walking down the street and the clothes they wear,” Hoylman said in a statement after the bill passed. “This outdated, discriminatory statute has led to hundreds of unnecessary arrests of transgender women of color and a broader culture of fear and intimidation for transgender and gender non-conforming New Yorkers.”
State Senator Jabari Brisport, who is gay, responded to the passing of the bill by acknowledging that New York has made major changes on LGBTQ rights in a relatively short amount of time.
“Twelve years ago the New York State Senate voted no on same sex marriage,” Brisport tweeted. “Today we just voted to repeal Walking While Trans. How far we’ve come. Queer rights are human rights and Black Trans Lives Matter.”
12 years ago the NY State Senate voted no on same sex marriage.
Today we just voted to repeal Walking While Trans. How far we’ve come.
Queer rights are human rights and Black Trans Lives Matter.
— Jabari Brisport🌹 (@JabariBrisport) February 2, 2021
During a debate on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Republicans argued that repealing the ban might adversely affect the sex worker and transgender communities, potentially increasing the amount of disproportionate violence they experience. Some even contended that the repeal might lead to a push to decriminalize sex work.
Staten Island Assemblymember Michael Reilly said that repealing the law would lead to a culture prevalent with “red light districts” and “carjacking.” Several other assembly members suggested that it would be easy for lawmakers to contact law enforcement agencies and “have them modify their behavior,” amNY reported.
The NYPD has already changed its patrol manual to advise officers against upholding the loitering law, according to the Queens Daily Eagle. However, that has done little to stop officers from harassing sex workers and trans women.
Advocates have tried to educate politicians about how sex trafficking victims are less likely to seek help out fear of the current laws. Undocumented immigrants earning a living doing sex work face even more issues as any encounter with police could put them at risk for deportation, according to a study done by Fair.
Attorney Jared Trujillo, a former sex worker and a driving activist behind the legislation, said that the loitering law is “a direct descendent” of Jim Crow-era laws meant to disenfranchise Black people.
“Forty-seven percent of Black trans women are incarcerated at some point in their lives. I want to acknowledge that 40 percent of homeless youth are queer and trans because of how this country treats folks. I want to remind folks that we still have really inhumane solitary practices which are fatal consequences. Today is a day that everyone should be proud of. Today is the day that trans Black and brown folks should be proud of because this is your labor, your emotional fight,” he said.