The New York City Council on December 10 passed two resolutions encouraging the State Legislature to repeal a loitering law used by police to target transgender women of color and seal the records of folks convicted under that law.
The votes were only symbolic, but the resolutions immediately put pressure back on the State Legislature — which is not currently in session — to take action on a long overdue legislative effort in Albany that has stalled, at least for now, despite sufficient support from both chambers and Governor Andrew Cuomo.
City lawmakers first passed a resolution in support of the main piece of legislation at the state level that would repeal Section 240.37 of the New York Penal Law, which has become known as a ban on “Walking While Trans” because law enforcement officers have stopped, harassed, and arrested trans women for absurd reasons, such as the way individuals are walking or what they are wearing. Councilmembers Chaim Deutsch and Kalman Yeger of Brooklyn, Joe Borelli and Steven Matteo of Staten Island, Ruben Diaz, Sr., of the Bronx, and Robert Holden of Queens voted against it.
The Council then passed an accompanying resolution urging the state to pass a law aimed at allowing convictions under 240.37 to be sealed — which advocates say is crucial to ensuring that individuals do not face years-long barriers in access to jobs and government benefits because of their record. Deutsch, Borelli, Matteo, Diaz, Holden, and Eric Ulrich of Queens rejected the resolution, while Yeger abstained.
“For far too long, the trans community has been unfairly and unjustly targeted by law enforcement,” out gay Speaker Corey Johnson told Gay City News in a written statement. “‘Walking While Trans’ is a right, not a crime, and the State penal code should reflect that. Albany has to act now, the time to repeal the ‘Walking While Trans’ ban is long overdue.”
Manhattan Councilmember Carlina Rivera first proposed the main resolution in the City Council last year and it unanimously passed the Committee on Women and Gender Equity. This year Rivera again led both resolutions — and the main one drew a total of 29 sponsors.
“Thanks Carlina Rivera for your leadership,” tweeted Bianey Garcia, who testified at a recent City Council hearing about her own experience getting targeted under the loitering law. “I’m so THRILLED that @NYCCouncil passed resolution 923 and 144. Trans women demand [the State Assembly and State Senate] repeal the law.”
Thanks in large part to the advocacy of the Walking While Trans Ban coalition, the repeal effort is seemingly well positioned for passage at the state level. But State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie have yet to bring it to the floor for a vote.
Out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman of Manhattan is leading the effort behind the repeal bill in the upper house, while State Assemblymember Amy Paulin of Westchester is the lead sponsor of the bill in the lower chamber.
Paulin told Gay City News in September that the Assembly was waiting on the State Senate, but said “the word I got back is the Senate has no interest in this bill right now.”
Still, Paulin said during a Zoom demonstration on December 3 that she was confident that the State Legislature would “get this done.”
In a written statement, Hoylman thanked the City Council for backing his legislation and he indicated that he would focus on repealing the loitering law next year.
“I’m grateful to Councilmember Carlina Rivera, Council Speaker Corey Johnson and the rest of the New York City Council for passing a resolution urging Albany to repeal the ‘Walking While Trans’ ban,” Hoylman said in a written statement. “Repealing this statute, which permits transgender women of color to be profiled and harassed by local law enforcement, is one of my top priorities for 2021. Thanks to the hard work of many advocates across the state, we’ve got enough co-sponsors in each house of the Legislature to pass this legislation.”
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