Repeal of Walking While Trans Ban Clinches State Senate Votes

Out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman of Manhattan shared this graphic when he announced that there is enough support in the upper chamber to repeal the ban on “walking while trans.”
Twitter/ @BradHoylman

An enduring, persistent effort by a coalition of advocates in New York State to wipe out a discriminatory law that targets transgender women of color has finally gained sufficient support in the State Senate to clear the chamber, putting it on the brink of passage.

Out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman of Manhattan announced on June 10 that a majority of his colleagues in the upper house have agreed to sign on as co-sponsors of the bill that would repeal a loitering law that is known as a ban on “walking while trans” due to the way in which police officers are given a green light to stop transgender women of color and arrest them for baseless reasons like walking down the street in certain clothing. It is often described as a form of “stop and frisk” for transgender women of color.

“It’s official: A majority of the @NYSenate has signed on to co-sponsor our legislation repealing the #WalkingWhileTrans ban,” Hoylman tweeted on June 10. “The fight continues. Now, we need to get it to the floor of the Senate and Assembly.”

The development is encouraging because it adds an extra layer of insurance for the bill. The repeal effort does not necessarily need to snag 32 co-sponsors if there are lawmakers who would rather not co-sponsor the bill but would still vote in favor of it, but now there is fool-proof base of lawmakers committed to the cause.

The bill passed the Assembly Codes Committee and just needs to be brought to the floor for a vote. It still needs to clear the Codes Committees in the Senate after stalling there last year.

The upper chamber gained the necessary co-sponsors — 32 — after an especially vigorous push in recent weeks to convince lawmakers to sign onto the effort. The Walking While Trans coalition, which became a spinoff of the original DecrimNY coalition that seeks to fully decriminalize sex work, with that group narrowing its focus earlier this year to prioritize the repeal of the loitering law as a first step toward achieving justice for sex workers who have long been swept up in the criminal justice system despite engaging in consensual work.

“The LGBT movement was founded by trans women of color,” the Walking While Trans coalition wrote in a tweet on June 10 directed at Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “It’s Pride Month. We should be celebrating freedom for our trans siblings, not walking away from it. We must Repeal the #WalkingWhileTrans ban now. Vote on, pass and sign it into law!”

Minutes later, the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City, a citywide queer political club, copied and pasted the same tweet and posted it, seemingly in an attempt to create a coordinated message directed at political leaders.

A long list of organizations statewide also nudged state lawmakers even further on June 3 with a letter addressed to Cuomo and legislative leaders urging them to include repealing the loitering law when considering criminal justice packages. Those groups included Make the Road New York, Housing Works, GAPIMNY — Empowering Queer & Trans Asian Pacific Islanders, the New York Transgender Advocacy Group, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, VOCAL-NY, and numerous others.

The recent push to rally support for the repeal effort coincides with a broader movement against racist policing in the wake of deadly police violence targeting Black Americans like George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and Tony McDade, a transgender man in Tallahassee. During recent protests near and far, police have been caught on numerous occasions beating demonstrators, raising an even greater sense of urgency to take action on necessary reforms.

In recent days, state lawmakers started responding to ongoing protests by moving on a key first step of repealing 50-A, a law that shielded police disciplinary records. While other criminal justice initiatives are in the works, the robust base of support for the repeal of the “Walking While Trans” ban is a strong indication that the legislative effort will continue to be expedited in the near future. Should it pass both chambers, Cuomo is expected to sign it into law. He pledged his support for the effort in early February.

A timetable, however, remains unclear. While Hoylman voiced his desire to bring the repeal effort to the Senate floor, the lead sponsor in the lower house, Assemblymember Amy Paulin, could not be reached for comment for this story.

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