After years of dedicated advocacy, education, outreach, the State Legislature is finally poised to repeal the state’s discriminatory ban on “Walking While Trans” in the coming weeks.
“Next week the Walking While Trans ban will be voted through the committee and the following week the Walking While Trans ban will be called to the Senate floor,” TS Candii, who has spearheaded the movement to gut the decades-old loitering law, told Gay City News on January 21. “Hopefully it will be followed by the Assembly, and that is when it will be passed through. So we have a two-week timeframe that we are looking at.”
Section 240.37 of the New York State Penal Law has long been used by law enforcement to target and harass transgender women — especially transgender women of color — and advocates with the Walking While Trans Ban coalition have led a grueling and lengthy campaign to convince stubborn lawmakers to strike the law from the books. The bill reached the Assembly floor in 2019, but did not get a vote, and then stalled in the Senate Codes committee.
Last year advocates convinced a growing number of state lawmakers to co-sponsor the bill, which was proposed by out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman of Manhattan and Assemblymember Amy Paulin of Westchester. But even with overwhelming support, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins were slow to advance the legislation.
However, Hoylman said the motivating factor that carried the bill to the brink of passage actually came over the summer when tens of thousands flocked to Brooklyn Museum for a “Brooklyn Liberation” march in support of Black trans lives.
“I think that led to a major impression on my colleagues,” Hoylman told Gay City News on January 21. “It was, I think, a moment of reckoning for legislators who saw the public cry for reform such as this.”
Other lawmakers said the new wave of progressive state lawmakers who just took office are also injecting momentum into the legislative effort.
“It’s the energy that a lot of us are bringing to the table, meaning new leaders and a supermajority in the State Senate,” Queens Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas, whose district includes Jackson Heights, Corona, Woodside, and East Elmhurst, told Gay City News. “Many of us who ran on this issue and are really unapologetic about supporting our queer and trans community.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo has also voiced his support for the bill. Holyman confirmed that leaders in the State Legislature are likely to bring the bill to a committee vote “as soon as next week.”
“It’s great news for a segment of New Yorkers who have been disproportionately harmed by an archaic statute that stigmatizes them and allows law enforcement to profile them just because of the way they happened to be dressed or looked,” Hoylman added.
While the legislative push has been drawn out, advocates have managed to make progress in other areas. Most recently, they convinced the New York City Council to pass a pair of resolutions late last year that supported the repeal effort and called on the State Legislature to also pass a law sealing records of victims who were swept up under that loitering law.
TS Candii, meanwhile, was overwhelmed with emotion upon learning that lawmakers would likely finally deliver for transgender New Yorkers who have faced discrimination, mistreatment, and marginalization for years. She has been the most visible and devoted advocate behind the local movement, which brought her and others to the State Capitol for lobbying efforts and to numerous demonstrations aimed at rallying support for a cause that lawmakers were slow to embrace.
“These are a couple of steps forward for us after weeks and weeks of going to Albany and screaming down the hallways,” she said. “This is just a Stop and Frisk 2.0 that has been going on for decades.”
As she looked back on the long journey leading up to this moment, TS Candii invoked the late Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Layleen Polanco — a 27-year-old Afro-Latinx transgender woman who died in custody at Rikers in 2019 after she was neglected by jail officials.
“I’m just so full of tears and joy that New York State is taking a step to acknowledge the existence of Black and Brown transgender women,” TS Candii explained.
Advocates with the DecrimNY coalition, which quickly organized a robust base of support for comprehensive sex work decriminalization, initially proposed a full decriminalization bill in the State Legislature in 2019, though that bill did not move forward. In the aftermath of that legislation, which was dubbed the Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act, advocates acknowledged that the repeal of the loitering law would be a more attainable first step before focusing on a broader decriminalization measure. Manhattan Assemblymembers Richard Gottfried and Yuh-Line Niou led that bill in the lower chamber, while Senators Julia Salazar of Brooklyn and Jessica Ramos of Queens proposed it in the upper house.
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