Transgender New Yorkers protected, for now

This past Wednesday New York's state Division of Human Rights adopted regulations proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in October that add transgender status to the list of factors protected by the state Human Rights Law, which was first adopted in 1945.

The Human Rights Law prohibits employers, businesses or housing providers from discriminating against someone based on a wide variety of factors, including age, race, creed and color.

Today we are sending the message loud and clear that New York will not stand for discrimination against transgender people. It is intolerable to allow harassment or discrimination against anyone, and the transgender community has been subjected to a second-class status for far too long.

The regulations make clear that the word “sex” refers not only to gender, but also “gender identity and the status of being transgender. Since the Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination based on sex or disability, the regulations make clear those protections apply to transgender individuals and those with gender dysphoria, too.

--Gov. Cuomo

Jason McGuire, executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a conservative group based in Spencerport, Monroe County, said his group has been consulting with lawyers and will likely move ahead with a legal challenge now that the rules have been finalized.

I believe we will be taking this to court. Right now, we're meeting with legal folks about what the best way to proceed is.

--McGuire

The regulations confirm that the Division of Human Rights will accept and process Human Rights Law complaints alleging discrimination because of gender identity, on the basis of the protected categories of both sex and disability, and provide important information to all New Yorkers regarding unlawful discrimination against transgender individuals.

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.

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.”

Cuomo said he was righting the wrong that occurred when transgender protection was dropped in a 2002 gay discrimination act because lawmakers did not believe it would pass.

The law protected lesbians, gays and bisexuals, but the law left out the T, so to speak.

--Cuomo

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia already prohibit discrimination against transgender individuals.

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