New York to Repeal 'Walking While Trans' Law

by Kevin Schattenkirk

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday January 22, 2021

A New York loitering law that has been used to target transgender people is on track to be repealed, the New York Daily News reports.

The repeal of the "walking while trans" law, as it is commonly referred to, will advanced in the upper chamber next week, with both the Senate and the Assembly expected to pass the repeal the week after. Since Democrats took control of the Senate in 2019, advocates have pressed for a repeal, as the law has been used to profile, harass, and make unjustified arrests of Black, Latinx, and LGBTQ people.

"The Senate under my leadership has made it clear we stand for equality and justice. For too long this loitering statute has been used to target LGBTQ people, communities of color and victims of sex trafficking. The Senate will be repealing this law," Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) told The New York Daily News.

The "walking while trans" law has been on the books since 1976, with stopping, talking to, and beckoning others in public spaces as grounds for arrest. The law was intended to target prostitution, but the vague language of the law has been used by officers to arbitrarily apprehend people based on their appearance and how they dress.

The Daily News points to a 2016 class-action lawsuit in which "five of the eight named plaintiffs were transgender women of color arrested for simply standing outside, speaking to one another, or walking home from the subway or grocery store." In 2018, 152 people were apprehended under the law, 49 percent of which were Black and 42 percent Latinx. In the past two years, NYPD and district attorneys have backed away from enforcing the law. Nonetheless, people in the trans community are still concerned about being profiled and arrested.

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas said, "violence and abuse victimizing our trans neighbors occurs at an alarming rate, and we must do more to protect them. The repeal of the 'walking while trans' law is an important step, and I commend the leaders who have championed this issue so tirelessly."

Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-Westchester), the bill's sponsor over several legislative sessions, said "The manner in which the 'walking while trans' law has been enforced is not justice, it is discrimination. I am glad that we are finally going to right this wrong in our criminal justice system and repeal this antiquated law."

New York Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), a co-sponsor of the bill, concurs and adds, "Now that we've got a veto-proof majority and 37 senators as co-sponsors on our legislation, I'm thrilled that we're taking action to correct an injustice that has disproportionately harmed vulnerable New Yorkers for decades."

New York governor Andrew Cuomo expressed support for the repeal last year, prioritizing it after Democrats won a supermajority in the Senate in November.

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.