New York’s LGBTQIA+ community has celebrated a string of victories over the last decade, but state and federal lawmakers still have a long list of priorities they’d like to see accomplished to benefit those individuals.
It was seven years ago that New York legalized same-sex marriage — four years before the U.S. Supreme Court did so nationwide.
New York beat the high court to the punch again last year when the state Legislature outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Supreme Court, in a decision this June, did so for LGBTQ+ individuals in the workplace.
And most recently, New York legalized gestational surrogacy, which will allow couples to have biological children through a paid surrogate. The state also banned so-called “conversion therapy,” which seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation.
So, what’s left for the LGBTQIA+ community in New York? A lot, according to State Sen. Brad Hoylman, the only openly gay member of the State Senate.
“Well, there’s a lot left and because, you know, we have such a hostile federal administration,” Hoylman said.
“We’re really looking at some of the unchartered territory at the state level, which involves transgender New Yorkers who have only just received statewide protections, as you mentioned last year.”
Hoylman’s pushing a bill that would end what’s called the ‘Walking While Trans Ban.’ It would repeal a part of the state’s penal code that defines the crime of loitering for the purpose of prostitution, a violation.
That part of the law has been used in the past by members of law enforcement to detain transgender individuals without any evidence of wrongdoing, according to Hoylman and transgender advocates.
“The truth is that they’re essentially profiled by law enforcement in many instances, and picked up just for looking differently,” Hoylman said. “And the penal statute is so vague, I’d argue that it’s unconstitutionally vague.”
The problem has historically been worse for transgender people of color, according to Kiara St. James, the executive director of the New York Transgender Advocacy Group.
She said her organization has received several reports over the years of transgender people of color being picked up by police for no reason. That’s been particularly common in New York City, she said.
St. James said she was targeted by police when she was on her way home from a party in the Bronx a few years back. She was able to avoid being detained, she said, because she had a form of identification with her name and gender.
“I even had that experience probably about six, seven years back leaving a party in the Bronx,” St. James said. ”Thank God I had I.D. that had my gender and my name and I was able to get myself out of that situation.”
The legislation has enough support to pass in the Senate, as of this month, but a majority of lawmakers in the Assembly haven’t signed on to the measure. It’s also unclear when the Legislature will return to Albany this year, and if the bill will be considered when they do.
It’s one of several pieces of legislation that Hoylman says Democrats, who control both chambers in the state Legislature, could act on to benefit the LGBTQIA+ community.
He also supports legislation that would make it easier for transgender individuals to change their gender identification on official government documents, like driver’s licenses, and wants to establish a series of protections in law for LGBTQ individuals living in nursing homes.
There’s also momentum, he says, to make drugs more widely accessible that reduce the risk of contracting HIV. Hoylman carries a bill that would require insurers to cover those medications, like PrEP and PEP.
At the federal level, lawmakers haven’t taken the same actions as Democrats in New York, mostly because of a divided Congress.
After the Supreme Court ruled, in June, that individuals couldn’t face workplace discrimination over their gender identity or sexual orientation, Democrats immediately renewed calls to codify and expand that decision into federal law.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-NY, has been pushing a bill called the Equality Act, which would establish protections against discrimination for LGBTQ individuals in all areas of federal law.
“What the Equality Act does is it is designed to make sure that in all areas of federal law, there is no discrimination permitted against people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender discrimination,” Maloney said.
The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives last year, but has stalled in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans.
It’s one of several priorities Maloney wants to see federal lawmakers consider that he says would benefit LGBTQ individuals. He would like to see targeted research and services for LGBTQ homeless youth, for example.
But those ideas have met resistance from Republicans, who are usually more hesitant to embrace issues related to the LGBTQ community. Conservative members of Congress, he said, have even stopped him in public and told him they were praying for him and his husband.
“Mostly now, my colleagues on the conservative side, will be patronizing to me. They’ll say things like ‘we’re praying for you,’ or ‘we’re all sinners.’ They’ll say ‘we want you to know you’re welcome here,’” Maloney said. “So, we’ll work together professionally, but we’re not friends.”
Hoylman said he envisions more progress for the LGBTQ community when more of those individuals are elected to office, namely Congress and the state Legislature. There’s only a handful of openly gay lawmakers in Albany, and they’re all cisgender and white.
“Part of that also is electing more LGBTQ people to office,” Hoylman said. “And I’d love to have a transgender colleague or an LGBTQ colleague of color up here in Albany.”