By David Brand
In the face of a federal attempt to limit the rights and recognition of transgender individuals, New York City protections for the transgender community will remain strong, advocates say.
But transgender individuals in Queens still face significant discrimination and a disproportionate risk of violence and abuse.
“I think NYC and the protections they’ve enacted are a model for municipalities around the country and [the proposed federal policy] is not going to have any impact on local policies here,” said Alaina Kupec, board chair at the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund board of directors chair. “I have full faith that the courts will shoot the down and recognize that [Trump administration proposals] are political theater.”
The real problem is how such pronouncements affect transgender individuals facing discrimination and a struggle for inclusion, Kupec said.
“My biggest fear in all of this is that we see a spike in calls to suicide hotlines whenever we see one of these statements made or laws passed,” Kupec said. “They’re struggling for self acceptance, family acceptance and friend acceptance for who they are.”
Kupec said the transgender community, especially young people, can “take solace” knowing they live in New York City.
“It’s psychologically difficult when you have to wake up, put on a brave face and struggle [but] there are organizations fighting for their protection and nothing can delegitimize who they are,” Kupec said. “Politicians can’t take that away from them. Organizations are standing up for their rights and most politicians are catching up.”
In an internal memo first reported by The New York Times, the Trump administration proposed establishing a legal definition of gender under Title IX, the civil rights law that prohibits gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance.
The memo is the latest example of White House-backed discrimination of transgender individuals, said Bianey Garcia, a TGNCIQ (Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming, Intersex, and Queer) organizer at Make the Road New York.
“Transgender people like me will not stand by while Trump tries to erase us,” Garcia said in a statement. “As the current administration continues the attacks on our communities — this time against trans and gender non-conforming communities — we will stand together and show that our fights are connected.”
The Trump administration has previously sought to ban transgender men and women from serving in the military and Trump has supported state efforts to force people to use bathrooms that correspond with their assigned sex rather than the sex with which they identify.
Garcia said the transgender community in Queens will continue to oppose such actions through coordinated efforts.
“In Queens, our Trans Immigrant Project will continue to elevate and uplift Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming, Intersex, Queer and Non-Binary lives, and take to the streets, the courthouse, and the halls of government, to resist these attacks,” Garcia said. “Our trans community refuses to be erased — not by Trump, not by his bigoted cronies, not by anyone. Our existence is resistance and we will continue to proudly affirm our humanity and our strength.”
Councilmember Daniel Dromm also strongly condemned the Trump administration’s “appalling” plan to “define transgender people out of existence.”
“This proposal flies in the face of all that the medical community and human rights experts have worked to advance over the years in an effort to protect transgender Americans from harm,” Dromm said. “Any effort that attempts to legalize the marginalization of an entire group of people must be met with widespread resistance. As Council Members representing thousands of transgender residents, we will continue to work alongside activists and our colleagues in government to strengthen protections for New Yorkers of all gender identities—at school, in the workplace and in our streets. We will never give in to such bigotry. Nearly 2 million Americans #WontBeErased."
The most recent annual US Transgender Survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality in 2015 found that nearly one-third of 28,000 respondents experienced poverty compared to 14 percent of the broader U.S. population.
About about half of participants reported being verbally harassed and 9 percent said they had been attacked because of their gender identity in the year prior to completing the survey.
Indeed, a July march for the rights of Transgender Latin Americans in Jackson Heights highlighted the risk of violence that the transgender community experiences. The Eagle covered the event, which attracted hundreds of transgender demonstrators, advocates and local leaders.
“Transfobia Mata” — transphobia kills— read one prominent sign at the event. A memorial at the conclusion of the event to honor 14 transgender New Yorkers who were killed in recent years.
“Today, we also remember our 14 brothers and sisters of the transgender community who we lost to trans violence,” Make the Road said in a statement before the July event. “The Jackson Heights community remembers you today and every day and we will continue to fight for equality for all.”
In June, the Anti-Violence Project reported that a transgender woman was stabbed five times by a man in Jackson Heights.
“Because she is undocumented, transgender, and a sex worker, she is afraid to report the crime to authorities,” the organization said in a statement.
Later in June, the New York Times profiled Ishalaa Ortega, a trans woman who escaped violence in her native Mexico and now lives in Corona. Ortega described the discrimination she continues to face as a transwoman and an immigrant.
“If you are cisgender and an immigrant, it’s difficult,” Ortega told the Times. “If you’re transgender and an immigrant, it’s even more difficult. And undocumented, even worse.”
Earlier this month, the city tooks steps to ensure transgender individuals are recognized by the gender they identify with, even if that gender does not fit a male-female binary. New Yorkers will be able to select a third gender — Gender X — on their birth certificates without the input of a medical or mental health professional.
“New Yorkers should be free to tell their government who they are, not the other way around,” de Blasio said. “This new legislation will empower all New Yorkers — especially our transgender and gender non-binary residents — to have birth certificates that better reflect their identity, and it furthers the city's commitment to defending the rights of our LGBTQ community.”
The new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2019, further upholds protections for the city’s transgender community.
“Transgender and gender non-conforming people don’t need to show “proof” of gender to exercise their right to be addressed with their preferred pronoun and name or to use the bathroom, locker room, and other single-sex facilities most consistent with their gender identity and/or expression,” according to a fact sheet prepared by the city’s Commission on Human Rights.