New NYC Welfare Procedure Addresses Anti-Transgender Discrimination

On Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, TransJustice of the Audre Lorde Project, Housing Works, Queers for Economic Justice, and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project celebrated the recent victory of their collaborative Welfare Justice Campaign in preventing discrimination against transgender and gender non-conforming New Yorkers applying for public services. The Human Resources Administration of the City of New York (HRA) adopted Procedure No. P-09-22 on December 23, 2009 after a five-year campaign led by the above organizations and a number of elected city officials. The Procedure circulated among all HRA staff, titled “Serving Transgender, Transsexual and Gender Nonconforming Individuals” highlights “a few key areas where employees should pay special attention to prevent creating a discriminatory or unwelcoming environment for transgender clients,” including Titles, Names and Pronoun usage, Access to Restrooms, and Dress Code. At Wednesday morning’s press conference Jane Corbett, Executive Deputy Commissioner of the HRA expressed that there had been some initial trepidation over how city agencies would receive the new procedure but proudly announced that “there was not one negative reaction.”  The procedure will ensure that HRA staff members comply with existing New York City Human Rights Law, amended in 2002 to explicitly protect transgender and gender non-conforming people from discrimination in public accommodations and services, employment and housing, and bias-related harassment. Discussing the importance of this procedural victory, Tracy Bumpus of Housing Works questioned, “For Trans and Gender Non-Conforming people, what is the value of freedom if we are afraid to seek the life sustaining services offered by HRA because we are discriminated against, made fun of and made to feel less than human?”  Their press release cites instances when transgender people applying for government benefits have been turned away and told to return “when they dress more like a girl, or boy.” Trans and Gender Non-Conforming community members had been fighting this sort of discrimination since 2005 when the HRA along with a Citizen Advisory Transgender Sub Committee developed the draft of a comprehensive procedure, which formed the basis for the HRA Procedure finally implemented in December of 2009.  In the wake of this victory, advocates are looking to oversee HRA training methods and curricula, as the implementation phase has presented stumbling blocks for cities that have adopted such procedures in the past. GLAAD applauds these organizations for their persistence in ensuring that all New Yorkers have access to basic resources, and we encourage local media outlets to spotlight this landmark change in public service procedures.