New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill Tuesday repealing a state anti-loitering law more commonly known as the “walking while trans” ban.
Enacted in 1976, the law sought to prohibit loitering for the purposes of prostitution, but ultimately led to decades of law enforcement discrimination against transgender people, particularly trans women of color.
According to New York State Sen. Brad Hoylman, Statute 240.37 of the New York Penal Code essentially allowed the police to “stop-and-frisk trans women of color and other marginalized groups for simply walking down the street.”
“This outdated, discriminatory statute has led to hundreds of unnecessary arrests of transgender women of color and a broader culture of fear and intimidation for transgender and gender nonconforming New Yorkers,” he said in a statement.
Citing data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, Hoylman noted that 91% of people arrested under the statute in 2018 were Black and Latinx and 80% were women. Likewise, 2018 also saw a 120% increase in arrests made under the statute, with 47% of those arrests taking place in Queens.
Although there is no concrete data detailing exactly how many trans people have been impacted by the law, a recent survey found that a whopping 60% of trans people living in New York have been subject to harassment and misconduct by the police.
The repeal of this antiquated statute is the result of years of lawsuits and activism. In 2016, the Legal Aid Society filed a class action lawsuit against New York City and the New York Police Department (NYPD) on behalf of eight women, five of whom are trans, who were wrongfully arrested for standing outside, talking to one another, wearing a short dress, or wearing a skirt and heels.
“A few years ago, the NYPD stopped a bus I was riding on, removed me from it, and arrested me for loitering for the purposes of prostitution. I was neither loitering, nor doing anything for the purpose of prostitution, but I was roughed up, arrested and put through the system,” Sarah Marchando, a former plaintiff in the lawsuit, said in a statement.
“This repeal will allow women to be who they are without their past coming to haunt them. It will give people the freedom to wear what they want, walk where they want, and be who they are, without fear of being judged or ridiculed.”
When the lawsuit was settled in 2019, the NYPD agreed to revise its Patrol Guide to prohibit officers from solely relying on gender, gender identity, clothing, or location in order to establish probable cause before making an arrest.
More recently, Linda Dominguez, a Latina trans woman, won her lawsuit against the NYPD in November after being arrested for walking through a park to her apartment two years earlier. She was charged with false impersonation after she provided officers with both her legal name and her deadname.
At the time of her arrest, officers restrained her with pink handcuffs and deliberately mocked and misgendered her. As a result of her lawsuit, Dominguez won a $30,000 settlement and the NYPD agreed to require all of its officers to undergo diversity training.
Richard Saenz, Senior Staff Attorney and Criminal Justice and Police Misconduct Strategist at Lambda Legal, praised the repeal of the “walking while trans” ban, noting the impact it will have on trans people and the New York’s LGBTQ+ community as a whole.
“This repeal is a call for justice. It is a significant step to address violence perpetuated against transgender women and women of color by the state. The repeal eliminates a discriminatory law that has been used by police officers as a ‘stop-and-frisk’ to profile, stop, search, harass, and arrest LGBTQ and gender nonconforming people based on their clothing or appearance,” Saenz said in a statement.
“It will remove an overbroad, racist and discriminatory law which is used to target and criminalize marginalized women — specifically and disproportionately transgender women of color.”