Of the approximately 1.4 million people in the United States who identify as transgender, according to a recent study, many have experienced harassment or assault at school and work, lost jobs, or been evicted or denied housing for being transgender. Reports also indicate that individuals, who identify as transgender, experience higher than average rates of poverty, homelessness, unemployment, police violence and suicide.

So it is no surprise that transgender rights advocates are hailing the first significant LGBTQ bills passed by New York State since the Marriage Equality Act in 2011. The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), an amendment to the New York State Human Rights Law, became law on February 24, 2019.

“The passage of GENDA—16 years in the making—and legislation to end so-called conversion therapy will . . . ensure that all New Yorkers, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation are treated with dignity and respect under the law,” said Senator Brad Hoylman, the bills’ sponsor.

Specifically, GENDA amends the State’s Executive Law, Civil Rights Law and the Education Law to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression (S.1047) and makes it unlawful for mental health professionals to engage in efforts to change sexual orientation for patients under age of 18 (S.1046).

Preventing prejudice

“The legislature … finds that many residents of this state have encountered prejudice on account of their gender identity or expression, and that this prejudice has severely limited or actually prevented access to employment, housing and other basic necessities of life, leading to deprivation and suffering,” according to the Senate’s legislative findings. “The legislature further recognizes that this prejudice has fostered a general climate of hostility and distrust, leading in some instances to physical violence against those perceived to live in a gender identity or expression which is different from that traditionally associated with the sex assigned to that person at birth.”

Ban on under-18 conversion therapy

The new law (S.1046) bans use of conversion therapy—efforts to change sexual orientation—for minors and provides that any attempted efforts to change sexual orientation on a patient under the age of 18 by a licensed mental health professional may be considered unprofessional conduct and may subject the provider to discipline by the provider’s licensing entity, according to the New York State Senate.

“New York has a compelling interest in protecting the physical and psychological well-being of minors, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth, and in protecting its minors against exposure to serious harms caused by sexual orientation change efforts,” according to the Legislature.

Types of harm listed in the text of the law that could be caused by sexual orientation change efforts include: confusion; depression; guilt; helplessness; hopelessness; shame; social withdrawal; suicidality; substance abuse; stress; disappointment; self-blame; decreased self-esteem and authenticity to others; increased self-hatred; hostility and blame toward parents, feelings of anger and betrayal, loss of friends and potential romantic partners; problems in sexual and emotional intimacy; sexual dysfunction; high-risk sexual behaviors; a feeling of being dehumanized and untrue to self; a loss of faith; and a sense of having wasted time and resources.

Punishment for hate crimes

The new law also amends the Penal Law and the Criminal Procedure Law and adds transgender New Yorkers to those protected by the state’s Hate Crimes Law. The amendment pertaining to hate crimes will become effective on November 1, 2019.

“As court decisions have properly held, New York’s sex discrimination laws prohibit discrimination based on gender stereotypes or because an individual has transitioned or intends to transition from one gender to another,” according to the Legislature. “This legislation is intended to codify this principle and to ensure that the public understands that discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression is prohibited.”

If you or a loved one has been bullied or assaulted at school or work, fired, evicted or denied housing, or faced any other sort of discrimination or hate crime for identifying as transgender (or considering to do so), it is advisable to consult with a knowledgeable attorney who will fight for your civil rights. Employers should ensure that they have policies and procedures in place to comply with this new law.