New York governor inserts gender identity in anti-bias rules

NEW YORK: Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo used his executive power Thursday to expand the state's anti-discrimination rules to safeguard transgender people, creating a protection advocates had been fighting for years to try to receive.

Cuomo, speaking to about 700 people at the Empire State Pride Agenda's annual dinner, said the current law didn't go far enough to protect the rights of all state residents. He directed the state's Division of Human Rights to issue a regulation that would interpret the anti-discrimination law to prohibit discrimination against transgender people. His move prohibits discrimination against a transgender person when it comes to jobs, loans, schools and public accommodations.

"It is long overdue," he said. "It is intolerable to allow discrimination of transgender individuals, and they are one of the most abused, harassed groups in society today."

Gay, lesbian and transgender advocates have long pushed to include gender identity in the state's anti-discrimination law, but while the measure passed the Assembly multiple times it remains stalled in the Republican-controlled senate. Republicans didn't immediately respond to Cuomo's order.

Cuomo's administration says the new regulation provides essentially the same protections as that bill, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, or GENDA, but requires no legislative approval. Officials say the regulation makes New York the first state to take executive action to add transgender protections under law.

The regulation, which applies to public and private entities, will be enforced by the state's Human Rights Commission and the state attorney general's office. It is expected to take effect in December.

The state already prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, disability and sexual orientation. A 2002 measure, the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, protects people who are discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation but did not apply to transgender people, the governor said.

"That was not right, that was not fair and that was not legal," he said. "Transgender individuals deserve the same civil rights."

Cuomo's action drew praise from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and state lawmakers.

"For over a decade, New Yorkers have lobbied lawmakers to pass GENDA without any success," said Kelsey Louie, the chief executive officer of the GMHC nonprofit group. "The governor finally said enough and removed the gridlock because he knows that the issues that transgender New Yorkers face are truly life and death."

Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said the governor's action is a welcome step forward in the fight for full and equal protections for all.

"Let's be clear," he said in a statement, "no one should face discrimination or fear for their safety because of their gender identity."