New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill Tuesday repealing a controversial statute commonly known as the “walking while trans” ban.
Both houses of the New York Legislature voted Tuesday to pass the bill that repeals a 1976 penal law statute aimed at prohibiting loitering for the purpose of prostitution, but which ultimately led to years of law enforcement discrimination against trans people of color.
The statute “led to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement by targeting women from marginalized groups that are at high risk for sex trafficking and other exploitation and abuse,” according to the sponsor memo from state Sen. Brad Hoylman.
The statute allowed police to “stop-and-frisk trans women of color and other marginalized groups for simply walking down the street,” Hoylman said in a news release.
“This outdated, discriminatory statute has led to hundreds of unnecessary arrests of transgender women of color and a broader culture of fear and intimidation for transgender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,” Hoylman said.
From 2012 to 2015, 85% of people arrested under the penal law were Black or Latinx, according to city arrest statistics cited in the sponsor memo.
“Officers have expressly warned transgender women that ‘girls like them’ would be arrested if they were seen outside after midnight. One officer, when asked how he was trained to identify prostitutes, testified that he was trained to look for women with Adams apples, big hands and big feet,” it says.
The Legal Aid Society filed a class action lawsuit against the City of New York and New York Police Department (NYPD) officers in 2016 on behalf of several transgender women who argued they’d been unjustly targeted by law enforcement under the law.
That lawsuit resulted in the NYPD revising its patrol guide in 2019 regarding loitering for purposes of engaging in a prostitution, “which now specifically prohibits officers from relying on ‘gender, gender identity, clothing, and location’ alone or in combination to establish probable cause, and requires more detailed factual narratives about officers’ observations,” a Legal Aid Society news release says.
CNN reached out to NYPD officials for comment on the new legislative change but did not immediately hear back.
District attorneys in New York have also declined to prosecute cases connected to the penal law in recent years.
“The Legal Aid Society has represented women assumed to be loitering for prostitution because they were wearing a ‘short dress,’ ‘a skirt and high heels,’ ‘tight black pants,’ or ‘a black dress.’ Women were also targeted for standing outside, speaking to one another, or walking from a subway or grocery store back to their residence,” the organization said in a news release Tuesday.
Cuomo, in a statement released after he signed the bill into law, called the statute “archaic.”
“COVID exposed low tide in America and the ‘walking while trans’ policy is one example of the ugly undercurrents of injustices that transgender New Yorkers — especially those of color — face simply for walking down the street,” Cuomo said in the statement.
“For too long trans people have been unfairly targeted and disproportionately policed for innocent, lawful conduct based solely on their appearance. Repealing the archaic ‘walking while trans’ ban is a critical step toward reforming our policing system and reducing the harassment and criminalization transgender people face simply for being themselves.”