Transgender Rights Added to New York City Law

Transgender rights were officially recognized in New York City with the passage of a bill that amended the city’s human rights ordinance. The law protects against discrimination based on a person’s gender identity or gender expression. Also, the bill’s passage raised awareness of transgender concerns in the city’s public and political arenas.

Summary of Event

The history of New York City’s landmark transgender rights law begins on June 30, 1998, with the founding of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy
Gender Rights Advocacy, New York Association for (NYAGRA). Created to combat the pervasive discrimination and violence faced by transgender and gender-variant people, NYAGRA was the first statewide transgender advocacy organization in New York. [kw]Transgender Rights Added to New York City Law (Apr. 30, 2002)
[kw]Rights Added to New York City Law, Transgender (Apr. 30, 2002)
[kw]New York City Law, Transgender Rights Added to (Apr. 30, 2002)
[kw]Law, Transgender Rights Added to New York City (Apr. 30, 2002)
Transgender rights
New York City;and transgender rights[transgender rights]
Antidiscrimination laws;and transgender rights[transgender rights]
[c]Civil rights;Apr. 30, 2002: Transgender Rights Added to New York City Law[2620]
[c]Transgender/transsexuality;Apr. 30, 2002: Transgender Rights Added to New York City Law[2620]
[c]Government and politics;Apr. 30, 2002: Transgender Rights Added to New York City Law[2620]
[c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Apr. 30, 2002: Transgender Rights Added to New York City Law[2620]
[c]Organizations and institutions;Apr. 30, 2002: Transgender Rights Added to New York City Law[2620]
Sweeney, Tim
Perkins, Bill
Lopez, Margarita
Park, Pauline
Giuliani, Rudolph
Vallone, Peter
Bloomberg, Michael

On November 24, 1998, NYAGRA members met with the Empire State Pride Agenda Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA)—the state’s largest and most influential lesbian and gay political organization—to seek its support for inclusion of “gender identity” and “gender expression” in the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (2002) (SONDA), which was then pending in the New York state legislature. ESPA’s deputy director, Tim Sweeney, proposed instead that ESPA and NYAGRA work at the local level first. NYAGRA members agreed, with the understanding that the two organizations would revisit the question of transgender inclusion in SONDA at a future date after assessing the progress of the New York City transgender rights bill.

On October 8, 1999, NYAGRA convened the first meeting of the working group on gender-based discrimination, which chose Pauline Park to serve as its coordinator. The working group included ESPA (represented by ESPA executive director Matt Foreman after Sweeney’s departure in November, 2000), the Gender Identity Project (represented by Carrie Davis) of the Lesbian & Gay Community Services Center (later renamed the LGBT Community Center) and the six original sponsors of the bill—New York city council members Bill Perkins, Margarita Lopez, Christine Quinn, Ronnie Eldridge, Philip Reed, and Steven DiBrienza, all Democrats.

The core members (including Perkins, Lopez, Sweeney, and Park) crafted a strategy for enlisting the support of a majority of council members and building a broad coalition of LGBT and non-LGBT organizations. On February 29, 2000, the coalition launched the public phase of the campaign with a press conference on the steps of City Hall. Council members announced they were submitting a formal request for legislation.

When the bill was introduced on June 5, a majority of council members signed on as cosponsors. The working group was able to generate sustained coverage in the LGBT press and even occasional major media coverage for the campaign, culminating in a New York Times editorial (August 29) in favor of the bill, the newspaper’s first editorial on transgender issues. With that editorial and an opinion article in Newsday magazine by former mayor Ed Koch, it became clear that the city’s political establishment was now behind the bill. What had been a marginal issue in 1998, not even seriously discussed by LGBT activists, became central to the LGBT community’s political agenda, with ESPA and the LGBT political clubs insisting that candidates seeking their support in the 2001 elections for council and citywide office (mayor, public advocate, comptroller) endorse the bill. In fact, leading Democratic candidates for those offices rushed to endorse the bill and to show their support for transgender rights.

The one exception among candidates for the Democratic mayoral nomination was Speaker Peter Vallone, who, though refusing to state his opposition to the bill publicly, blocked it until he was forced out of office in December, 2001, because of term limits. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (also term-limited by December, 2001) sent human rights commissioner Marta Varela to the general welfare committee hearing on the bill on May 4, 2001, to testify that the administration considered the legislation unnecessary, arguing that existing case law already protected those who are transgender from discrimination. Park insisted, however, that the legislation was necessary and rejected suggestions even from Sweeney, Perkins, and Lopez (and from Joe Grabarz, who succeeded Sweeney as ESPAs deputy director) that the bill be scrapped and that transgender rights be pursued through litigation.

Incoming council speaker Gifford Miller made the bill’s passage a priority, and it was reintroduced in January, 2002. On April 24, the new council passed the bill with a vote of 45-5, with one abstention, and on April 30 the new mayor, Michael Bloomberg, a Republican, signed it into law. Transgender rights
New York City;and transgender rights[transgender rights]
Antidiscrimination laws;and transgender rights[transgender rights]


Enactment of Local Law 3 of 2002 Local Law 3, New York City amended New York City human rights law to add a definition of “gender” Gender identity;municipal law and that included “gender identity” and “gender expression,” thereby protecting transgender and gender-variant people throughout the five boroughs from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. The passage of the bill represents the greatest achievement to date for the city’s transgender and gender-variant communities. Not only did the bill win transgender rights under law; the campaign for the bill transformed the political context in which transgender issues were understood.

Further Reading

  • Hunter, Nan D., Courtney G. Joslin, and Sharon M. McGowan. The Rights of Lesbians, Gay Men, Bisexuals, and Transgender People. 4th ed. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2004.

  • The New York Times. “Transgender Rights.” Editorial, August 29, 2000.
  • Park, Pauline. “The Making of a Movement: The Story of the Successful Campaign for a Transgender Rights Law in New York City.” Paper presented at the eighth annual Mark E. Ouderkirk Lecture, the Museum of the City of New York, June 27, 2002.
  • Schindler, Paul. “Bloomberg Set to Sign Transgender Rights Law.” Lesbian and Gay New York, May 9, 2002, p. 4.
  • _______. “Transgender Activists Push Human Rights Amendment.” Lesbian and Gay New York, March 23, 2000, p. 17.
  • Sharpe, Andrew N. Transgender Jurisprudence: Dysphoric Bodies of Law. London: Cavendish, 2002.

1992: Transgender Nation Holds Its First Protest

June 17, 1995: International Bill of Gender Rights Is First Circulated

1998: Transgender Scholarship Proliferates

October 27, 1999: Littleton v. Prange Withholds Survivor Rights from Transsexual Spouses

2002: Sylvia Rivera Law Project Is Founded

February 21, 2003: Australian Court Validates Transsexual Marriage

March, 2003-December, 2004: Transsexuals Protest Academic Exploitation

March 21, 2003: New Mexico Amends Its Human Rights Act

November 20, 2003: Transgender Day of Remembrance and Remembering Our Dead Project

May 17, 2004: Transsexual Athletes Allowed to Compete in Olympic Games