Inhumane ‘Walking While Trans’ ban to be repealed after decades of police harassment against trans women of colour
New York is poised to finally repeal a discriminatory loitering law known as the “Walking While Trans” ban.
The state legislature is expected to vote through a bill repealing the law in the coming weeks, after years of dedicated advocacy, education and outreach by sex worker-led organisations.
The Walking While Trans ban, Section 240.37 of the New York State Penal Law, is an anti-loitering law that has long been used by police to target and harass trans women, especially trans women of colour. It was enacted in 1976.
A ProPublica investigation in December 2020 found that the majority of people arrested for prostitution-related offenses over the past four years in New York have been people of colour. During that period, people of colour accounted for 89 per cent of the people charged with prostitution and 93 per cent of those suspected of paying for sex in New York City.
TS Candii, one of the organisers spearheading the movement to get rid of the decades-old loitering law, said that there’s now a “two week timeframe” for Walking While Trans to be repealed.
“These are a couple of steps forward for us after weeks and weeks of going to Albany and screaming down the hallways,” she said. “This is just a Stop and Frisk 2.0 that has been going on for decades.”
TS Candii added: “I’m just so full of tears and joy that New York State is taking a step to acknowledge the existence of Black and Brown transgender women.”
Repealing the Walking While Trans ban first step to full decriminalisation of sex work.
The bill to repeal the Walking While Trans ban, which is sponsored by out gay New York senator Brad Hoylman and New York assembly woman Amy Paulin, is expected to be voted through the committee stage next week and advance to the Senate the week after.
Hoylman told Jezebel: “We need to get rid of the overly broad and archaic statute that allows transgender women of colour, immigrants and LGBT+ youth to be profiled just because of the way they look.
“Now that we’ve got a veto-proof majority and 37 senators as co-sponsors on our legislation, I’m thrilled that we’re taking action to correct an injustice that has disproportionately harmed vulnerable New Yorkers for decades.”
It’s the first time a bill to repeal the Walking While Trans ban will advance in the upper chamber, now that senate Democrats have a supermajority in the state legislature. New York governor Andrew Cuomo also voiced his support for repealing the law last year.
While a similar bill reached the assembly floor in 2019, it did not get a vote and then stalled in the Senate Codes committee.
That bill was part of a comprehensive proposal to decriminalise sex work in New York, led by advocates from coalition organisation DecrimNY who afterwards said that repealing the Walking While Trans ban would be a more attainable first step before focusing on full decriminalisation of sex work.
‘Black Trans Lives Matter’ march spurred lawmakers to repeal Walking While Trans ban.
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“I think that led to a major impression on my colleagues,” said Hoylman. “It was, I think, a moment of reckoning for legislators who saw the public cry for reform such as this.”
He added: “It’s great news for a segment of New Yorkers who have been disproportionately harmed by an archaic statute that stigmatises them and allows law enforcement to profile them just because of the way they happened to be dressed or looked.”
And Queens assembly member Jessica González-Rojas said that a wave of new progressive lawmakers would help to repeal the Walking While Trans ban.
“It’s the energy that a lot of us are bringing to the table, meaning new leaders and a supermajority in the State Senate,” said González-Rojas.
“Many of us who ran on this issue and are really unapologetic about supporting our queer and trans community.”