ACLU Asks Appeals Court to Reject Attempt to End Gender Identity Protections in New York State

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
April 21, 2004 12:00 am

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Legal Battle Continues over Illegal Eviction of Latino AIDS Service Provider


NEW YORK – In the first gender discrimination case to reach a New York state appellate court, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a brief today urging the court not to deny transgender New Yorkers their right to live free of discrimination.

Hispanic AIDS Forum, an AIDS service organization represented by the ACLU, brought suit against its former landlord after it was evicted because other tenants complained that HAF’s transgender clients were using the “”wrong”” bathrooms. The landlord banished all transgender people from the common areas of the building. Although the landlord’s lawsuit centers on the claim that transgender people are not protected by the state’s civil rights laws, the ACLU points out in its brief that trial courts in four previous cases have all held that discrimination against transgender people is illegal in New York.

“”The landlord argues that transgender people are completely without civil rights protection in New York state,”” said James Esseks, Litigation Director of the ACLU’s Lesbian & Gay Rights and AIDS Projects. “”This could place transgender New Yorkers in jeopardy of losing their jobs, their housing, and even their lives, if they are unable to receive public health services – all because someone wants to keep them out of the so-called ‘wrong’ bathroom.””

The ACLU brought the lawsuit on behalf of HAF in June 2001 after the agency was forced out of its home of 10 years in Jackson Heights, Queens – an epicenter of the AIDS epidemic in U.S. Latino communities – because the landlord yielded to complaints from another tenant that the agency’s transgender clients were using the “”wrong”” restrooms. HAF repeatedly tried to negotiate with the landlord to reach an agreement over the use of the restrooms that would be acceptable to all parties, but the landlord refused to renew the lease, saying it didn’t even want the transgender clients in any of the common areas of the building.

“”This case goes way beyond who walks through the bathroom door – this is a public health issue that directly affects people’s lives,”” said Heriberto Sanchez Soto, Executive Director of HAF. “”Being evicted from our offices, based on pure prejudice, made it more difficult for us to serve the needs of transgender Latinos and Latinas living with HIV and AIDS. If our former landlord wins this lawsuit, it will hurt not just transgender people with HIV, but all transgender people throughout New York state.””

Transgender people living in New York City are protected from discrimination under the city’s human rights law, which was amended in 2002 to clarify that it covers gender identity. The state human rights law does not include gender identity in its language, although previous trial court rulings have held that transgender individuals are covered under the law’s sex and disability provisions.

“”We believe the laws of New York state clearly protect transgender people from discrimination, and our opponents want to take a giant step backwards by taking those protections away,”” said Edward Hernstadt of Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz PC. “”It’s our hope that the appellate court will rule in favor of fairness and make it clear once and for all that gender identity discrimination is not something the state of New York will tolerate.””

The case is Hispanic AIDS Forum v. The Estate of Joseph Bruno (Index # 112428/01). While the appeal is pending, both parties will conduct further pre-trial discovery. The court has not yet scheduled a date for trial. Arguments before the appellate court will be held in about two months. HAF is represented by Esseks of the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights and AIDS Projects and Hernstadt and Kesari Ruza of Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz PC.


About the Hispanic AIDS Forum
The Hispanic AIDS Forum provides treatment, education and innovative prevention services to New York City’s Latino population. The agency’s mission is to reduce HIV transmission and to secure timely and quality support services for Latina/os affected by HIV/AIDS. The Hispanic AIDS Forum operates three community-based offices in some of New York’s largest Latino neighborhoods: Western Queens, Manhattan and the South Bronx.

About the ACLU Lesbian & Gay Rights and AIDS Projects
Since the first days of the AIDS epidemic, the ACLU has fought for the civil liberties of people affected by the disease. This includes working against discrimination, as well as for confidentiality in testing, reporting and treatment. The ACLU has also worked to advance the rights of transgender and intersex people through litigation and lobbying.

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