ACLU Challenges Queens Landlord's Claim That Transgender People Are Not Entitled to Use Bathrooms or Common Areas of Building

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
June 26, 2003 12:00 am

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NEW YORK — In arguments before a state supreme court judge tomorrow, the American Civil Liberties Union is urging the court to reject a landlord’s claim that he was justified in refusing to let transgender clients with the Hispanic AIDS Forum (HAF) use any of the building’s restrooms or common areas of the building.

“The landlord’s contempt for HAF’s transgender clients is truly shameful,” said James Esseks, Litigation Director of the ACLU’s AIDS Project, which filed a complaint in 2001 on behalf of the group. By suggesting that they were justified in excluding HAF’s transgender clients from using the building’s common areas and restrooms, the building owners are ignoring bedrock principles of anti-discrimination law. As we learned so painfully during the early days of the civil rights movement, public restrooms and hallways are for all Americans.”

The complaint filed by the ACLU in June of 2001 asserts that HAF, the leading Latino HIV/AIDS agency in New York, was effectively 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 acquiesced 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 that would be acceptable to all parties over the use of the restrooms, but the landlord refused to renew the lease — saying he didn’t even want the transgender clients in any of the common areas of the building.

“The landlord made it very clear that he had no respect whatsoever for transgender people,” said Heriberto Sanchez Soto, Executive Director of HAF. “For the sake of all of our clients who have been disadvantaged by this discrimination — but especially our transgender clients — I hope the judge sends a very clear message that these kinds of attitudes won’t fly in New York City.”

The landlord has filed a motion to dismiss the complaint; that motion is the subject of tomorrow’s hearing in New York State Supreme Court in lower Manhattan.

“Evicting HAF has also had a terrible impact on its ability to provide HIV services to the Latino community,” said Kesari Ruza of Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz, a volunteer lawyer working on the case. “By forcing HAF to relocate, hundreds of Latino clients must now travel much further for services.”

According to the ACLU lawsuit, the Estate of Joseph Bruno (which owns the building in Jackson Heights), an associated Trust and its Trustees violated state and local laws that prohibit discrimination based on sex, gender and disability. The lawsuit asks for unspecified damages, citing the financial and practical impact the move had on the HAF’s ability to reach people badly in need of services.

The ACLU’s Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss is available online at /node/36222

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 AIDS Project
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.

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