Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law a bill that repeals a decades-old statute that advocates say disproportionately targeted trans people who are simply walking or standing on the street. The legislation also automatically seals any previous arrest records under the statute, reported The Appeal.
“It’s a beginning of a new era,” said TS Candii, executive
director of Black Trans Nation and a Black trans woman who has likened the
statute—often called the “walking while trans” ban—to stop and frisk, the NYPD
tactic of randomly stopping pedestrians to look for guns that disproportionately targeted Black
and Latinx people.
The repeal of the 1976 law, which was ostensibly meant to
target those “loitering for the purpose of engaging in a prostitution offense,”
comes at a time when similar laws are being rolled back across the country. The
Seattle City Council unanimously
repealed a similar “prostitution loitering” law in June, and
California lawmakers are considering pushing for a similar
repeal this year. Activists have also started organizing against
similar statutes in Atlanta, Chicago, and New Orleans.
Next, advocates in New York plan to move forward on
make it the first state to decriminalize sex work. (A bill introduced in
2019 never advanced.) They’ll also advocate for a bill that
would vacate sex trafficking-related convictions from people’s records, and
push to defund the NYPD’s vice unit. And they’ll have to compete with a
bill in the state legislature that decriminalizes sex work while still
cracking down on sex workers’ clients, a model that advocates argue won’t
“We know we’re going to win because we have a majority” of
the public’s support, Candii said. A 2019 national
poll of registered voters shows a majority of voters support
decriminalizing sex work.
The “walking while trans” statute repeal and sex work
decriminalization legislation both stem from a
growing movement for sex workers’ rights across the U.S. The same year
the decriminalization bill was introduced in New York, another was introduced
in Washington, D.C. In the recent election, a number of Democratic presidential candidates embraced
the idea of decriminalizing sex work.
Although the “walking while trans” statute was intended to
target sex workers, its vagueness allowed police to harass trans people of
color, advocates say. A 2016 civil rights class-action
lawsuit brought by the Legal Aid Society alleged that 85 percent of
people arrested under the statute were Black or Latinx, and that women had been
arrested for “wearing a ‘short dress,’ ‘a skirt and high heels,’ ‘tight black
pants,’ or ‘a black dress.’”
Those arrests and charges can make it more difficult to get
government benefits or even employment, Candii said. “It leaves them more
A surge of protests in New York after the police killings of
George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, including a 15,000-person
rally for Black trans lives last summer, helped bolster the movement
to repeal the law. But reform has been a long time coming, the result of years
of organizing and activism by Candii and others.
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