Testimony of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. before the New York City Council Committee on Women and Gender Equity regarding Gender Equity in NYC: Access, Resources, and Support for Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming New Yorkers:
I would like to start by saying that Trans and Gender Non-Conforming (TGNC) New Yorkers are very fortunate to live in a city that provides robust anti-discrimination protections. Moreover, New York City is home to some of the best non-for-profit organizations whose mission is to serve the LGBTQ+ community. Our office would like to take a moment to praise those organizations, several of which have assisted TGNC with enviable supportive services along the way. Organizations like Callen-Lorde, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, the Hetrick Martin Institute, The LGBT Center, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, and the Bronx’s very own, Destination Tomorrow.
These organizations and many others have been doing the work of the people and at times have been the community’s only source of support. For that, they deserve recognition during today’s hearing. We ask that you continue to support these organizations by providing them with discretionary funds so that they can continue doing the work that is necessary for the LGBTQ+ community.
For many TGNC individuals their first experience with rejection starts in their homes. Many TGNC individuals are disowned by their families because of how they identify. That abandonment starts a perpetual cycle of homelessness, declining health and criminalization. Statistics show that the overwhelming majority of New York City’s homeless youth identify as TGNC. Despite this alarming fact, the city has only opened one Department of Homeless Services (DHS) run shelter that caters to the LGBTQ and TGNC community.
What is more, there are still cases being reported of DHS employees misgendering and treating TGNC homeless youth poorly. It is imperative that the city mandate DHS and the NYC Human Resources Administration to create a priority status for TGNC individuals for rental assistance vouchers and supportive housing, much like those agencies do for other vulnerable populations.
Notwithstanding, TGNC folks suffer from a societal stigma that causes us to be shut out from the private sector job market. Despite the city’s laws prohibiting discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity, far too many TGNC folks are woefully unemployed or underemployed, particularly TGNC individuals of color. It is not enough for the city to implement diversity and inclusion trainings in the workplace. The City should consider increasing its recruitment efforts for TGNC individuals, so that there is a pathway into the municipal workforce.
TGNC New Yorkers also need a pathway to public higher education. There are thousands of talented TGNC youth without a post-secondary education because the public higher education system does not create a safe pathway for them. All too often, TGNC youth who are in the process of transitioning drop out of school because of an unsafe hostile environment.
If it were not for schools like Harvey Milk High School, which create safe spaces for TGNC youth, thousands of TGNC New Yorkers would be shut out from the public school system and not be able to obtain their high school diploma. It is time for New York City to consider implementing a pathway to public higher education specifically for LGBTQ and TGNC youth. The city should consider an addition to the City University of New York that is designed for, but not limited to, LGBTQ and TGNC New Yorkers.
Lastly, we would be remiss if we did not address the issue of trans women of color being profiled and targeted for arrest simply for standing in public. It is not uncommon for NYPD Vice officers to harass trans women on the streets and use arbitrary observations as grounds for arrest. “Walking while Trans” is not a crime. The NYPD must be able to differentiate between soliciting and simply standing out in public, and should not assume that a TGNC person who is standing out in public is necessarily engaging in illegal activity. The city should mandate the NYPD to undergo better training practices for police officers so they do not enforce the law in a biased or arbitrary manner.
In closing, there is still work to be done to protect TGNC New Yorkers. I applaud the committee for scheduling this hearing and for listening to the stakeholders in the community. If you take nothing else from this testimony today, know that TGNC New Yorkers need jobs, TGNC New Yorkers need a pathway to public higher education, and TGNC New Yorkers need priority status in the shelter system, and all policy makers should work to dismantle the societal barriers that prevent TGNC individuals from obtaining those basic human necessities.
Ruben Diaz, Jr.
Bronx Borough President