Assembly Passes Repeal of the Walking While Trans Ban

Speaker Carl Heastie and Assemblymember Amy Paulin today announced that the Assembly passed legislation repealing the ‘Walking While Trans’ ban, which prohibits loitering for the purpose of prostitution (A.3355, Paulin). This law has been used to disproportionately target trans women and women of color.

“Discrimination has no place in New York State, and it has no place in our law books,” Speaker Heastie said. “Repealing the Walking While Trans law will protect already marginalized communities from being unfairly targeted. The Assembly Majority will continue working to reform our criminal justice system ensuring it works for all New Yorkers.”

“The harassment prompted by the current law has been borne heavily by victims of human trafficking, and abused and exploited women, and does not reflect the reality that these victims deserve our help and support to escape their harmful environments, rather than submit them to further harm and degradation. The Legislature's passage of this bill will thankfully repeal our draconian and deeply harmful current law,” said Assemblymember Paulin.

The bill repeals a section of the penal law, enacted in 1976, which has led to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. Currently, the law prohibits loitering for the purpose of prostitution. Specifically, people who are in violation of the law include those who remain or wander about in a public place and repeatedly beckon to, or repeatedly stop, or repeatedly attempt to stop, or repeatedly attempt to engage passers-by in conversation, or repeatedly stop or attempt to stop motor vehicles, or repeatedly interferes with the free passage of other persons, for the purpose of prostitution or patronizing a person in prostitution. This language has been used to target already marginalized women, particularly cis and trans women of color. One police officer testified that he was trained to look for women with Adams apples, big hands and big feet when identifying people in prostitution. Between 2012 and 2015, 85 percent of the people arrested under this law were Black or Latina. They have frequently and unlawfully been targeted by 'sweeps' where officers arrest large numbers of women in a given area at the same time.

“On behalf of the District Attorney's Association of the State of New York, I would like to thank New York State Assemblymember Amy Paulin and the Assembly Majority for pursuing legislation to repeal Penal Law Section 240.37. Loitering for the Purpose of Engaging in Prostitution is an outdated statute that could be used to wrongfully profile those based on gender expression or appearance. As prosecutors, we do not aim to penalize those who are already being victimized or sexually exploited, which is why District Attorneys across the State of New York actively support the ongoing commitment of resources to victims of sex trafficking. Many of these resources are very much needed and have been effective in connecting those involved in the sex trade with the resources that enable them to address their needs and prevent further trafficking and abuse,” said Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley, president, District Attorneys Association of the State of New York (DAASNY).

“I commend the Assembly for passing the bill repealing the 'Loitering for the Purpose of Prostitution' law, which my office no longer prosecutes. The current law's vagueness allows the police wide discretion in whom to target for enforcement, and our experience shows that those arrested are overwhelmingly people of color, with trans women of color, already a highly vulnerable group that experiences discrimination in every area of their lives, disproportionately arrested under this law,” said Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez.

“I am glad to see the Assembly pass a repeal of this unnecessary and abuse-prone law that has been used to further victimize some of the most vulnerable members of our communities. Those who claim this legislation legalizes prostitution have either not read the bill, not read New York's prostitution laws, or they are making these objections in bad faith. Trans women of color have been uniquely targeted by this antiquated law, and I commend the leaders who championed this law so tirelessly,” said Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas.

“Identifying potential law breakers by the way they look or the clothes they wear, rather than based on their actions, is the exact opposite of the way our justice system is supposed to work. That's why I strongly support the immediate repeal of New York State's 'loitering for the purpose of engaging in a prostitution offense' law. This statute is better known as the 'walking while trans' ban, because it has been widely used to target trans individuals, especially trans women of color. Using a law like this to single out specific individuals in our community does long-lasting harm not just to those who are targeted but also to the community at large, by feeding the perception that the entire justice system is biased and unfair,” said Westchester County District Attorney Miriam E. Rocah. “That is why I am proud to join the Repeal #WalkingWhileTrans Ban coalition and other advocates as well as fellow members of the District Attorneys Association of New York State to support the leadership efforts of Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie; repeal legislation sponsors Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblymember Amy Paulin; and co-sponsors including Senators Jamaal Bailey, Alessandra Biaggi, Pete Harckham, Shelley Mayer and Elijah Reichlin-Melnick and Assemblymembers Thomas Abinanti, Chris Burdick, Sandy Galef, Steven Otis, J. Gary Pretlow and Nader Sayegh.”

“The passage of the repeal of the Walking While Trans ban is so important to our communities. Since 1976, law enforcement has used this constitutionally dubious statute to target Black and Brown cisgender and transgender women for merely having the audacity to exist in public spaces. As a result, thousands of New Yorkers are irreparably harmed by records which impact their ability to access housing, education, and employment. The Walking While Trans ban is one of the most nefarious stop-and-frisk laws for women of color, and I am proud that New York is finally repealing it,” said NYCLU Deputy Policy Director Erika Lorshbough.

“I am so glad that the Assembly is finally striking this archaic and vague law from the penal code to prevent trans people, women and any other New Yorker from being profiled simply for how they are dressed, how they identify or where they stand,” said Sonia Ossorio, president of the National Organization for Women of New York. “Amy Paulin has led this charge and her steadfast advocacy to end this abusive practice and right this wrong is a testament to skill as a legislator and her commitment to human rights.”

“There is no place for laws that enable harassment, profiling, and/or violence from police against anyone in our communities. I applaud the Assembly for repealing the #WalkingWhileTrans ban, a discriminatory law that has enabled police to target communities of color and subject women and transgender or nonconforming people to unjust profiling and arrest,” said Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts President/CEO Robin Chappelle Golston. “For decades, this law has operated as a thinly veiled excuse for identity-based policing. It is past time for New York to repeal the #WalkingWhileTrans ban to protect the liberties of LGBTQ+ and TGNC people.”

“New Yorkers have been fighting for years to end what has become stop-and-frisk for transgender women of color, and the Walking While Trans ban enabled the profiling and arrest of transgender New Yorkers for doing nothing more than standing or walking on the street,” said Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David. “Today, we mark another step forward for equality in New York with the State Legislature's repeal of the ban. Governor Cuomo, Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Speaker Carl Heastie, and bill sponsors Senator Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Amy Paulin heard our community's call for change and made this important issue an early focus of this legislative session.We thank grassroots advocates, led by the Repeal Walking While Trans coalition, for their strong advocacy on this bill and we look forward to the day when the repeal takes effect.”

“The New York City Bar Association is proud to finally see the repeal of New York Penal Law 240.37. The law, which has faced opposition from its inception in 1976, is vague and overbroad, while police enforcement lacks clear guidance. This repeal will advance a more equitable New York by reducing the incidence of unwarranted police action against marginalized communities, in particular, women of color, both cisgender and transgender, and immigrant women,” said Geoffrey L. Wertime, co-chair of the New York City Bar Association Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Rights Committee.

“New York State is only a pen stroke away from finally relegating this biased law to the history books, one that has stigmatized and dehumanized Black and Brown TGNC individuals, sex-trafficking victims, and sex workers for over 40 years,” said Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “The Legislature has done its part, and now Governor Cuomo must keep the promises that he has made on this issue and enact this legislation into law at once. Both the repeal and sealing provisions are critical to remedy past harms and necessary to ensure that race and gender presentation are not further criminalized.”

'”This repeal of loitering for the purpose of engaging prostitution, which has disproportionately impacted transgender women of color, is a huge step forward for New York. The Walking While Trans ban is an example of how racism, oppression and discrimination are embedded in our institutions and in our systems. It also demonstrates why more people of color are arrested and incarcerated, and why more people of color are reluctant to call law enforcement for help. NYSCADV is committed to working together with survivors, allies, and partners to change the systems of oppression that enable all forms of violence to occur. Repealing this law is one step in the right direction,” said Connie Neal, executive director, New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

“Sanctuary for Families, a leader in combating sex trafficking and all forms of commercial sexual exploitation in New York State, strongly supports the Assembly legislation to eliminate the section of the New York State Penal Code that criminalizes loitering for the purpose of prostitution. Eliminating this problematic law does not weaken in any respect our state's strong anti-trafficking laws, which Sanctuary has successfully advocated for and works to implement. Instead it prevents the targeting for arrest of vulnerable people, typically young women of color and members of the LGBTQ community, on the basis of their appearance or to meet an arrest quota. Rather than strengthening law enforcement response to trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation this misguided law undermines it by intensifying mistrust of law enforcement by high risk communities and the victims in them who need police protection and assistance” said Dorchen A. Leidholdt, director, Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services, Sanctuary for Families.

“This passage of the Walking While Trans ban repeal is critical for two reasons. The first is that the law criminalizes intent, rather than conduct. Second, the law is implemented in an incredibly discriminatory manner. Individuals are arrested not for what they are doing, but for who and where they are. We know that Black and Latinx women, especially transgender women and people in economically disadvantaged districts, are overwhelmingly targeted. As an attorney in NYC, I have represented dozens of translatina women in Queens who feared leaving their apartments due to being falsely arrested for loitering. This law does not protect us; rather, it discriminates against those who are the most marginalized,” SOAR Institute Co-Director Melissa Brouda, J.D., MPH.

“Safe Horizon applauds the Assembly and the legislature for passing the Walking While Trans ban repeal, which finally repeals the statute criminalizing loitering for the purposes of prostitution. This statute has been improperly used to perpetuate discriminatory intent against primarily women of color, particularly immigrant and transgender women, and hinder their access to social services. The statute's existence has not increased safety for New Yorkers, but instead targeted those most vulnerable, and must be repealed immediately. To be clear, this legislation only concerns loitering activity, and does not reach the act of prostitution itself. We thank Assemblymember Paulin and Senator Hoylman for tirelessly championing repeal of this harmful and discriminatory statute,” said Safe Horizon Anti-Trafficking Program Senior Director Anita S. Teekah, Esq.

“The New York Anti-Trafficking Network (NYATN) unequivocally supports repealing the loitering for prostitution law, and is proud to see the Assembly passing this bill today. In its four decades on the books, the loitering law has proven problematic and harmful, particularly with respect to the vulnerable populations with which NYATN works. Repeal of this section will protect people at risk for trafficking, exploitation and abuse and would send a strong signal that their rights are valued. There is no controversy over repeal. Anti-trafficking and anti-violence groups across New York State, the country and the world agree that the very existence of this law, and its history of enforcement, further marginalizes those most vulnerable to exploitation and abuse,” said Leigh Latimer, NYATN Steering Committee member.

“We applaud the state legislature for at long last voting to repeal the Walking While Trans ban. Since its enactment, this statute has disproportionately been used to arrest Black and Latinx transgender and cisgender women and LGBTQ people for simply existing,” said Jillian Modzeleski, senior trial attorney in the Women's Defense Project at Brooklyn Defender Services. “The police use it as a pretext to stop and frisk people simply for standing on the sidewalk, hailing a cab, or going to and returning from work. Enforcement of the law, if not the law itself, is patently sexist, racist, and transphobic. Repealing NYPL 240.37 is a racial justice issue and a gender justice issue. This bill importantly allows people who have been criminalized under this archaic law to have their records sealed, allowing people to finally move forward without being unfairly burdened with the numerous employment and immigration consequences that violations bring. We thank the trans leaders and advocates who made this a reality, as well as legislative champions Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblymember Amy Paulin, and we urge the Governor to urgently sign this bill to end this gender-based stop-and-frisk.”

“We applaud the Assembly’s passage of A.3355, which will repeal New York’s ‘Walking While Trans’ law,” said Deborah Lolai, supervising attorney in the LGBTQ Defense Project at The Bronx Defenders. “This bill is a critical step toward eliminating enmeshed penalties - such as reduced access to employment, fewer housing options, and punitive immigration consequences - for transgender people, and in particular transgender women of color, who have been profiled and criminalized for simply existing in a world that feels threatened by their presence. The Legislature has acted, and we now call on Governor Cuomo to sign the repeal immediately.”

“Lambda Legal, the oldest and largest national legal organization whose mission is to achieve full recognition of the civil rights of LGBTQ people and everyone living with HIV, applauds the passage of the bill to repeal P.L. 240.37, the Walking While Trans ban. This bill would remove an overbroad and vague law which is used to target and criminalize marginalized women - specifically and disproportionately transgender women of color,” said Richard Saenz, senior attorney, criminal justice & police misconduct strategist, Lambda Legal.