Trans validation: transgender activists in New York & Maine (Advocate, 5.10.05)

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Trans validation: transgender activists are claiming mixed results in battles for equality in New York and Maine

By Paul VanDeCarr
The Advocate
(The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
May 10, 2005

“Restrooms are among the most contested sites for transgender people,” says activist Pauline Park, cochair of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy. “This settlement is an important legal victory, and I also hope it will help empower transgender people in relation to public accommodations.”

Park is referring to the antidiscrimination settlement she won in March against a New York City security company that harassed her for using a women’s bathroom in a mall. A 2002 city law, which Park helped to get enacted, prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression.

The joint settlement also included Justine Nicholas, another transgender woman harassed by another guard from the same company, Advantage Security, for the same reason. “When I tiled the complaint,” she explains, “I thought about the next transgender person who might come along and face the same problem.”

Under the terms of the settlement the company will make a written apology to the women, pledge to not discriminate again, provide sensitivity training for its employees, and pay Park and Nicholas $2,500 each (which they are then to donate to the nonprofit of their choice).

Even as the women celebrated their victory, the Hispanic AIDS Forum of New York City had a setback in a similar area A New York State appeals court dismissed the forum’s lawsuit accusing a former landlord of refusing to renew its office lease because its transgender clients were using the building’s common-area bathrooms.

American Civil Liberties Union lawyers representing the forum had argued for protection under laws against discrimination based on disability and gender in 2000, before the passage of the New York City law banning gender identity–based discrimination. A forum lawyer pledged to continue litigating the case.

Meanwhile, Maine took a major step forward in protecting transgender people, as Gov. John Baldacci signed a law prohibiting discrimination in employment, housing, credit, public accommodations, and education on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Maine joins five other states and the District of Columbia in banning gender identity–based discrimination.

“The Maine law is a terrific victory,” says Michael Silveman, an advocate in the case against Advantage Security and executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, “and it goes to prove a point. We won our settlement in New York City because there is now a law that specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression. The Hispanic AIDS Forum suit was dismissed partly because it was tiled before that law existed. These cases point to the same conclusion: Local and state laws are incredibly important.”

This article originally appeared in the 10 May 2005 issue of The Advocate magazine, which is now defunct.

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