Testimony of Anya Mukarji-Connolly, Supervising Attorney for LGBTQ Law Project, Before the New York City Council Committee on Governmental Operations Regarding Proposed Bill Int. No. 552

May 11, 2015

Thank You Committee Chair Kallos, Intro 552 sponsor Councilmember Dromm and members of the Committee on Governmental Operations for spearheading this important bill.

My name is Anya Mukarji-Connolly and I am the Supervising Attorney for the LGBTQ Law Project of the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), NYLAG serves immigrants, seniors, the homebound, the LGBTQ community, families facing foreclosure, renters facing eviction, low-income consumers, those in need of government assistance, children in need of special education, domestic violence victims, persons with disabilities, patients with chronic illness or disease, low-wage workers, and Holocaust survivors, as well as others in need of free civil legal services.

We offer our strong support for the proposed amendment to the New York City Charter, in relation to collecting and reporting data related to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Launched in 2008, the LGBTQ Law Project provides low-income LGBTQ communities with free, comprehensive legal services delivered in an affirming, culturally sensitive manner.  The Project protects and expands the rights of LGBTQ communities, to address the unique legal needs of the City’s LGBTQ population, and help those most vulnerable, including transgender people and youth, rise above poverty and escape violence. The Project pursues gender, racial and economic justice through direct legal services, systemic advocacy and community education.

The LGBTQ Law Project focuses on removing discriminatory barriers and increasing our client’s access to: employment, housing, public assistance, legal name changes, life planning, immigration and family law.

While we recognize the challenges inherent in the proposed bill, we believe the overall intent and goal of this bill is important. Without accurate numbers of the legal and social service needs of the LGBTQ community, especially among those seeking services through City agencies, it is difficult to ensure that the need for services and support are being met.  Capturing this information will enable City agencies to adequately serve all of those in need, especially those who have been marginalized and until now not fully recognized by the agencies serving them. With a better sense of the community’s needs, advocates and government agencies can leverage funding and develop programming to meet those needs.

While stigma against the LGBTQ community may be gradually eroding in some social spaces, violence and discrimination is still a regular threat for the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community, including youth, immigrants and transgender and gender non-conforming communities.

We recognize that it may not be safe for a person to disclose their LGBTQ identity in every encounter with a City agency. For these reasons, we believe that the identity information being sought through City agency demographic questionnaires must be voluntary and that all applicants be expressly told that they do not have to answer this question. Further, the questionnaire should include an option that is to be checked off which states that the applicant has “declined to answer”. Including this option will make it clear that a person was asked or read the question and has opted out of answering. Further, the questionnaires must include multiple boxes which reflect the wide diversity of identities within the LGBTQ community, and not one singular “LGBTQ” box.

Equally important is the mandatory training component of this legislation, which ensures that City agency staff are equipped to properly serve LGBTQ community members. This training should be conducted by trainers who have experience working with LGBTQ communities and providing cultural competency trainings.  This training must be mandatory for all City agency staff and must be provided annually to account for the turnover and changes inherent in any government agency.

In addition to the agencies mentioned in the bill, we believe that the New York City Human Rights Commission and the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board should also be involved in the collection and analysis of this data.

Finally, as you probably know, over the summer Governor Cuomo ordered most State agencies to collect data on all LGBTQ New Yorkers served by the State.  Int. No. 552 would bolster the State’s data collection efforts.

NYLAG applauds the City Council for taking this critical step towards ensuring that New York City’s agencies providing critical services to vulnerable communities are doing so with a clear commitment to serving and meeting the needs of LGBTQ New Yorkers.

Sincerely,

Anya Mukarji-Connolly, Esq.
Supervising Attorney
LGBTQ Law Project
New York Legal Assistance Group