Testimony Before the New York City Council Committee on Civil Rights Regarding Proposed Bills No. 0689-2015 & 0690-2015

March 3, 2015

Thank you to Committee Chair Council Member Darlene Mealy, the members of the Civil Rights Committee and the sponsors for spearheading these important bills.

My name is Ez Cukor and I am an attorney with the LGBTQ Law Project at the New York Legal Assistance Group. Our office provides free legal services and advocacy to low-income Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) communities throughout New York City. We work to defend and expand the rights of New York City’s LGBTQ community and offer legal advice and representation in a wide variety of poverty-related civil legal matters, such as employment discrimination, housing, public assistance, legal name changes and family law.

On behalf of the New York Legal Assistance Group, I am here to offer our support for the proposed bills, which would strengthen the work of the New York City Commission on Human Rights.

Disproportionate Rates of Poverty & Discrimination Within LGBTQ Communities:

Poverty disproportionately impacts LGBTQ communities, including higher rates of homelessness and discrimination in the workplace.(1) The rates of poverty and discrimination are even higher for transgender and gender non-conforming people. Transgender and gender non-conforming people experience devastating levels of discrimination, harassment, and mistreatment in nearly every aspect of their lives, particularly in attempting to secure housing and in finding employment.(2)

Housing Discrimination
LGBTQ people face high levels of housing discrimination. In 2013, The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a study showing that same-sex couples experienced significant discrimination in the rental housing market relative to different sex couples in all metropolitan areas tested, even those where discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal.(3) We applaud HUD on taking the initiative to perform a nationwide study on housing discrimination for same-sex couples. The HUD study did not, however, address discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression. Transgender people face rampant housing discrimination. The best available data shows that nineteen percent of transgender respondents nationwide have been denied housing simply for being transgender.(4) Transgender people of color experienced housing discrimination at as much as more than three times the rate of their white counterparts.(5) People of color also faced disproportionate eviction and homelessness.(6) New Yorkers fared no better than the rest of the nation.(7)

Employment Discrimination
Transgender people, particularly people of color, also experience alarming rates of workplace discrimination.(8) In one survey, forty-nine percent of transgender New Yorkers reported that they had never been offered a job while living openly as transgender.(9) The unemployment rate among transgender and gender non-conforming people is double that of the general public, and even higher for transgender people of color.(10) Lesbian, gay and bisexual workers are similarly far too often harassed, fired, or denied employment.(11)

Employment discrimination often triggers a cascade of adverse consequences for low-income workers. One former NYLAG client, a middle age transgender woman, has a resume that shows education and a successful work history. Despite that, she has struggled to find steady employment since living openly as a woman. Another NYLAG client became homeless as a result of being unlawfully terminated because of her gender expression and perceived sexual orientation.

Cost of Discrimination
Discrimination comes at a cost for New York. In New York, roughly 11,600 transgender people have lost a job, 21,500 were not hired for a job, 11,600 were denied a promotion, 11,000 have been denied housing, and 4,600 have been evicted due to anti-transgender bias.(12) Estimates indicate that discrimination against transgender and gender non-conforming New Yorkers costs the state approximately $1.5 to $7 million in Medicaid and housing program expenditures.(13)

As a result of widespread experiences of discrimination, transgender and gender non-conforming people, particularly people of color, are four times more likely than their peers to live in extreme poverty and earn less than $10,000 annually.

New York City’s Human Rights Law is an important tool in the fight against the high rates of discrimination that LGBTQ communities in New York face.

NYC Human Rights Commission is Uniquely Positioned to Investigate and Respond to Discrimination

New York City’s Human Rights Law is among the strongest and broadest anti-discrimination laws in the United States. The Commission is uniquely positioned to enforce the law to protect the most vulnerable New Yorkers. Under its new leadership, we hope the Commission will use its legal authority to fight actively housing and employment discrimination using methods which include testing.

Testing designed to uncover evidence of discrimination and support enforcement of the Human Rights Law is an important way to address unlawful discrimination. Well-designed testing can reveal patterns of discrimination that remain otherwise undetectable. Evidence of discrimination can be difficult for an individual victim to obtain, with marginalized victims faring worse when navigating the legal system. Furthermore, the Commission and the Law Department are well positioned to take enforcement action if their investigation uncovers evidence of unlawful discrimination. The Commission’s use of testing to gather data and redress violations of the Human Rights Law sends a powerful message to employers and landlords that the City is committed to stopping unlawful discrimination.

The New York Legal Assistance Group’s LGBTQ Law Project therefore supports Ints. 0689-2015 & 0690-2015. We encourage the City Council to give the Commission latitude in implementing testing programs that will be of maximum use in enforcement litigation for any evidence of discrimination it uncovers. We recommend that the Commission engage in employment and housing discrimination testing on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender expression and identity. We stress the importance of using of testers who are transgender. We encourage testing of race and LGBTQ status because LGBTQ people of color are much more likely to experience discrimination than white LGBTQ people. Finally, testing for discrimination on the basis of arrest record, criminal history, and lawful source of income would also benefit LGBTQ communities who are disproportionately and unjustly caught in the criminal justice system due to racial and gender profiling by police.

On behalf of the LGBTQ Law Project at NYLAG, I want to thank this Committee for working to strengthen our Human Rights Law and Commission. Ensuring that all New Yorkers can access work and a safe home will not only benefit those most in need, but will strengthen our communities and our City.

Thank you,

E. Cukor, Esq.
Anya Mukarji-Connolly, Esq.
Eugene Chen, Esq.
Attorneys
LGBTQ Law Project
New York Legal Assistance Group


 

  1. Sears, Brad & Lee Badgett, Beyond Stereotypes: Poverty in the LGBT Community, (2012) available at http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/headlines/beyond-stereotypes-poverty-in-the-lgbt-community/
  2. National Center for Transgender Equality, National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce, Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, (2011) available at http://www.thetaskforce.org/static_html/downloads/reports/reports/ntds_full.pdf.
  3. Department of Housing and Urban Development, An Estimate of Housing Discrimination Against Same Sex Couples, at vi (2013) available at http://www.huduser.org/portal/Publications/pdf/Hsg_Disc_against_SameSexCpls_v3.pdf.
  4. Injustice at Every Turn at 106, see note 2.
  5. See id at 106-119. Respondents reported being denied housing because of being transgender at the followoing rates: American Indian, 47%; African American 38%;Multiracial 32%; Latino/a, 26%; Asian, 17%; White, 15%.
  6. See id.
  7. Injustice at Every Turn at 51, see note 2.
  8. National Center For Transgender Equality, National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce, Findings of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey: New York Results available at: http://www.nysenate.gov/files/pdfs/NYS%20NTDS%20findings.pdf.
  9. Make the Road New York, Transgender Need Not Apply: A Report on Gender Identity Job Discrimination, at 12 (2010) available at http://www.maketheroad.org/pix_reports/TransNeedNotApplyReport_05.10.pdf.
  10. Injustice at Every Turn, see note 2.
  11. Sears, Brad & Christy Mallory, Documented Evidence of Employment Discrimination and Its Effects on LGBT People: Executive Summary, (2011) available at http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Sears-Mallory-Discrimination-July-20111.pdf
  12. Herman, Jody L., The Cost of Employment and Housing Discrimination Against Transgender Residents of New York, (2013) available at: http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Herman-NY-Cost-of-Discrimination-April-2013.pdf
  13. See id.