I am a student in New York City and identify as gender fluid. I’m worried about getting harassed or questioned when I use the women’s locker rooms and restrooms in public spaces. I’ve had bad experiences in the past being denied access to these facilities. I’ve also been hearing a lot lately about an increase in bias violence which makes me worried. Am I protected? What are my rights?
—Fabulous but Frightened
While we have come a long way toward living free from fear of violence and discrimination, as we know all too well, the queer community continues to face both as a daily reality. The good news is that New York City prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation such as public spaces like parks and beaches, as well as privately owned places open to the public like stores and restaurants. This includes the right to use bathroom facilities consistent with someone’s gender identity in those spaces. If you do experience discrimination in these areas or are denied access to facilities consistent with your gender identity, you can contact an attorney or file a complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights. For those traveling outside of New York, it can be especially daunting to face unfamiliar communities without the protections NYC law affords. Before you travel, you may want to look at a helpful map available at LGBTPam.org to see if your travel destination has enacted non-discrimination laws.
Gender-based violence is a hate crime under the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded the definition of “hate crime” to include crimes motivated by a survivor’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. However, these protections rely on relevant enforcement agencies to recognize biased attacks and investigate them as such, making community engagement and education of law enforcement critically important. Law enforcement is tasked with protecting all of its citizens, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. If you or anyone you know is a survivor of a biased attack, please contact law enforcement or an advocate you trust to help navigate your experience with law enforcement.
This month’s column is dedicated to all members of the LGBTQA community as well as other communities like those recently in the news in Portland, who are targeted yet demonstrate strength courage and grace by continuing to be themselves and to stand up in the face of oppression and bias hate. This includes the brave individuals who respond to this violence when it is directed at them, as well as the brave individuals who stand up against this hatred when it is directed at another member of our community.