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On Albany’s Final Day, LGBTQ Movement, Drama

State Legislature bans gay and trans panic defense, but other bills unresolved

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State lawmakers passed multiple LGBTQ-related bills in the final hours of the legislative session on June 19, but a contentious piece of legislation legalizing gestational surrogacy appeared to stall in the lower chamber and the status of a separate measure aimed at protecting transgender women was unclear as of press time.

Both houses most notably passed a law banning the use of so-called gay and trans panic defense, which will prevent defendants from using a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity as a mitigating factor in committing a violent crime. Meanwhile, the State Legislature also restored state benefits for service members who were discharged from the military under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and passed a law stipulating that survivors of sexual assault receive access to Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) to prevent HIV infection.

Those bills were already expected to pass, but the more controversial gestational surrogacy bill faltered in the Assembly amid reservations voiced most audibly by out lesbian Assemblymember Deborah Glick of Manhattan. The lawmaker, who has been in office since 1991, told the New York Times that gestational surrogacy is “pregnancy for a fee, and I find that commodification of women troubling.”

It remained unclear whether lawmakers would approve a bill to repeal the loitering for the purposes of prostitution law — which disproportionately affects transgender women of color — before departing Albany. The push to repeal the loitering law, dubbed “walking while trans,” has been led by DecrimNY and legislators including out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman of Manhattan, Senators Jessica Ramos and Julia Salazar of Queens and Brooklyn, respectively, and Manhattan Assemblymembers Dick Gottfried and Dan Quart.

The wider movement to decriminalize sex work gained considerable momentum locally in the months since DecrimNY formed earlier this year, but advocates appeared to be running out of time to repeal the loitering law this session.

Still, local politicians outside of the State Legislature spoke up in favor of the measure during the final hours of the legislative session. Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance both endorsed the effort to repeal the loitering law, while out gay City Council Speaker Corey Johnson of Manhattan and another out gay councilmember, Daniel Dromm of Queens, also urged state lawmakers to take action and strike the loitering law from the books.

All things considered, Holyman and his colleagues wrapped up the session having achieved major legislative gains on LGBTQ rights. Armed with a new Democratic majority in the Senate, Hoylman helped spearhead efforts to pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) and a ban on gay conversion therapy earlier in the year before focusing on the most recent LGBTQ rights bills this month.

“For decades, LGBTQ New Yorkers fought for basic recognition that they mattered under New York law,” Hoylman said in a written statement. “This session, we’ve made it clear that they do. We banned the barbaric practice of conversion therapy, and with GENDA now the law of the land the full force of law stands behind transgender and gender-non-conforming New Yorkers.”

Hoylman also said, “In banning the gay and trans panic defense, New York is sending a message to prosecutors, to defense attorneys, juries and judges that a victim’s LGBTQ identity can’t be weaponized. On the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, it’s long past time we do so.”

Out gay Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell of Manhattan, who led the panic defense legislation in the lower house and worked alongside Holyman on the issue, celebrated its passage while still acknowledging concerns from defense attorneys who argued that the bill would limit their clients’ ability to argue their innocence.

“Sexual orientation and gender identity should never be used as excuses for violence and the very nature of gay and trans panic defenses ground themselves in bigotry, hatred, or fear toward the LGBTQ community,” said O’Donnell, a former public defender.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, who held multiple events during which he called on lawmakers to pass a ban on gay and trans panic defense and legalize gestational surrogacy, said in a written statement that the passage of the panic defense bill represents “an important win for LGBTQ people everywhere and it is made all the more meaningful as we approach the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, which set in motion the modern day LGBTQ rights movement.”

“This year as part of our Justice Agenda we set out to build on these historic achievements by banning the so-called gay and trans panic legal defense, which essentially codified homophobia and transphobia into state law,” Cuomo said on June 19. “With the enactment of this measure we are sending a noxious legal defense strategy to the dustbin of history where it belongs.”

Updated 9:32 pm, June 19, 2019
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