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Expanding the Definitions of Gender and Sexual Orientation in the NYC Human Rights Law

GELC applauds Council Members Dromm, Chin, Mendez, Johnson, Vacca, Menchaca and Torres for drafting Intro. No. 1186 calling upon the Council to amend the New York City Administrative Code in relation to the New York City Human Rights Law’s definitions of sexual orientation and gender. Although the law as written is already more progressive than most states and localities and certainly offers more coverage than federal law, we urge the Council to pass this bill, which will create more visibility for the LGBTQ community and include an acceptance of a broader scope of sexual and romantic preferences that have not previously been spelled out under the law.

Sexuality invisibility has a significant impact on the ability of queer individuals to access health care, earn an equal wage, receive fair treatment in the workplace, and obtain public resources to address their specific needs. Local legislation is becoming increasingly important given our current political climate, particularly after last week’s revelation that the Department of Commerce removed its mention of “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” from its equal opportunity employment statement – the Federal Government’s latest attempt to disregard safeguards that explicitly provide protections for the LGBTQ community. At this moment in the movement for full equality and dignity for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, New York City must lead the charge in recognizing the fluidity of gender and sexuality by expanding definitions that currently constrain these identities to a limited paradigm.

While our gender may begin with the assignment of our sex, it does not end there. A person’s gender is the complex interrelationship between an individual’s body, identity, and expression. Each of these dimensions can vary greatly across a range of possibilities. Although most societies view sex and gender as a binary concept, this fails to capture even the biological aspect of gender, let alone gender identity, which is our internal experience of gender. Gender expression – the way individuals express their gender to the world around them – is also often constrained by social and legal expectations. Even those who vary only slightly from preconceived norms can become targets of disapproval and explicit discrimination. Or worse, harassment, violence and threats to their safety. We see this regularly in our work: anywhere from gay college student being discriminated against on campus to a gender-nonconforming kindergartener whose teachers do not know what “box” to put him in. Descriptors for gender are rapidly expanding, we no longer feel bound to identify or express within a strict gender binary, and we are establishing a growing language for gender – a reflection of a far more nuanced understanding of the experience of gender itself.

As one of the most fundamental aspects of a person’s identity, gender and sexuality deeply influences each part of one’s life. When these crucial aspects of self are narrowly defined and rigidly enforced, individuals who exist outside of a heteronormative and cis gender framework face innumerable challenges. Through recognizing gender diversity in our law – and thoughtful consideration of the uniqueness and validity of each person’s experiences of self – we can develop greater acceptance and protections for all.


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