On Tuesday night, Daryl Cochrane of the Commission on Human Rights led a Know Your Rights workshop for a packed room of SRLP members and staff. The workshop provided an overview of New York City’s Human Rights Laws and how they apply when it comes to housing, employment, and public accommodations. The meeting also included information on how to take action if you experience unlawful harassment or discrimination.
The City of New York prohibits discrimination against individuals or groups based on a protected status. This means that in the areas of housing, employment, and public accommodations, it is illegal to discriminate against anyone on the basis of race, religion/creed, color, age, national origin, citizenship status, gender identity/expression, disability, pregnancy, marital status, or partnership status. Additionally, the law prohibits employment discrimination based on arrest record, credit history, status as a victim/survivor of domestic violence, unemployment status, and, most recently, caregiver status. A comprehensive list of protected classes is available on the Commission’s website.
Anyone who has faced unlawful discrimination or harassment in the City of New York has a right to take legal action. The Commission is the citywide bureau tasked with investigating these claims and enforcing individuals’ legal protections.
During the workshop, members brought up their concerns about access to housing. One issue that was raised was regarding Section 8 vouchers and other programs. In New York City, it is illegal for a building manager or landlord to refuse to take housing assistance vouchers. For SRLP member Kimberly, it is important that this policy is enforced. “It’s great to know that you can’t be discriminated against for having vouchers,” she said after the meeting. “I’m looking for housing right now—a lot of people in the community are. And we have vouchers. We need vouchers to have a roof over our heads.”
Another issue was employment discrimination. In particular, questions over what to do if you were denied a job, but there was no outright expression of discrimination. Daryl urges folks to follow your instincts in these cases. If you suspect discrimination, contact the Commission and speak to one of their lawyers. The Commission can investigate cases like this by sending people to sites to test for unfair hiring patterns.
Since 2002, gender identity has been included as a protected class. However, for many TGNCI people in New York—especially low-income TGNCI people of color—discrimination and harassment do not target gender identity in isolation. Discrimination is as multifaceted as our identities. This means that a rejected housing application might not be as straightforward as simply a result of transphobia. Factors such as race, citizenship status, credit history, and arrest records can all be at play when a TGNCI person is targeted for discrimination. It is important that investigations take into account the various layers of discrimination.
At the end of the workshop, SRLP member Enlicce said “we go through discrimination when we try to get a job, get housing,” adding, “people don’t want to give us housing based on how we look and how we dress ourselves.” She said that she found the information to be helpful, but stressed the importance of meaningful implementation. “We need ways, resources, to get help in these situations [of discrimination].”
If you experience unlawful discrimination due to your gender identity in New York City, please call 311 to connect with the Commission on Human Rights within one year of the act of discrimination, or contact the Sylvia Rivera Law Project at 212-337-8550, ext. 308.