On Monday, Aug. 3, I voted in favor of an amendment to Nassau County’s Human Rights Law which ensures that Nassau County residents are protected from discrimination based on certain visible characteristics or traits, such as “natural hair texture” and “protective hairstyles.”
This is a good piece of legislation, and I am glad it was adopted unanimously. However, I cannot help but feel that the action we took was incomplete.
During the debate on this measure, I urged the majority to finally act upon my proposal to further amend the Human Rights Law and make it unambiguously clear that transgender and gender non-conforming Nassau residents are protected.
Nearly a decade ago, my predecessor Judy Jacobs first carried this legislation; since that time, state legislation has been enacted to mandate equal treatment under the law for transgender New Yorkers.
Despite numerous opportunities, the Legislature persists in its inaction. Majority lawmakers have used the passage of state legislation as part of their argument against updating the human rights law locally. The actions of this Legislature reveal this to be an unjust double standard.
Consider the fact that Section 292 of the New York State Human Rights Law was amended last year to prohibit discrimination by expanding the definition of race to include “traits historically associated with race, including but not limited to hair texture and protective hairstyles, such as braids, locks and twists. Yet, we acted on August 3 to amend our human rights law to address similar discrimination.
Furthermore, it is an established practice of this Legislature to make certain protections explicit under County law, notwithstanding the existence of similar protections under state or federal law.
Why was the bill we approved on August 3, worthwhile and honorable as it is, held to a different standard by this Legislature than one for transgender people?
The challenges faced by transgender Nassau County and New York residents have not abated.
Transgender people experience elevated levels of poverty, housing discrimination, workplace bias and a risk of suicide and mental health challenges as compared to the general population. They are also frequently the target of fatal violence.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, advocates tracked no fewer than 27 violent deaths of transgender or gender non-conforming Americans in 2019. Many were Black transgender women. At least 21 transgender people have been killed in America this year alone. It is painfully clear now in 2020 that gender identity and racial equity are inseparable.
I believe that enshrining county-level protections stemming from gender identity in our Human Rights Law is not only morally and legally correct, but consistent with the practices of this Legislature.
Our transgender community is under attack as we speak, and we have a duty to stand with them – just as we seek to do with other marginalized groups.
It is literally the least we can do.
Arnold W. Drucker
Nassau County Legislator, 16th Legislative District