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Today is Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Civil Rights for the Transgendered

"Putting specific language into the city's human rights law removes all doubt that the transgendered are entitled to equal rights and equal treatment."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg yesterday signed into law a bill that extends New York City's human rights protection to transgendered people - a group that includes cross-dressers and people who have had or will soon have sex-change surgery. The new law, which passed the City Council 45 to 5, is an important step forward in fighting prejudice and in protecting the rights of some of society's most vulnerable citizens.

The transgendered category covers a wide array of people who do not fit into traditional gender groups, whether due to appearance, behavior or physical attributes. Even in a city as diverse, and generally tolerant, as New York, transgendered people often find themselves discriminated against when looking for work and on the job, and in finding and keeping housing. They are frequently denied service in restaurants and stores. And they are often the victims of hate crimes.

In the debate over the new law, few argued that transgendered people deserve to be discriminated against. Rather, they said that transgendered people were adequately protected by the city's human rights law, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual orientation. The argument that explicit protection of the transgendered was superfluous was the one Mayor Rudolph Giuliani gave last year, and the position that Mayor Bloomberg took until he changed his mind.

It is true that transgendered people have sometimes been able to employ existing antidiscrimination laws, but not reliably. Putting specific language into the city's human rights law removes all doubt that the transgendered are entitled to equal rights and equal treatment. It also sends a clear message that this sort of discrimination will not be tolerated.

Because the rights of the transgendered have gotten little attention, it might seem that New York broke new ground yesterday. But in fact, more than 40 towns, counties, cities and states - including Iowa City, Louisville, Kentucky and Rhode Island - have written transgendered people into their antidiscrimination laws. New York City's action yesterday was not path-breaking, but it should light the way for other jurisdictions to extend protection to their own transgendered citizens.

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