Barbaric ‘walking while trans’ ban that let police hound trans women of colour simply for existing finally repealed

A photograph of a police car siren

New York has repealed its “walking while trans” ban.

Legislators have finally repealed a state law that led to so many discriminatory arrests on trans women of colour it became known as the “walking while trans” ban.

The controversial statute was introduced in 1976 in a bid to curb loitering for the purpose of prostitution, but it ultimately gave law enforcement free rein to target the trans community.

It allowed police “to stop-and-frisk trans women of colour and other marginalised groups for simply walking down the street”, said Democratic senator Brad Hoylman, lead sponsor the legislation that repealed the law.

“This outdated, discriminatory statute has led to hundreds of unnecessary arrests of transgender women of colour and a broader culture of fear and intimidation for transgender and gender nonconforming New Yorkers,” he added.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo acknowledged the hurt and harm caused by the “walking while trans” ban as he struck off the “archaic” law on Tuesday (2 February).

COVID exposed low tide in America and the ‘walking while trans’ policy is one example of the ugly undercurrents of injustices that transgender New Yorkers – especially those of colour – face simply for walking down the street,” he said in a statement.

“For too long trans people have been unfairly targeted and disproportionately policed for innocent, lawful conduct based solely on their appearance.

“Repealing the archaic ‘walking while trans’ ban is a critical step toward reforming our policing system and reducing the harassment and criminalisation transgender people face simply for being themselves.”

From 2012 to 2015, 85 percent of people arrested under the penal law were Black or Latinx, according to city arrest statistics cited in the sponsor memo.

“Officers have expressly warned transgender women that ‘girls like them’ would be arrested if they were seen outside after midnight,” it says.

“One officer, when asked how he was trained to identify prostitutes, testified that he was trained to look for women with Adams apples, big hands and big feet.”

The NYPD was forced to revise its patrol guide in 2019 following a class action lawsuit on behalf of several transgender women who argued they’d been unjustly targeted by law enforcement under the “walking while trans” law.

The guide now specifically prohibits officers from relying on “gender, gender identity, clothing, and location” to establish probable cause – but the final repeal of the ban corrects the injustice once and for all.