Laws Protecting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) New Yorkers
New York State residents receive LGBT-related and same-sex marriage protections under a variety of state and local laws. For information on whether a specific law applies to you, or if you believe you have been the victim of discrimination, contact the Civil Rights Bureau at (212) 416-8250 or Civil.Rights@ag.ny.gov.
New York State LGBT Laws
The Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA)
The Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, effective as of January 16, 2003, makes it unlawful for anyone in New York State to be discriminated against in employment, housing, credit, education and public accommodations because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. SONDA, in combination with laws prohibiting discrimination based on marital status, together prohibit discrimination against same-sex couples in employment, housing, credit, education, and public accommodations.
With respect to transgender individuals, SONDA does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and expression. However, SONDA does apply when a transgender person is discriminated against based upon his or her actual or perceived sexual orientation. Furthermore, courts have also held that transgender people are protected under provisions of the New York State Human Rights Law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex and/or disability. And in 2009, then-Governor David Paterson issued an executive order prohibiting discrimination in state employment on the basis of gender identity.
If you believe you have been the victim of discrimination prohibited by SONDA or the New York State Human Rights Law, you may file a complaint with the Civil Rights Bureau of the New York State Attorney General's Office. Making a complaint with the Attorney General does not satisfy other statutory filing deadlines that may apply.
Dignity for All Students Act (DASA)
The Dignity for All Students Act, effective as of July 1, 2012, seeks to provide the state’s public elementary and secondary school students with a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment and bullying on school property, school buses, and during school functions. In 2012, the law was extended to apply to cyberbullying, prohibiting bullying and harassment via electronic communication. Prohibited activities can include aggressive conduct, threats, intimidation, or abuse that unreasonably and substantially interferes with another student’s educational performance. For more information on DASA, click here.
Local Laws Prohibiting Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity/Expression
Alongside the protections afforded by SONDA, various New York jurisdictions, including but not limited to those listed below, prohibit sexual orientation discrimination in one or more of the following contexts: public employment, private employment, public accommodations, education and/or housing.
- City of Albany
- Village of Alfred
- City of Binghamton
- Town of Brighton
- City of Buffalo
- Town of East Hampton
- City of Ithaca
- New York City
- City of Plattsburgh
- City of Rochester
- Town of Southampton
- City of Troy
- City of Watertown
- Albany County
- Nassau County
- Onondaga County
- Suffolk County
- Tompkins County
- Westchester County
Six cities and three counties in New York State prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression. These are Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Ithaca, New York City, Rochester, and Suffolk, Tompkins, and Westchester Counties.
In June 2014, the New York State Department of Health announced that it would no longer require proof of gender reassignment surgery or hormonal treatment in order for an individual to change a gender marker on a birth certificate. Previously, transgender individuals had to provide extensive documentation of such surgery or treatment – e.g., a completed application and letter from a surgeon specifying the date, place and type of sex reassignment surgery performed – in order to change the gender marker on the individual’s birth certificate. These requirements placed unnecessary financial and administrative burdens upon transgender individuals, many of whom do not undergo surgical or hormonal therapies, in order to obtain identification documents matching the genders with which they identify.
The Department of Health’s new policy allows for a change of gender marker on a birth certificate upon receipt of a certification from a licensed medical provider stating that an applicant is undergoing appropriate clinical treatment. The Department’s policy brings it in line with protocols of other federal and state agencies, including the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles and the U.S. Department of State and Social Security Administration. New York state also joins California, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, D.C., and Washington state in no longer requiring gender reassignment surgery to change gender status on a birth certificate. Unfortunately, the Department of Health’s policy, while applying to individuals born in New York state, does not yet apply to individuals born in New York City.
Hate Crimes Laws
With the passage of New York’s Hate Crimes Act in 2000, the legislature recognized in its findings that “crimes motivated by invidious hatred toward particular groups not only harm individual victims but send a powerful message of intolerance and discrimination to all members of the group to which the victim belongs. Hate crimes can and do intimidate and disrupt entire communities and vitiate the civility that is essential to healthy democratic processes.” The law offers local District Attorney’s Offices, who are tasked with enforcing its provisions, sentence enhancements to criminal defendants who are found to have committed a criminal offense – or who intentionally selects the victim of such an offense – in whole or substantial part because of a belief or perception of the victim’s sexual orientation, among other relevant characteristics. While New York’s Hate Crimes Act does not explicitly address gender identity-based hate crimes, under the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, the definition of “hate crime” has been expanded to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability. The federal law also gives the United States Department of Justice expanded authority to prosecute such hate crimes when local authorities do not. Individuals cannot privately enforce either the New York or federal hate-crimes laws.
New York state’s Executive Law also contains a provision requiring the state Division of Criminal Justice Services to collect and analyze data on, among other topics, the number of hate crimes reported to or investigated by local police departments.
New York’s Marriage Equality Act of 2011 also gives same-sex couples the right to marry in New York state and provides them the same rights, responsibilities, and benefits under state and local law enjoyed by opposite-sex couples. The Marriage Equality Act does not require religious institutions to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples, but no state employee can refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Major benefits of the New York Marriage Equality Act include the opportunity for same-sex couples to reap state tax benefits, state and municipal employee benefits, insurance benefits from state-licensed insurance agencies, health care benefits, expanded property rights, parental rights and a wide array of legal rights. Same-sex couples are now able to file joint state tax returns, take spousal deductions on state income taxes, exclude employer contributions for health insurance, exempt property from the state estate tax, and receive other tax benefits previously available only to opposite-sex couples.
In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in U.S. v. Windsor and struck down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”). Prior to the decision, DOMA prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages as a matter of federal law, thus precluding same-sex couples from jointly filing their federal taxes or from taking advantage of other federal tax exemptions available to opposite-sex couples, e.g., the estate tax marital deduction, or from reaping hundreds of other benefits available to legally married couples under federal law, e.g., Social Security survivor benefits. New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, leading a coalition of more than a dozen states, submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in Windsor,arguing that DOMA violates same-sex couples’ rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. To read a copy of that brief, click here. As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor, same-sex couples married in New York pursuant to the Marriage Equality Act are now recognized as legally married as a matter of both state and federal law.
By the first anniversary of the Windsor decision, in June 2014, twenty-two different courts had struck down bans on same-sex marriage or required state recognition of legally married same-sex couples in states spanning the country, including New Mexico, New Jersey, Utah, Ohio, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Virginia, Texas, Illinois, Tennessee, Michigan, Arkansas, Idaho, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. In light of this momentum, many observers expect the issue left unresolved by Windsor – whether a state’s ban on same-sex marriage is a violation of the U.S. Constitution – to return to the Supreme Court in the near future.