LGBT Rights

Laws Protecting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) New Yorkers

New York State residents receive LGBTQ-related and same-sex marriage protections under a variety of federal, state and local laws. If you believe you have been the victim of discrimination, contact the Civil Rights Bureau at (212) 416-8250, Civil.Rights@ag.ny.gov, or submit a complaint .

Federal LGBTQ Protections

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on sex in workplaces with 15 or more employees. On June 15, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia that Title VII’s prohibition of sex-based discrimination extends to discrimination based on sexual orientation or transgender status.

New York State LGBTQ Laws

The Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA) and the Gender-Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA)

The Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SODNA), effective as of January 16, 2003, amended the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) to make 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. The Act further amended the NYSHRL to broadly define sexual orientation as “heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, or asexuality.” 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.

The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) became effective on January 25, 2019, and amended the NYSHRL to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression, including transgender status, in employment, housing, credit, education, and public education. GENDA defined gender identity or expression to mean “a person’s actual or perceived gender-related identity, appearance, behavior, expression, or other gender-related characteristic regardless of the sex assigned to that person at birth.”

If you believe you have been the victim of discrimination prohibited by SONDA, GENDA, 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. Note, however, that making a complaint with the Attorney General does not satisfy all statutory filing deadlines that may apply.

Protections in Public Schools

The Dignity for All Students Act (DASA), 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 on the basis of a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. 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. Click for more information on DASA

In July of 2019, the New York State legislature extended the Human Rights Law to specifically cover public schools, thereby allowing the New York State Division of Human Rights the ability to investigate reports of bullying and harassment in and around our public classrooms.  Find more information on the Division here.

Conversion Therapy

In January of 2019, the New York State legislature amended the state’s education law to prohibit mental health care professionals from attempting to change the sexual orientation of patients under 18 years old. Practitioners attempting to change a patient’s sexual orientation through so-called “conversion therapy” constitutes professional misconduct subject to disciplinary measures. For information on filing a complaint against a mental health professional engaged in such treatments, call 1-800-442-8106 or e-mail conduct@nysed.gov.

Correcting Birth Certificates’ Sex Designation

In March of 2020, the New York State Department of Health’s Bureau of Vital Records changed its polices to allow transgender minors to correct the sex designation on their birth certificates if they were born in New York State. Previously, transgender youth had to wait until they were 18 years old to apply for the certificate correction.  The revision also does away with the requirement of a certification from a licensed medical provider stating that an applicant is undergoing appropriate clinical treatment, itself a requirement that, in June 2014, replaced a more onerous one for proof of “sex reassignment” surgery. Today, applicants 17 years or older can make a correction request simply by completing and signing a Department of Health form and a notarized affidavit. Minors 16 years or younger must make the same request through a parent or legal guardian. See vital records for more information.

This most recent change brings the State’s requirements in line with New York City’s recently-revised policy which, as of January 1, 2019, allows individuals born in New York City to change the gender marker on their birth certificates—to female, male, or a third, nonbinary gender category, “X”—with a self-attestation of gender.

Local Laws Prohibiting Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity/Expression 

Alongside the protections afforded by SONDA and GENDA within the NYSHRL, 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

Some cities and counties in New York State prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression, including Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Ithaca, New York City, Rochester, and Suffolk, Tompkins, and Westchester Counties.

Hate Crimes and the LGBTQ Community

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 empowers local district attorney’s offices to recommend 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. 

In 2019, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act expanded New York’s hate crime laws to protect individuals based on their gender identity or expression. Additionally, the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 defines “hate crime” 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.

Marriage Equality 

On June 25, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States held that the Constitution confers a right to same-sex marriage in allstates, the District of Columbia, and other U.S. territories. In its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Court declared that the U.S. Constitution “does not permit the State to bar same-sex couples from marriage on the same terms as accorded to couples of the opposite sex.” Obergefell expanded the Court’s prior decision in Windsor v. United States, which invalidated a key provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and allowed same-sex couples legally married in a state that recognized their marriage to be treated as married for federal tax purposes.

Since 2011, New York’s Marriage Equality Act has provided same-sex couples the right to marry in New York State, granting the same rights, responsibilities, and benefits under state and local law enjoyed by opposite-sex couples. Neither the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell nor the Marriage Equality Act requires religious institutions to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples, but no state employee can refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. 

Under the Marriage Equality Act, same-sex couples may 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. For example, same-sex couples are 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.