NEW YORK, N.Y. – Restaurant owners can’t require ties for male diners only. Gyms can’t tell clients which locker room to use. And in most cases, an employer can’t put “John” on a worker’s ID if she prefers “Jane.”
New York City’s Human Rights Commission is establishing what advocates called some of the most powerful guidelines nationwide on gender-identity discrimination, releasing specifics Monday to flesh out broad protections in a 2002 law.
“Today’s guidance makes it abundantly clear what the city considers to be discrimination,” which can lead to fines of up to $250,000, Commissioner Carmelyn P. Malalis said in a statement. Officials said complaints about gender-identity discrimination have risen in recent years but couldn’t immediately provide statistics.
Some cities around the country have added transgender people to anti-discrimination protections, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo did likewise for his state this fall. Other communities have rebuffed them: Houston voters this fall defeated an ordinance that would have established nondiscrimination protections for gay and transgender people.
“New York City vaults to the front of the line” with its new guidelines and strong legal framework for human rights complaints, said Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defence & Education Fund. “These are real, everyday struggles for transgender people.”
The guidelines apply to many businesses, landlords and employers. Public schools already have their own, somewhat similar rules. Some religious institutions and private clubs can be exempt.
Groups representing restaurateurs and landlords didn’t immediately respond to inquiries about the new provisions, nor did a major fitness-centre chain.
An estimated 25,000 transgender or gender non-conforming people live in the city, officials said.
Besides overall bans on discrimination in housing and hiring, the new guidelines speak to such specifics as balking at using the personal pronoun of someone’s choice — “Ms.” or “Mr.,” for instance. Commission officials say they understand there can be honest mistakes, but repeating them, refusing to correct them or ridiculing the person can be a violation.
The rules also declare that transgender people can’t be denied access to the restroom or locker room where their gender identity belongs, at their discretion. Unisex, single-occupancy bathrooms are suggested but not required.
Objections from fellow patrons or employees “are not a lawful reason to deny access,” the guidelines say. Officials point to existing harassment and sex-crime laws to address any concerns about sexual predators gaining access to intimate settings, a concern raised during the Houston referendum, though its supporters called the problem minimal.
New York’s rules also address topics ranging from health coverage to employee dress codes. They needn’t be reduced to one unisex outfit, but a business can’t require dresses or makeup for women only, for instance, or bar only men from having long hair.
Federal courts have upheld gender-specific dress requirements in some cases, but the commission says that such differentiation “reinforces a culture of sex stereotypes” and that there’s legal room for the city to set its own guidelines.
Reach Michael Balsamo on Twitter @ at mikebalsamo1 and Jennifer Peltz @ jennpeltz.