Transgender Community Turns Up Heat on NYC Welfare Agency

ALP In the Media: Transgender Community Turns Up Heat on NYC Welfare Agency

Diana Scholl
Housing Works AIDS Issues Update, September 10, 2009

View the original piece.

New York City’s transgender community is making another push in its four-year-old campaign to force New York City’s Human Resources Administration (HRA) to implement a policy to address discrimination and harassment of trans and gender non-conforming people.

TransJustice is ramping up organizing, with an online petition and postcard campaign calling on HRA to implement the policy by December 2009.

The policy to protect trans and gender-nonconforming individuals has already been written with community input but has not been implemented. Activists have been urging HRA to address the policy since 2005. Tens of thousands of poor New Yorkers depend on HRA for critical services such as welfare and housing assistance.

Tracy Bumpus, a Housing Works case manager and member of TransJustice, said she is tired of waiting for action. Bumpus said that staff at HRA had referred to her clients as “he” after they had asked to be referred to as “she.” Bumpus also said that male-to-female transgender members of the welfare workforce had been told to go home and come back wearing men’s clothes.

The policy, which has already been written, would implement language in Local Law 3, New York City’s gender identity non-discrimination law, and mandate cultural competency trainings focused on serving transgender and gender nonconforming individuals. More than three million New Yorkers receive services from HRA.

The new effort stems in part from this summer’s Transgender Day of Action at which 900 activists marched to HRA to demand that the city agency adopt the policy. In a subsequent meeting with members of TransJustice (a coalition including the Audre Lorde Project, Housing Works, Queers for Economic Justice and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project), HRA Executive Deputy Commissioner Jane Corbett expressed anger that HRA was targeted by a protest when it was working to implement the policy. She also said that she couldn’t say when the policy would be implemented, according to people who attended the meeting.

An HRA spokesperson told the Update that the policy is in “the final review process towards implementation.”

“The New York City Human Resources Administration strongly supports and abides by the City’s existing Human Rights Commission policy regarding discrimination against trans and gender non-conforming individuals. Additionally, this past year we worked very closely with a diverse community group to develop a procedure on which HRA will base staff trainings throughout the agency,” said HRA Spokesperson Barbara Brancaccio.

Bumpus says change isn’t coming fast enough.“We went five years and we have no policy. All the while, people are being continually harassed by workers at HRA,” Bumpus said.

The policy change would affect more than just transgender individuals, said Imani Henry, who founded TransJustice but is not directly involved with this effort. “What’s brilliant and important about the campaign is TransJustice is calling for dignity for all recipients of public assistance,” Henry said. “The system says ‘You’re a man and born a man, and this is how we’re going to deal with it.’ TransJustice is saying ‘You will treat us like people even though that is not how people on public assistance are treated.’ “

Reina Gossett, Director of the Welfare Project at Queers for Economic Justice, said that implementing this policy with HRA is just the first step with addressing “rampant transphobia” throughout the city. “Transphobia happens when we interact witht he MTA. It happens in homeless shelters,” Gossett said. “These are things we need to survive.”