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North Hempstead votes unanimously to ban gender-identity discrimination

Juli Grey-Owens, executive director of the Long Island

Juli Grey-Owens, executive director of the Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition in Huntington Station, had called for a review of North Hempstead's code at a recent town board meeting. Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

The North Hempstead town board Tuesday night changed its code to ban discrimination of town workers on the basis of gender identity.

About three dozen supporters of the bill celebrated after a 10-minute public hearing, with many hugging one another after the bill's unanimous passage. The board has five Democrats and two Republicans.

"Sheer elation," Juli Grey-Owens, executive director of the Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition in Huntington Station, said after the vote.

Grey-Owens had urged the town to amend its code at a board meeting in April.

The new law adds protection for the transgender community under the town's existing workplace bias law. Town code lists protected classes -- such as race, creed, sex and sexual orientation -- for which "discrimination, harassment or retaliation in the workplace based on actual or perceived differences [is] . . . obnoxious and harmful to its victims, creates an offensive working condition and is a violation of law."

The law adds "gender" to that list, defining it as: "actual or perceived sex and shall also include a person's gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior or expression, whether or not that gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior or expression is different from that traditionally associated with the legal sex assigned to that person at birth."

Advocates for transgender rights say governments should specifically mention "gender identity" in their anti-bias laws, as do New York City, Suffolk County and other municipalities. Nassau County and its other towns do not mention "gender identity" in their anti-discrimination codes. Officials in Nassau, Hempstead and Oyster Bay have said, however, that existing laws already forbid discrimination based on gender identity.

Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth said the change is necessary "so that it does cover everyone that it was intended to cover." The law will also apply to employees of businesses under contract with the town.

Supporters at the hearing said the legislation is key given the lack of clear legal protection elsewhere.

Jason Starr, director of the Nassau County chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said that "transgender and gender nonconforming individuals are often denied basic legal protections."

Starr said there is a "need for explicit legal protection."

Grey-Owens said at the meeting that members of the transgender community face discrimination after coming out.

Joanne Borden, a North Woodmere activist who has pressed for stronger legislation in Nassau, said, "We fear being fired from our jobs. . . . We fear being refused service in shops and restaurants."Nassau Legis. Judith Jacobs (D-Woodbury), who sponsored previous county legislation that failed, said in an email that she is "so happy that finally a municipality recognizes the need to include everyone in a human rights bill."

Grey-Owens said after the hearing she would "continue to work on the other towns" and Nassau County.

A rally is planned for June 14 on the steps of the Nassau County Legislature in Mineola. "I hope we'll spark interest" there, she said.

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