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NYCLU Lends its Support for New Local Human Rights Law in Binghamton

NYCLU Lends its Support for New Local Human Rights Law in Binghamton

The Binghamton City Council unanimously passed a human rights law on Monday that outlaws discrimination against people in employment, housing, education and places of public accommodation on the basis of their gender identity or expression. Councilmember Sean Massey, who sponsored the law, sought the New York Civil Liberties Union’s support and feedback. The NYCLU’s Legislative Department and Central New York Chapter Director Barrie Gewanter initiated a dialogue with Massey, offering suggestions on how to strengthen the language of the bill to correspond to the state Human Rights Law and provide guidance for its enforcement. Massey has agreed to propose amendments to the law that would reflect the NYCLU’s recommendations. Gewanter addressed the City Council before Monday’s vote, expressing the NYCLU’s support for the legislation: I come before you today as the Central New York representative of the New York Civil Liberties Union, the New York State affiliate of the national ACLU. I would like to begin by commending Councilor Massey for proposing, and his Council colleagues for supporting, the local Human Rights Law that you are scheduled to vote on today. It is always significant when a municipality chooses to take a stand to protect the civil and human rights of its residents. This law puts Binghamton forward as a place where essential individual rights are treasured and where no one need fear discrimination because of who they are, where they come from, what they believe, who they love or how they present themselves to the world. It is especially significant that the law you have drafted extends protections against discrimination in employment, housing, education, and places of public accommodation to individuals who do not conform to common norms and stereotypes related to gender, height and weight. In doing so, the City of Binghamton anticipates the enactment of pending New York State legislation and sends a strong message to Albany that such protections are appropriate in this day and time. As you may know, since the recent public hearing, we have been in dialogue with Councilor Massey about some of the provisions of the law as written. The intent of this law is, in part, to track existing categories and related protections that are currently encoded in New York State Human Rights Law. The law before you does that without explicit reference to sections of Article 15 of the Executive Law of New York State. We are pleased that Councilor Massey intends to move to amend this law in the early part of the New Year to make this correspondence even clearer and more explicit. We understand that will include:

  • A statement that the provisions of this law will be interpreted and applied consistent with New York State Human Rights Law;
  • A definition of sexual orientation;
  • The addition of the words “actual or perceived” prior to the list of categories of persons under this law, including in regards to “sex” when considering gender identity or expression;
  • The addition of “alienage or citizenship status” as an extension of the existing categories of national origin and ancestry;
  • A statement that prohibits retaliation or discrimination against persons who respond or complain to discrimination as defined in this law.

These future amendments do not in any way diminish the accomplishment you will make by bringing this law to a vote today as written. They are wholly consistent with the intent of this law as considered today. However, they will be helpful as you move forward to consider strategies to ensure that this law may be understood, respected and enforced within the boundaries of this city. It is our understanding that Councilor Massey and others intend to formulate an additional proposal to create a Binghamton Human Rights Commission. We would support this additional step and look forward to assisting you in making this a reality. I can share with you my personal experiences that in Syracuse and Onondaga counties, the Human Rights Commission is a valuable partner in promoting diversity, educating employers, landlords and businesses, and the general public, and working out reasonable accommodations, corrections and compromises when allegations of discrimination arise. This too is anticipated in the language of state law and the practices of the New York State Division of Human Rights, and may be worth including in an explicit way in conjunction with future amendments to this law. In closing, let me again state our support for this bold step forward for individual rights in the City of Binghamton. I urge you all to vote for this legislation as a beacon for the Central New York Region and the entire state.

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