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Cecilia Gentili On The repeal Of N.Y.'s 'Walking While Trans' Anti-Loitering Law


The law was formally passed in 1976 to discourage prostitution in New York by targeting loitering, but the way it was enforced earned it an informal name - the Walking While Trans Ban. Critics say police used the law to harass and arrest law-abiding citizens, especially transgender people of color. They waged a campaign against it. And on Tuesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a measure that repeals the Walking While Trans Ban. Cecilia Gentili is a former sex worker and an LGBTQ rights advocate who has been working to repeal this law. She's here now. Welcome.

CECILIA GENTILI: Hi. Thank you for having me.

KELLY: How's this feel, to achieve something you've been fighting for?

GENTILI: Well, it feels amazing. It feels like it's so powerful to know that the advocacy of a community so disenfranchised like the trans community was able to lead this groundbreaking change in the state of New York. So it is amazing. In a way, it's, you know, very refreshing for the trans community and the immigrant community, especially Black and brown trans people, you know, and knowing that they will be able to walk in the streets without having that nervousness of being stopped and frisked by police.

KELLY: And I'll note, since you mentioned Black and brown people and how this law had affected them - the data from New York state is that, overwhelmingly, the people who were arrested under this ban were Black and were Latinx. So I do wonder, in your experience, to what extent was this law still being enforced? I ask in part because I noticed Governor Cuomo, when he was signing this measure to repeal it, called it archaic. Was it still widely enforced?

GENTILI: Absolutely. Absolutely. I know people who had been stopped and questioned a couple of months ago because of whatever they were wearing or because of wherever they were walking by or standing.

KELLY: Wow. Why do you think it was possible now? What do you think opened people's minds to repealing this ban?

GENTILI: You know, we cannot ignore the fact that we have a Democratic Senate. I think that really opened the door for this work that we started years ago, when we didn't have a Democratic Senate, and that it has a lot to do with the advocacy of trans people, of Black and brown trans individuals and sex workers and former sex workers. They have a hard time. We have a hard time engaging in these kind of actions because most of our identities are criminalized, right? So what really is important here is the fact that people were able to come out of the darkness and use their narratives and their experiences to make a statement and create their awareness in the Legislature to pass this repeal.

KELLY: That is Cecilia Gentili. She's an LGBTQ rights advocate and founder of Transgender Equality Consulting. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

GENTILI: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.