Gender-based discrimination in the state of New York has been codified since 1976 via Section 240.37, which makes “loitering for the purpose of engaging in a prostitution offense” a violation. But advocates including the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) are fighting for the repeal of laws that legislate against “walking while trans.”

“Trans communities around the country and the world have been organizing for a long time to challenge the ways our existence gets criminalized,” Gabriel Arkles, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told The Nation in an article published February 19. “In this moment, in places like Florida and South Dakota, that looks like organizing to stop new laws. In other places, like New York and D.C., [we’re] trying to get laws off the books that have been used to criminalize trans women of color in public space for a long time.”

Per the Center for Constitutional Rights, almost half of the people who were arrested for “loitering” in 2018 via the New York law—when the state saw a 120 percent increase in arrests—were Black or Latinx. “Yet courts charged with upholding these rights have convicted New Yorkers merely because they were wearing form-revealing and gender nonconforming clothing. The ways that women of color present themselves should never be policed, let alone result in an arrest or conviction,” wrote NYCLU in a recently published report. 

Saye Joseph, policy and advocacy manager at Black Youth Project 100, told The Nation that the while racial biases are well known, the policing of what women wear is not addressed enough. “When we talk about decriminalizing sex work, we’re talking about street-based sex work [and] we need to make that distinction and recognize what form of sex work is under attack,” Joseph said. “These women are targeted because they’re perceived as sex workers based on a limited, racist narrative of what a sex worker looks like, and what a trans woman is. The racial associations, the neighborhoods, it’s all connected.”