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New York Democrats cite transgender murders to justify compelled gender pronouns for utilities

Courts this year have been skeptical of gender pronoun mandates, though new law in New York doesn't mention penalties for violation.

Published: November 24, 2021 3:05pm

Updated: November 28, 2021 10:49pm

New York is ordering utilities, municipalities and phone companies to give customers a "convenient option" to state their preferred name and gender pronouns.

They will face unspecified penalties for "willfully and repeatedly" failing to address customers by those preferred names and pronouns "in all written or oral communications" and "all statements or documentation relating" to a customer's account.

The new law, signed by Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul the week prior to Thanksgiving, also prohibits service providers from requiring customers to "specify their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression" as a condition of using their preferred terms.

It's not clear whether a specific incident or pattern of treatment by service providers prompted the New York legislation, but bill sponsors invoked murders of transgender people at Hochul's bill signing.

"Nobody should suffer the indignity of being 'deadnamed' or being referred to by their non-affirmed name or gender," Sen. Brad Hoylman said. He quoted from a new Human Rights Campaign report that deemed 2021 "the deadliest year on record" for transgender and gender nonconforming people, with 46 killed. 

HRC's rundown of deaths doesn't specify the circumstances of each, but transgender killings are often associated with prostitution, already a high-risk profession, and relationship violence. LGBTQ magazine The Advocate said black transgender women represent most of the deaths.

"At a time when we are witnessing a record number of murders of trans people, particularly trans women, and of anti-LGBT pieces of legislation being introduced and passed in other states across the nation, New York must take leadership and stand against hate," Assemblymember Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas said. 

The Legislature wasn't in a rush to send the bill to Hochul, though. The record shows it was delivered to the governor more than five months after passing both chambers, apparently so she could sign it during Transgender Awareness Week.

It may face legal challenges for compelling speech in violation of the First Amendment. At least three courts this year have shot down legislation, policies or practices that punish so-called misgendering or deadnaming, the practice of using a transgender person's birth name.

Hochul's office didn't respond to Just the News queries on the consequences for violating the law, what prompted the legislation, and the basis of the governor's confidence that it will withstand legal scrutiny.

A federal appeals court blocked a public university from forcing a professor to use a student's preferred pronouns. The Virginia Supreme Court ordered a school district to reinstate a teacher for publicly opposing a proposed gender identity policy.

A California appeals court invalidated a provision of a state law on LGBTQ rest-home residents that made "willful and repeated" misgendering punishable with up to $2,500 in fines and 180 days in jail.

A novel lawsuit against California's gender self-identification prison law alleges that female prisoners were subject to compelled speech. Prison officials allegedly removed male references from their formal complaints about anatomical males who identify as women and were transferred to their prisons.

Closer to New York, a New Hampshire football player suspended for a game is challenging his high school's punishment of students for "intentional or persistent refusal to respect" the gender identity of classmates, the Portsmouth Herald reported.

On the bus with friends after school, according to his lawsuit, the unidentified player had been discussing a nonbinary student in Spanish class who uses plural pronouns, which are inherently gendered in Spanish.

Another student overheard the conversation and insisted there were more than two genders, which the football player disputed. They subsequently had "a contentious exchange of texts" that the eavesdropper turned over to the school, which punished the football player for violating the policy.

The punishment plausibly violates a Supreme Court ruling this spring that prevented a school district from removing a cheerleader from the team for a profane weekend Snapchat rant about not making the varsity squad.

Several First Amendment groups are petitioning SCOTUS to take a similar case, involving off-campus crude expression, to reinforce its new precedent on protected student speech.

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