Judge's Rulings Favor Latino AIDS Agency in Transgender Discrimination Suit

January 16, 2003 12:00 am

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Important Victories for Transgender Rights and HIV Privacy


NEW YORK-Saying that the physical anatomy of transgendered people is not relevant to gender identity, a New York Supreme Court Judge today ruled in favor of a leading Latino HIV/AIDS agency that was being threaten with eviction from their offices by a commercial landlord who sought disclosure of the anatomical sex of the agency’s clients.

In a motion by the landlord asking the judge to force the Hispanic AIDS Forum to disclose the anatomical sex at birth of its clients, the judge ruled that the physical anatomy of transgendered people is not relevant to gender identity.

The landlord also sought to make Hispanic AIDS Forum reveal its clients’ names. The judge sided with Hispanic AIDS Forum that such a requirement would violate the HIV confidentiality rights of the clients since Hispanic AIDS Forum largely treats people with HIV and AIDS.

“By evicting us and forcing us to relocate, this landlord has already cost us too many precious resources — resources that could have helped keep people alive,” said Heriberto Sanchez Soto, Executive Director of the Hispanic AIDS Forum. “These rulings send the message that discrimination and prejudice are wrong, especially when so many lives are at stake.”

Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union’s AIDS Project, Hispanic AIDS Forum brought suit against the landlord in June of 2001 after it refused to renew the lease on their Jackson Heights office because of complaints from other tenants that transgendered clients were using the “wrong” restrooms. (For example, people who identified as women, but were not born anatomically female, used the women’s restroom.) The landlord refused to negotiate ways to accommodate the transgendered clients, forcing Hispanic AIDS Forum to relocate, incurring higher rent and substantial moving expenses.

“The landlord’s tactics of trying to degrade our clients by forcing them to disclose what their genitals look like and their HIV status demonstrates the contempt they have for transgendered people suffering from HIV and AIDS,” said James Esseks, Litigation Director of the ACLU’s AIDS Project. “These rulings are a positive step in helping us correct the wrongs done to a community that has already gone through enough.”

The lawsuit, filed in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan, says the Estate of Joseph Bruno (which owns the Bruson Building in Jackson Heights) violated state and local laws that prohibit

Judge’s Rulings Favor Latino AIDS Agency in Transgender Discrimination Suit January 16, 2003 discrimination based on sex, gender, and disability. The lawsuit asks for unspecified damages, citing the financial and practical impact the move had on the Hispanic AIDS Forum’s ability to reach people badly in need of services.

According to the suit, the landlord told Sanchez Soto that the Hispanic AIDS Forum’s lease would not be renewed because of complaints from other tenants over “men who think they’re women using the women’s bathrooms.” When asked whether he was referring to the agency’s transgendered clients, the lawsuit charges that the landlord replied, “I don’t care what they are. They can’t use the wrong restrooms.”

The landlord insisted that the Hispanic AIDS Forum sign a written agreement that none of its clients would use restrooms in the building. When the agency refused, the landlord began eviction proceedings and the agency eventually moved to Woodside, Queens, which is less central to Latino gay and transgender communities.

Hispanic AIDS Forum v. Estate of Joseph Bruno is still in the information gathering stage. Depositions are expected to continue in February.

The ACLU is aided in this lawsuit by Kesari Ruza and Ed Hernstadt of Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz, PC.


About the Hispanic AIDS Forum

The Hispanic AIDS Forum provides treatment, education and innovative prevention services to New York City’s Latino population. The agency’s mission is to reduce HIV transmission and to secure

timely and quality support services for Latina/os affected by HIV/AIDS. The Hispanic AIDS Forum operates three community-based offices in some of New York’s largest Latino neighborhoods: Western Queens, Lower Manhattan and the South Bronx.

About the ACLU AIDS Project

Since the first days of the AIDS epidemic, the ACLU has fought for the civil liberties of people affected by the disease. This includes discrimination, as well as confidentiality in testing, reporting and treatment. Last month, the ACLU AIDS Project secured a new legal precedent protecting emergency health care workers from forced testing and from discrimination stemming from undue fear of transmission on the job.

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