NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo has elected to use his executive power to expand the state's anti-discrimination rules to protect transgender state residents.
Cuomo announced the policy change Thursday night at an event hosted by the Empire State Pride agenda, attended by about 700 people. He released a tweet about it afterward.
The governor said current law didn't go far enough to protect the rights of all state residents. He directed the state's Division of Human Rights to issue a regulation that would interpret the anti-discrimination law to prohibit discrimination against transgender people.
"It is clear that the fair legal interpretation and definition of a person's sex includes gender identity and gender expression," Cuomo told a cheering crowd. "It is intolerable to allow discrimination of transgender individuals, and they are one of the most abused, harassed groups in society today."
Gay, lesbian and transgender New Yorkers have long pushed to include gender identity in the state's anti-discrimination law. But while the measure has passed the Assembly multiple times, it has remained stalled in the Republican-controlled state Senate.
Cuomo's move will prohibit discrimination against a transgender person when it comes to jobs, loans, schools and public accommodations.
"It will apply to all people, all businesses, all facilities – be they public or private – all fields of endeavor, and employment, housing, public accommodations, and credit," he said.
Cuomo said he was righting the wrong that occurred when transgender protection was dropped in 2002 gay discrimination act because lawmakers did not believe it would pass.
"The law protected lesbians, gays and bisexuals, but the law left out the T, so to speak," he said.
Cuomo's administration says the new regulation provides essentially the same protections as that bill, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, or GENDA, but requires no legislative approval. Officials say the regulation makes New York the first state to take executive action to add transgender protections under law.
The Housing Works, nonprofit focused on addressing the AIDS and homelessness crises, praised Cuomo's move Thursday evening.
"Governor Cuomo has once again shown tremendous leadership and courage by exercising the power of the Executive Office to finally secure basic civil rights for transgender New Yorkers. After years of relentless advocacy work around GENDA and trans rights, this long overdue victory is indeed sweet," Housing Works President and Chief Executive Officer Charles King said in a news release. "These statewide regulations add gender identity and expression to current NY Human Rights Law. As such, they reflect a giant leap forward by ensuring that the transgender community is protected by law in every county across New York State."
Cuomo's action drew praise from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and state lawmakers.
``For over a decade, New Yorkers have lobbied lawmakers to pass GENDA without any success,'' said Kelsey Louie, the chief executive officer of the GMHC nonprofit group. ``The governor finally said enough and removed the gridlock because he knows that the issues that transgender New Yorkers face are truly life and death.''
Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said the governor's action is a welcome step forward in the fight for full and equal protections for all.
``Let's be clear,'' he said in a statement, ``no one should face discrimination or fear for their safety because of their gender identity.''
The state already prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, disability and gender.
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