Commission finds transgender discrimination in substance abuse centers

The NYC Commission on Human Rights charged The Thomas and Marie White Health Center with gender identity discrimination.
By Gina Martinez

The NYC Commission on Human Rights filed complaints against a substance abuse center in Jamaica, and three more in other boroughs, for gender identity discrimination against transgender patients.

According to the commission, the four centers refused to admit transgender patients, assigned rooms according to patients’ gender assigned at birth rather than their gender identity, and subjected patients to physical exams to determine gender identity.

The four centers cited were the Thomas and Marie White Health Center at 116-30 Sutphin Blvd, the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center in Brooklyn, Addicts Rehabilitation Center in Manhattan, and Promesa Residential Health Care Facility in the Bronx.

The complaints were the result of testing conducted by the commission following reports of discrimination from advocates.

Hollis Pfitsch, deputy commissioner of the commission’s Law Enforcement Bureau, said that at a time when the federal government is rolling back LGBTQ protections, New York City is doubling down on its efforts to make sure everyone is treated equally and with respect.

“Transgender and gender non-conforming individuals have been targets of bias and discrimination for far too long,” Pfitsch said. “The commission fights to protect every person regardless of their gender identity in New York City and will hold accountable anyone who discriminates against another person for being who they are. In New York City, everyone has the right to be themselves without hatred, violence, or discrimination.”

The commission began testing substance abuse centers for discriminatory practices after tips from the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund alleging discrimination against transgender patients in September 2016. Testers approached more than a dozen substance abuse centers citywide to inquire whether the centers accepted transgender patients for treatment and where those patients would be housed.

The commission said testers found that one center outright refused to accept transgender patients, telling a commission tester that “no, we don’t [accept transgender patients].” Representatives at other centers told the testers that transgender women would be housed according to their gender assigned at birth in violation of gender identity protections under the the city Human Rights Law, the commission said. Another representative said that “people with moving male parts would be housed with men,” while another said “it depends on how far along the person is in the process.”

Testers also found that representatives said they would perform physical examinations on transgender patients to determine whether they are on hormone medication or have had surgery. Other representatives said that transgender patients would be required to stay in private rooms. It is illegal to forcibly segregate transgender or gender non-conforming people into facilities apart from regular gender individuals.

According to the commission, claims of discrimination based on gender identity and expression continue to rise following a two-year trend. The commission filed 30 new investigations into gender identity discrimination in 2016, up from 18 investigations in 2015 and one investigation in 2014. It is currently investigating nearly 50 claims of gender identity discrimination.

The Human Rights panel has the authority to fine violators with civil penalties of up to $250,000 for willful and malicious violations of the law and can award compensatory damages to victims, including emotional distress damages and other benefits.

The Thomas and Marie White Health Center could not be reached for comment.

Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmartinez@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

More from Around New York