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NY social service agency sued for not allowing X gender mark

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ALBANY, N.Y. — Nonbinary New Yorkers who currently must declare themselves as male or female to receive Medicaid, food stamps and other public assistance say in lawsuit filed Monday that the state is discriminating against them by failing to provide an X gender option.

The lawsuit filed against state and city agencies that run benefit programs seeks the type of nonbinary gender option already allowed on New York birth certificates and promised for driver’s licenses. The nonbinary plaintiffs said the “outdated” state computer system maintained by the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance compels nonbinary people to either lie under oath or to be denied benefits.

“I was forced to choose between M or F, male or female, as a gender marker, which neither really align with how I express myself or feel inside. So that was particularly traumatic, especially during such a vulnerable time,” said Jules Donahue, one of three plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union and Legal Services of NYC.

Donahue, 30, applied for benefits in July, after the coronavirus pandemic made it hard for the New York City law student to find stable work. Donahue identified as a male for the application, “but it just doesn’t feel as authentic to me as X.”

The lawsuit filed in state court in Manhattan names the agency commonly referred to as OTDA, along with the state health department and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The lawsuit also names the New York City Department of Social Services, though it notes city officials have urged the state to update their system.

An OTDA spokesperson said in an email that the gender marker is only for the agency’s internal computer system, not public documents, and that a multi-million dollar software upgrade will allow the additional gender option. It was not clear how long that would take. The agency said it ensures the right access to services regardless of gender identity or expression.

A spokesperson for the city’s Department of Social Services said the state controls the system and they continue to advocate for change.

“As we have said repeatedly over time, we continue to believe that the State’s delays, denials, and distractions from this matter are ultimately discriminatory and must be addressed, in line with the times,” Isaac McGinn said in an email.

New York is among at least 18 states that provide some legal recognition of nonbinary gender markers, according to the lawsuit. In addition to birth certificates, the state said in a November court filing it was modifying Department of Motor Vehicles computers to offer driver’s licenses with an X gender marker.

The lawsuit said the OTDA system discriminates on the basis of gender identity, violating state human rights and civil rights laws, as well as the state constitution. The lawsuit demands that the state agency add “X” as a valid gender identity option in the benefits system, as well as updated guidance and training for social services staff on proper conduct when dealing with nonbinary people.

Jaime Mitchell, a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit to get a nonbinary gender option on Medicaid for New York state residents.
Jaime Mitchell, a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit to get a nonbinary gender option on Medicaid for New York state residents.
Jaime Mitchell via AP

Co-plaintiff Jaime Mitchell said the lack of an X option is an extra indignity for already vulnerable people in need of Medicaid or food stamps. Mitchell, 40, was able to get a birth certificate with an X marker in January, but was unable to update their benefits records.

“Any time I need something as simple as food or to make a doctor’s appointment, I basically am forced to misgender myself, to be misgendered. And this takes a toll,” Mitchell, a New York City resident, said.

NYCLU attorney Bobby Hodgson said the state has know the system was outdated for years.

“The fact that New York state has allowed the sole conduit through which people can get benefits to become a broken system just can’t justify the discrimination that is occurring,” Hodgson said.

Jevon Martin, executive director of Princess Janae Place in the Bronx.
Jevon Martin, executive director of Princess Janae Place in the Bronx.
AP

Princess Janae Place, a Bronx organization that helps transgender and nonbinary people of color transition from homelessness to independent living, is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit. Executive director Jevon Martin said he’s seen the financial and emotional toll the discrimination takes on the people his organization helps.

“That’s the issue,” he said “You’re not seen for who you are.”

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NYPD releases video of gunman firing into group in the Bronx

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New video tweeted by the NYPD Sunday shows a gunman wildly firing down a Bronx street into a group of people in Fordham Manor, leaving two men wounded, cops said.

“WANTED for ASSAULT: Do you know this guy?” the NYPD wrote on Twitter.

“On 6/25/21 at approx 11:10 PM, in front of 2710 Morris Ave in the Bronx, the suspect fired several rounds towards a group, striking a 26-year-old male and a 20-year-old. Any info? DM @NYPDTips, or anonymously call them at 800-577-TIPS.”

The suspect who shot at a group of people in the Bronx on June 25, 2021.
The suspect who shot at a group of people in the Bronx on June 25, 2021.
NYPD
The suspect firing the gun in the Bronx.
The suspect firing the gun in the Bronx.
NYPD
The shooting left two people injured, according to the NYPD.
The shooting left two people injured, according to the NYPD.
NYPD

The 26-year-old was shot in the buttocks and the 20-year-old was shot in the leg, police said. Both were expected to survive.

The victims said they were standing with a group of friends when the “guy just came up and started shooting,” a police spokesman said.

No words were exchanged, video shows. 

There were no immediate arrests.

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FDA finds peeling paint, debris at US plant making J&J’s COVID vaccine

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A US plant that was making Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine must fix a long list of problems including peeling paint and unsanitary conditions and practices to resume operation, according to a highly critical report by the Food and Drug Administration.

Experts said addressing the issues raised in the scathing FDA inspection report could take months.

Neither J&J nor the FDA has said when they expect vaccine production to restart at the Baltimore plant owned by Emergent Biosolutions. Only two other plants are currently equipped to supply the world with the key drug substance for J&J’s vaccine.

“It may take many months to make these changes,” said Prashant Yadav, a global health care supply chain expert at the Center for Global Development. He described some of the issues raised by the FDA as “quite significant.”

No vaccine manufactured at the Emergent plant has been distributed for use in the United States. However, J&J said it will exercise its oversight authority to ensure that all of the FDA observations are addressed promptly and comprehensively.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was put on a pause in the US over a potential link to a blood clotting condition.
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The health care conglomerate has drawn scrutiny for months over its halting process to scale up production of a vaccine that is easier to handle and, by virtue of being a single shot, easier to use than other authorized vaccines.

Its use in the United States has been paused since last week as health officials study a possible link to a very rare but serious blood clot condition.

Emergent has been seeking regulatory authorization to make the J&J vaccine in the United States. It stopped production at the plant recently, saying the FDA had asked it to do so after an inspection.

J&J’s plant in Leiden, the Netherlands, is still producing doses for the world. It has another facility in India, which is currently curtailing exports of the shot as it struggles to vaccinate its own population.

Johnson & Johnson reiterated on Wednesday that it was working to establish a global supply chain in which 10 manufacturing sites would be involved in the production of its COVID-19 vaccine, in addition to the Leiden plant.

The company has a US government-brokered agreement with rival drugmaker Merck, which is preparing to make doses of J&J’s vaccine.

Failure to train personnel

The FDA in its final 12-page inspection report said it had reviewed security camera footage in addition to an in-person site visit to the Emergent plant.

It found a failure to train personnel to avoid cross-contamination of COVID-19 vaccines from Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, which had also been produced at the site. The agency also cited staff carrying unsealed bags of medical waste in the facility, bringing it in contact with containers of material used in manufacturing.

The FDA reviewed security camera footage and visited the Emergent BioSolutions plant in Baltimore.
Getty Images

Earlier this week, the House launched an investigation into whether Emergent used its relationship with a Trump administration official to get a vaccine manufacturing contract despite a record of not delivering on contracts.

Emergent said in a statement that it is working with the FDA and J&J to quickly resolve the issues outlined in the report.

Production of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is not yet authorized for use in the United States, was previously stopped at the Emergent plant after ingredients from that shot contaminated a batch of J&J vaccine, ruining millions of doses.

The FDA also noted that Emergent did not produce adequate reports showing that the vaccines it was producing met quality standards.

The inspection, carried out between April 12 and April 20, also found the building not of suitable size or design to facilitate cleaning, maintenance or proper operations.

J&J said it was redoubling its efforts to get authorization for the facility as quickly as possible.

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One dead after pair of fires breaks out in Manhattan

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One person was killed and several others were injured in a pair of Manhattan fires Wednesday morning, officials said.

The first blaze erupted in Midtown around 8:15 a.m. inside a DSW Designer Shoe Warehouse at 213 W. 34th St., where an escalator became fully engulfed in flames — sending smoke billowing into the first and second floor and the interconnected 40-story hotel building, fire officials said.

It was not immediately clear which hotel it was.

Five firefighters suffered minor injuries putting out the blaze.

“The fire went out, but we have a smoke condition that we’re trying to alleviate,” FDNY Battalion Chief John Porretto said at the scene. “Units are going to remain on scene until all the smoke alleviates.”

The fire marshal will determine the causes of the fire.

A second blaze broke out 15 minutes later on the Upper East Side at 1576 2nd Ave., officials said.

A three-alarm fire at 213 W. 34th Street in Manhattan that left one dead
A three-alarm fire at 213 W. 34th St. in Manhattan left one dead.
NYFD

One man died in the fire and a second man was in serious condition at Lenox Hill Hospital, police said.

A firefighter suffered minor injuries battling the blaze and was taken to Cornell Hospital, fire officials said.

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