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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 The nonbinary plaintiffs said the “outdated” state computer system maintained by the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance compels nonbinary people to either lie under oath or to be denied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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Suspect arrested in fatal Brooklyn stabbing

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Police have apprehended a suspect in the fatal December stabbing of a Brooklyn man, cops said on Saturday.

The suspect, John Headley, 32, also of Brooklyn, was taken into custody Friday and charged with murder and weapons possession for the Dec. 12 knifing of Ken Baird, 37, police said.

Baird was stabbed multiple times in the chest following a dispute on Crown Street near Utica Avenue in Crown Heights at about 6:40 p.m., police said.

EMS transported Baird to King County Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, cops said.

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Man dies after jumping from Staten Island Ferry

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A 53-year-old man died Saturday after jumping from the Staten Island Ferry into the chilly waters of New York Harbor, police said.

NYPD Harbor launch officers pulled the man out of the water after responding to reports of a jumper near the Whitehall Ferry Terminal in Manhattan at around 2 p.m.

“He jumped off the ferry as it pulled away from the dock,” an NYPD spokesman told The Post. He jumped off the Ferryboat Andrew J. Barberi, police said.

The unidentified victim was removed to Pier 11 and transported to New York-Presbyterian Hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly after 3:10 p.m.

A newsstand worker said there were “about 50 or so emergency people” at Pier 11 following a valiant effort — which included CPR — to save the man’s life.

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An NYPD spokesman says the 53-year-old man “jumped off the ferry as it pulled away from the dock.”

Michael Dalton

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The 53-year-old man was transported to New York-Presbyterian Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Michael Dalton

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Kemp Lashes M.L.B. as Republicans Defend Georgia’s Voting Law

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Mr. Kemp, who is gearing up to run for re-election in 2022, has striven to re-enter the good graces of Republican voters after becoming a central political target of former President Donald J. Trump because of his refusal to help Mr. Trump overturn the state’s election results last year. A former secretary of state of Georgia who has his own record of decisions that made voting harder for the state’s residents, he is again a key G.O.P. voice leading the charge on the issue.

On Saturday, he repeatedly tried to paint the league’s decision as driven by Stacey Abrams, the voting rights advocate and former Democratic candidate for governor in Georgia who is seen as likely to challenge Mr. Kemp again next year.

Ms. Abrams, one of the most prominent critics of Georgia’s voting law, has pushed back on calls for sports leagues and corporations to boycott the state. She said on Friday that she was “disappointed” baseball officials had pulled the All-Star Game but that she was “proud of their stance on voting rights.”

In defending the law in Georgia, Mr. Kemp singled out two Democratically controlled states, New York and Delaware, and compared their voting regulations with the new law in Georgia. Those states do not offer as many options for early voting as Georgia does, but they have also not passed new laws instituting restrictions on voting.

“In New York, they have 10 days of early voting,” Mr. Kemp said (New York actually has nine). “In Georgia, we have a minimum of 17, with two additional Sundays that are optional in our state. In New York, you have to have an excuse to vote absentee. In Georgia, you can vote absentee for any reason.”

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