No Shelter for Transsexuals

Case of Preoperative Woman Raped at Men's Homeless Facility Exemplifies City's Dilemma

It's to counteract these attitudes that transgender activists recently introduced a bill in the City Council seeking to amend New York's human rights law. Currently the law protects against gender-based discrimination. If passed, INT 754 would expand the law so that discrimination based on a person's gender identity or perceived gender would also be illegal. While seemingly innocuous, the slight change in wording could have major legal ramifications for the transgender community. Armen Merjian, senior staff attorney at Housing Works, an advocacy group that has successfully litigated against the HRA several times over the city's failure to provide emergency housing for homeless people with HIV/AIDS, says INT 754 would be "instrumental in protecting the rights of transgender people in cases like Perez's."

But Mayor Giuliani refuses to support INT 754, and at present the bill is going nowhere. At the City Council hearing on May 4, a member of the Giuliani administration testified that transgender rights are adequately covered by the city's existing law and the amendment is "unnecessary."

Achilles "Cookie" Capasso: Suing Bayley Seton Hospital for gender discrimination
photo: Cary Conover
Achilles "Cookie" Capasso: Suing Bayley Seton Hospital for gender discrimination

Tell that to Achilles Capasso, a/k/a "Cookie," a preoperative 38-year-old transsexual woman living on Staten Island who switched genders at age 13. In April 2000 Capasso went to the city-run Bayley Seton Hospital on Staten Island for a routine check of her hormone levels. She was referred to Dr. Andrew Maran, who she says told her he wouldn't give her female hormones. Capasso says that after she made it clear that she only wanted blood drawn, Maran told her to lift her shirt. "He stared at my breasts for at least 30 seconds," she relates, "and then told me to pull down my pants. I figured he needed to do this before he could take my blood. I was uncomfortable, so I opened my pants up but didn't pull them all the way down."

Capasso, who's filed a gender-discrimination claim against Bayley Seton Hospital and Dr. Maran, stated in a deposition that Maran then "took his hand and put it between my legs and felt my private area. When he felt it, he told me to pull my pants up. Minutes later, her medical records in hand, Capasso was unceremoniously ushered out of his office. On her chart Maran had written, "I advised (patient) that I do not participate in transsexuals (sic). Will not prescribe female hormones." (After repeated calls, Dr. Maran said he could not comment because of doctor-patient confidentiality. Ray Pohlod, a Bayley Seton spokesman, said that "since this was the first time the patient visited Dr. Maran, he needed to do a physical examination and work-up before responding to the patient's needs. The patient refused, and based on that, Dr. Maran could not continue. As we understand it, there was no inappropriate behavior in this case.")

Capasso's lawyer, Tom Shanahan, of Driggs & Shanahan, describes such attitudes as barbaric. "It exemplifies exactly why we need legislation like INT 754," he fumes, "and there's no excuse for not having human rights laws that are all-inclusive." Shanahan points out that as bad as the discrimination against transsexuals is in the public sector, it's often worse in privately owned companies. Shanahan is currently pursuing a case involving three preoperative male-to-female transsexuals who were chased out of a Toys "R" Us store in Brooklyn by bat-wielding employees last December. (In a letter to one of the claimants, Toys "R" Us expressed regret, but added, "As we are sure you can understand, the fact that an incident occurred on our premises does not automatically make us responsible.")

And then there's the issue of the NYPD's periodic sweeps of Manhattan's meatpacking district, where many transgender sex workers ply their trade. Its also the location of several community centers that work with transsexuals. According to Andrea Sears, co-chair of the Metropolitan Gender Network, police cruised the streets throughout May, arresting mostly transgender sex workers at a much higher rate than usual. Although Sears suggests several reasons for the random sweeps—gentrification being one—she doesn't think it's a coincidence that the arrests started just a few days before the City Council held its hearing on INT 754. "It was well-known that many transgenders were giving personal testimony at that meeting," she says.

The Metropolitan Gender Network is considering filing legal charges against the city because, says Sears, "regardless of what sparked the sweep, the police targeted transsexuals. They profiled sex workers based on gender-expression—it's the same principle as racial profiling." She pauses for a second and then adds heatedly, "Why don't they just list the charge as WWT—Walking While Trans?"

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