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Ithaca Common Council unanimously passed the Transgender Safe Haven Resolution on Sept. 6.

September 7, 2023

Common Council ​​Unanimously Passed Gender Affirming Healthcare Resolution Amendment

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Ithaca is officially a safe haven for gender affirming healthcare, as of Wednesday, Sept. 6 when Ithaca Common Council passed a resolution 10-0.

The two-page resolution builds upon legislation passed by Governor Kathy Hochul in June that protects people seeking gender-affirming medical and psychological care in the state of New York. More specifically, it protects access to medical and mental health care, refuses cooperation with law enforcement agencies from other states seeking information about clients or physicians and maintains that gender expression or identity is not grounds for discrimination. 

The resolution began over three months ago, with Common Council alderperson for the Fourth Ward Jorge Defendini ’22. The inspiration came from legislation drafted by alderperson of Ithaca’s Fifth Ward Robert Cantelmo grad that declared Ithaca an abortion sanctuary city. Defendini was looking to strengthen the legal protections on a city-wide level and reaffirm to all citizens that Ithaca is a safe place for people of all gender identities and expressions. 

“The fascist right in our country is promoting [against gender affirming healthcare] at the national level, but starting at the state with local school boards, then going to state legislatures, then going to [the] federal government where you have top presidential candidates,” Defendini said. “This is a clear attempt to eliminate being transgender in public and private settings. And we need to be proactive to not let that happen.”

In an interview with The Sun, Defendini noted he hopes the resolution signals to people in the queer community that Ithaca is a safe place by taking an official stance of solidarity. But more than that, Defendini was looking to protect transgender people in case the statewide protections were overturned. 

“As we saw with Roe v. Wade, just because something is in law right now, does not guarantee that it will be in the future,” Defendini said. “We must be vigilant organizers and advocates for progress and change. And to never take anything for granted.”

Defendini was most adamant about the last clause of the resolution, which states that if any law or regulation is passed in New York state criminalizing the providing, seeking, receiving or assisting of gender affirming healthcare, Ithaca city personnel will make the enforcement of such law or regulation their lowest priority. 

“That’s our attempt at stating that, morally we are against [the law or regulation], even if legally we would be compelled to abide by it,” Defendini said.

While Defendini researched, wrote and proposed the resolution, he recruited the help of Planned Parenthood of Greater New York for advocacy and support. Caitlin Hunter, the community organizer of PPGNY, testified at the City Administration Committee in support of the resolution. 

“I wanted the committee to really understand the importance and the weight of the resolution,” Hunter said. “As a city, we need to protect our practitioners but more importantly, our citizens.”

Hunter explained that across the country, she has been watching attacks on transgender people and trying to figure out ways to protect them on a local level. In an interview with The Sun, she explained that part of being a community is protecting each other and this resolution is one tangible way to do so. 

But not only is this resolution looking to protect the people of Ithaca, it may also provide a safe space to people coming from other states to Ithaca, who may not be offered the same protections in their home states. 

“Gender affirming care is egregiously being outlawed in other states,” Hunter said. “We know that other people are coming into New York State to receive that care, and we want to protect their ability to do so in Ithaca.”

Hunter explained that gender affirming care can mean a variety of procedures, including hormone therapy such as puberty blockers or surgery like breast augmentations. Ithaca’s resolution aims to protect all the different services that fall under the umbrella of gender affirming care.

For Jules Iwasko ’26, Community Engagement Coordinator for Trans Empowerment at the Cornell LGBT Resource Center, the resolution was a powerful message, especially considering the more conservative community he was raised in.

“Coming from Texas, Ithaca’s resolution brings me a much needed sigh of relief. Because this resolution is aimed at specifically protecting the trans community and the physicians who support it, I feel seen and valued in my community,” Iwakso said. “At the end of the day, we are people, and this shouldn’t be a partisan issue.”

Defendini noted that this resolution is not the final step to ensuring Ithaca is a safe place for transgender people. 

“Now that we made it a safe haven for members of the queer community, we need to put a lot of weight behind it by ensuring that we can make it accessible and affordable for these folks,” Defendini said. “Our laws aren’t just laws that we pass to say that we did something. They need to be materially impactful.”