COVID-19 FAQ- LGBTQ Rights and Resources

CREE Team April 20, 2020




Last Updated: April 20, 2020


In LGBTQ communities, people are facing many challenges during the Covid-19 crisis, due to statistically higher unemployment, homelessness, HIV+ status, smoking, and experiences of health care discrimination, among other factors. Transgender people are particularly at risk.

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression person is prohibited under the New York State Human Rights Law.

If you encounter discrimination in: housing, employment, places of public accommodation (including applying for benefits and healthcare), credit transactions, or educational institutions, you may contact the NYS Division of Human Rights (DHR). DHR has limited operations right now, but has a phone number and email address for contact if people encounter discrimination: info@dhr.ny.gov, 1-888-392-3644.

If you would like assistance with this process, please contact us at LGBTQ@empirejustice.org.


Q. If I go to a doctor’s office, hospital, urgent care, or other medical setting, am I protected against discrimination for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer?

Yes. You have the right to the same access to care as people who are not LGBTQ.  Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression is prohibited in all of New York State under the NYS Human Rights Law.


Q. I’m transgender. Is it really illegal to discriminate against me in a medical setting?

Yes. You have the right to respectful care that recognizes you gender identity and expression.  Here are some good resources:

  • New York State Division of Human Rights (DHR) has a fact sheet for transgender people and hospital access.
  • You can also contact the New York State Division of Human Rights if you encounter discrimination: info@dhr.ny.gov, 1-888-392-3644. If you would like assistance with this process, please contact us at LGBTQ@empirejustice.org.


Q. As a LGBTQ person who may fall ill, can my partner or loved ones visit me in a hospital setting?

Yes. A person has a right to enumerate who they would like to be able to visit them in the hospital them under Federal law 42 CFR 482.13(h). Patients have the right to have their same-sex/same-gender partners, or any other person, visit them.

Hospitals can legally place restrictions on all couples and families, whether they are heterosexual and cisgender, or LGBTQ.  For examples, there can be restrictions on access to visitations for all couples and families due to concerns of transmission of the virus to others.


Q. I’m concerned about my biological family or next of kin trying to make medical decisions for me if I end up in the hospital or because of illness. Is there anything I can do to prevent this?

Yes. You can nominate someone to make health care decisions on your behalf through a health care proxy. A health care proxy is not a will – it just appoints someone to make medical decisions for you if you cannot make them for yourself.

It is most helpful to have a health care proxy completed in advance, before the need for it arises.  This is so because you may lack capacity to complete the form if you become very ill or unconscious.

If the person you appoint as your health care proxy is not your spouse or next of kin, they are entitled to receive the same information regarding your health that a spouse or next of kin would receive, under the HIPAA federal privacy rule. Specific guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services is available here.


Q. How can I nominate someone to be my health care proxy and make health care decisions on my behalf if I am unable to?

You can find and fill out the form on the NYS Department of Health’s website, here.

The official form requires two people who are not your appointed health care proxy to be witnesses to your signature. Getting witnesses may be difficult during social distancing. You may write out your wishes and sign it at a medical facility in front of witnesses. Be aware that your proxy will not be valid until both you and your witnesses sign.

Remote witnessing of health care proxies via video conference has been authorized temporarily by order of Governor Cuomo. However, the requirements of remote witnessing are very detailed, and must be followed carefully. The executive order listing these requirements is available here, and the requirements are listed near the end of the document. You may contact us at LGBTQ@empirejustice.org for more information.


Q. Is it okay to bind my chest if I get Coronavirus?

Try not to bind, or bind as little as possible. Binding can be damaging to the lungs, which is a particular concern if someone who binds contracts Covid-19. There are particular precautions to take if one must continue to bind to alleviate gender dysphoria or for safety considerations. Please see below for resources. If you’d like to learn more about binding more safely during the pandemic, check out this article.


Q. Can I still get my gender affirming surgery during the Coronavirus pandemic?

Probably not. All “non-critical” surgeries have currently been postponed by order of Governor Cuomo, which includes gender affirming surgeries. If you were scheduled for surgery out of state in the near future, or are getting care from a provider out of state, these have likely been postponed as well. Check in with your surgeon’s office for specific information.

The postponement could adversely impact the mental health of TGNC people who are unable to access necessary medical care. If you need support from a therapist, most types of insurance are covering access to telehealth. If you don’t have insurance or otherwise lack access to mental health care, you can always reach out to the Trans Lifeline, which supports transgender folks of all ages, or the Trevor Project, which is committed to help support all LGBTQ youth. It may be especially important to access affirming community through your local LGBTQ or transgender center, many of which have switched to offering online support groups. You can find a list of LGBTQ centers across the state at the website of the NYS LGBT Health & Human Services Network.


Q. Can I be assured that when I pass away, my wishes regarding my remains, funeral and burial or cremation are followed?

Yes. In New York, there is an official form to appoint someone to take care of your remains when you pass away. The form requires the signature of the person that you nominate, as well as two witnesses. Having this form ready may be especially important for transgender individuals who want their chosen name and gender to be respected upon their burial or funeral arrangements.


Q. How can I access cash assistance, SNAP/foodstamps, or other government benefits?

Our Public Assistance resource answers questions on how to apply for cash assistance, SNAP and other public assistance, as well as information on what to do if you are already on public assistance and are concerned about work sanctions, fair hearings, or immigration status.

If you have questions about unemployment insurance, including special eligibility due to Coronavirus, please check out our NYS Unemployment Insurance resource.

We also answer questions about child support payments and how they may be affected by stimulus checks in our Child Support and Stimulus Checks resource.

Check out our main COVID-19 Legal Resource page for additional information on other topics.


Q. As a transgender person, what if my identity is not respected when I am looking for emergency or homeless shelters?

If you are transgender and seeking benefits, your gender identity should be respected, including your pronouns and preferred name, even if you have not changed your identity documents, or if not all of your documents match. In addition, your transgender status should be kept private.

If there are sex-segregated facilities, your access should match your stated gender identity — in other words, if you are a transgender woman, you should be granted the same access to shelter and facilities as any other woman.  If a transgender person feels unsafe being housed with people of their same gender identity, such as a trans man who may feel unsafe being housed with cisgender men, they may ask for an accommodation; however, it is the stated policy that people be housed with others persons who have the same gender identity. Nonbinary or gender non-conforming identified individuals are entitled to ask for an accommodation which feels safest for them.

The above-mentioned rules are laid out in detail a seven page directive that you may consider keeping on your phone, or bringing with you when looking for emergency shelter. If you do not receive appropriate shelter access, please call the Empire Justice Center at 518-935-2857, or email LGBTQ@empirejustice.org. If you can, ask the shelter to issue their determination in writing.


Q. I identify as non-binary. Does the Department of Social Services (DSS) recognize a gender neutral designation?

Yes and no. If you identify as non-binary or gender non-conforming, unfortunately you must pick either male or female to be listed in the DSS database. However, if you use gender neutral pronouns, these should be respected and exclusively used by staff.  These policies are detailed here.


More questions about the LGTBQ Rights and Resources during the Coronavirus Pandemic?

Please Contact:  Empire Justice Center, LGBTQ rights attorney, Lettie Dickerson, at LGBTQ@empirejustice.org or 518-935-2857 for additional legal assistance or more information.


Additional Online Resources:


Please note: Do not send us any nonpublic information about any legal matter for which you seek legal representation until we request that you do so. Empire Justice attorneys will inform you if and when your matter is considered for legal representation. Until that time, any information you provide WILL NOT be considered confidential, and NO attorney-client relationship is formed by communications received through this website. Any information available on the website is for general legal education purposes only, and is not legal advice.