Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act

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The Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA) is a New York law which prohibits discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, credit, and the exercise of civil rights.[1] SONDA added the term “sexual orientation” to the list of specifically protected characteristics in various State laws, including the Human Rights Law, the Civil Rights Law, and the Education Law.[1]

The championing of SONDA led to the formation of the Empire State Pride Agenda in 1990.[2]

Understanding Sexual Identity[edit]

The author of ‘Transforming The Debate’ defines the term “Transgender” to be the umbrella term that includes gay men, lesbians and bisexuals within its scope.[3] An article from the University of San Francisco Law Review agrees with Flynn about terms identifying LGBT are used interchangeably but differentiates gender to being the physical appearance and mannerisms of an individual.[4]


SONDA was first introduced to the Assembly on February 16, 1971 by Assembly leader Al Blumenthal (D-Manhattan) and in the Senate by Manfred Ohrenstein (D-Manhattan), only for it to be defeated. The bill was reintroduced in the Assembly in 1983, but was again defeated by a narrow margin.[2]

In 1990, Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan) became the first openly-gay member of the Assembly and put forward SONDA as a top priority of her campaign. The legislation was first passed by the Assembly on February 1, 1993, by a vote of 90-50, with 81 Democrats and 9 Republicans voting in favor, 14 Democrats and 36 Republicans against. It was stalled repeatedly in the Senate for the rest of the decade. Ultimately, the bill was passed by the Assembly on January 28, 2002, by a vote 113-27 and by the Senate on December 17, 2002, by a vote of 34 to 26. It was signed into law by Governor George Pataki the same day. It went into effect on January 16, 2003.[2][5][6]

Provisions of the Law[edit]

SONDA prohibits discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation in employment; admission to and use of places of public accommodation, resort or amusement; admission to and use of educational institutions; publicly assisted housing; private housing accommodations and commercial space; and relation to credit.[1] SONDA also prohibits discrimination and/or harassment on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation in the exercise of an individual’s civil rights.[1] The only exception to the rule are “religious or denominational institution” or “organization operated for charitable or educational purposes”.[1] This law does protect people who identify as transgender, thus SONDA applies when a transgender person is discriminated against based on his or her actual or perceived sexual orientation.[1]

See also[edit]