ITHACA, N.Y.—Common Council declared the City of Ithaca a sanctuary for transgender people with the passage of a bill Wednesday protecting access to gender affirming healthcare.

The bill aligns itself with New York State in protecting the provision of healthcare for transgender individuals. The new law states that the City of Ithaca will protect access to lawful medical and mental care. It reiterates that discrimination against people for their gender identity is illegal, and that the city will not cooperate with non-New York State law enforcement “seeking information about or extradition of clients seeking or practitioners” of lawful gender-affirming healthcare. 

Gender-affirming healthcare refers to a range of care options that are “designed to support and affirm an individual’s gender identity” when it differs from what they were assigned at birth, according to the World Health Organization.

The local bill comes more than two months after New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed a bill that implemented a shield law in New York concerning healthcare for transgender people. The bill prohibits judges from taking children away from their parents if the child is receiving gender-affirming healthcare, such as hormone therapy. Additionally, it prohobits judges from considering transition-related care as child abuse and protecting doctors who provide it. 

The legislation garnered New York a designation as a “trans refuge state,” one of 14 states to have shield laws in place. New York City Mayor Eric Adams declared New York City a sanctuary for transgender people in June. 

“We should not take the civil liberties and protections people have fought, organized and died for for granted,” DeFendini said. “Simply because something is state or federal law, that doesn’t mean something can’t be changed, and we must remain vigilant.”

Over the last several years, legislative bodies in other states have passed a slew of laws designed to marginalize transgender people or ban gender-affirming healthcare. Some measures have been successfully challenged in federal court, like Arkansas’ ban on gender-affirming healthcare for transgender children

The protections for transgender people passed in the local bill already exist in state law. If New York’s laws change in the future, the local bill states that the city would make enforcement of any laws that target gender-affirming healthcare its “lowest priority.” 

The resolution passed unanimously without any vocal objection among Common Council members during discussion at its meeting. Similar laws have previously been approved concerning immigrants who are in the country illegally and people seeking or providing abortion-related healthcare

The bill generated virtually no public controversy among Ithaca’s elected officials while it was discussed in committee during the summer, in contrast to what has played out nationwide. 

The most notable opposition came during the July Common Council meeting. Republican mayoral candidate Janis Kelly called the legislation “well-meaning but dangerously misguided” because, she insisted, gender-affirming healthcare for transgender people harms the gay community and puts gay people at risk. 

Kelly’s comments during the meeting drew rebukes from Alderpersons Jorge DeFendini and Tiffany Kumar at the time. They both called Kelly’s statements “transphobic” and “bigoted.”

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published under The Ithaca Voice’s reporter Jimmy Jordan byline. It was written by Matt Butler, The Ithaca Voice’s Editor-in- Chief.

Matt Butler is the Editor in Chief of The Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at