New York's governor expands discrimination protections for transgender individuals
New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) gives the State of the State address on Jan. 8, 2014 in Albany, New York [AFP]

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo used his executive authority on Thursday to expand the state's anti-discrimination law to include transgender people in what his office said was the most sweeping protections for transgender individuals in the country.

The move will immediately make it illegal for employers, housing providers, businesses, creditors and others to discriminate on the basis of gender identity.

"It is intolerable to allow discrimination of transgender individuals and they are one of the most abused, harassed groups in society today," Cuomo said during a dinner hosted by the Empire State Pride Agenda gay rights group.

With the executive order, New York has become the first state in the United States to ban discrimination and harassment of transgender individuals by both private and public entities, Cuomo's office said in a news release.

"While discrimination against transgender people has been specifically forbidden in New York State by Executive Order since 2009, in practice that order only protects state workers," the release said.

The decision by Cuomo, a Democrat, to use his executive power to expand the law comes after years of lobbying efforts by transgender advocates in Albany. The moves have been stymied by the Republican-led Senate.

New York's existing anti-discrimination law makes it illegal to discriminate against any person based on creed, color, disability, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, age, sex, marital or family status.

"After years of tireless advocacy, we’ve won a tremendous victory for transgender civil rights with Governor Cuomo's announcement tonight," Nathan Schaefer, Executive Director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, said in a statement.

Several states have expanded or enacted anti-discrimination laws to include transgender people.

Last year, Maryland's former Governor Martin O'Malley, a Democratic presidential candidate, signed legislation prohibiting discrimination on matters relating to housing, employment, credit and use of public restrooms. The latter point drew fire from Republican opponents who labeled the measure a "bathroom bill."

This week, California became the first state in the nation to agree to pay for a transgender inmate's sex reassignment operation.

(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Paul Tait)