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Aside from the heavy toll that COVID-19 has had on the health of our communities, it has also exacerbated xenophobia, hate and exclusion within our communities. We have heard stories of community members that are being sent hateful messages, or who are rejected from car services simply because they are Asian or wearing a mask. In an effort to prevent COVID-19 from being a vehicle for racism and xenophobia, we are sharing important information about stigma and how it affects our communities and to remind everybody that these discriminatory behaviors are not tolerated in our city. 

What is stigma?

Public health emergencies, such as the outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), are stressful times for people and communities. Fear and anxiety about a disease can lead to social stigma toward people, places, or things. For example, stigma and discrimination can occur when people associate a disease, such as COVID-19, with a population or nationality, even though not everyone in that population or from that region is specifically at risk for the disease. Stigma can also exist after a person has been released from COVID-19 quarantine even though they are not considered a risk for spreading the virus to others.

Who is most at risk to experience stigma during this COVID-19 crisis?

Some groups of people who may be experiencing stigma because of COVID-19 include:

  • Persons of Asian descent
  • People who have traveled
  • Emergency responders or healthcare professionals

How does stigma affect people?

Stigma hurts everyone by creating fear or anger towards other people. Stigma affects the emotional or mental health of stigmatized groups and the communities they live in. Stigmatized groups may be subjected to:

  • Social avoidance or rejection
  • Denials of healthcare, education, housing or employment
  • Physical violence.

What can I do to help stop stigma?

It is important to separate facts from fear and guard against stigma. A lot of information circulating about coronavirus on social media and in some news reporting is not based in the facts. Obtain information from trusted resources like the NYC Health Department. 

Stopping stigma is important to making communities and community members resilient. Everyone can help stop stigma related to COVID-19 by knowing the facts and sharing them with others in your community. It is important to remember that people – including those of Asian descent – who do not live in or have not recently been in an area of ongoing spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, or have not been in contact with a person who is a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 are not at greater risk of spreading COVID-19 than other Americans.

What is discriminatory harassment?

Discriminatory harassment is threats, intimidation, harassment, coercion or violence that interferes with a person’s civil or constitutional rights and is motivated in part by that person’s actual or perceived race, creed, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, disability, or alienage or citizenship status or other protected status.

What is a biased incident/hate crime?

  • A bias incident is any offense or unlawful act that is motivated in whole or substantial part by a person’s, a group’s or a place’s identification with a particular race, color, religion, ethnicity, gender, age, disability, ancestry, national origin, or sexual orientation 
  • Hate crimes can be perpetrated against an individual, a group, or against public or private property. For example, hanging a noose or painting a swastika could be deemed hate crimes.
  • Hate crime statutes are typically “penalty enhancement” statutes, which means that they increase the penalty for an offense if the victim or target is intentionally selected for violence because of his/her personal characteristics. 
  • Hate crimes are more serious than other misdemeanors and usually result in a longer sentence if convicted.

What should I do if I am being harassed?

  • Call 311 and say “human rights” to report discrimination or harrassment in housing, at work, or in public places based on your race, national origin, immigration status, disability or other protected classes under the NYC Human Rights law.
    • You can also call 718-722-3131 to report discrimination to the NYC Commission on Human Rights directly, or complete a Discrimination Report
  • Call 911 if you are a victim of a hate crime or you witness what you believe to be a hate crime. NYPD officers will not ask about immigration status of anyone seeking help and language assistance is available.
  • NY Residents can report any discriminatory actions to New York State Attorney General Leticia James and team via call at (800) 771-7755 or email at
  • If you are unsure of where to call, call any of the mentioned numbers and you will be directed to the appropriate office. But, it is important that you call to report these incidents.
  • If you are experiencing stress or feeling anxious, contact NYC Well at 888-NYC-WELL (888-692-9355) or text “WELL” to 65173. NYC Well is a confidential helpline that is staffed 24/7 by trained counselors who can provide brief supportive therapy, crisis counseling, and connections to behavioral health treatment, in more than 200 languages.

What should I do if I face discrimination from a taxi driver?

The city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission does not tolerate discrimination and encourages you to file a formal complaint via 311 if a driver has illegally refused to give you a ride. Drivers who illegally refuse service to riders are subject to a $300 fine for the first offense, while a second offense can cost them $500 plus a suspension of their license. A third offense can lead to a license revocation and a three-year ban.

Why should I report discriminatory acts to the NYC Commission on Human Rights? 

The Commission can work with you and with community members in your area to prevent acts like this from happening again. You can even make an anonymous report. The Commission will also consider requests for U-visa certifications and declarations in support of T-visas for individuals who have information that will be helpful in investigating a claim of discriminatory harassment. 

What type of measures can the NYC Commission on Human Rights take against a perpetrator? 

When you bring a claim against a perpetrator, if the claim is successful, the Commission can get an order demanding that the discriminatory harassment stop. The Commission can order the harasser to pay compensation for emotional harm and civil penalties and for out-of-pocket expenses.