Transgender women must fight for rights

April 30, 2015

From the May-June 2015 issue of News & Letters

New York—Police here have been told to halt stop-and-frisk policies because they unfairly target Black and Latino youth. But the Transgender community in Jackson Heights, New York, is undergoing its own particular form of stop and frisk. Trans women, especially Trans women of color, are stopped on a daily basis, told that they have to submit to a search (which they don’t) and if they are found in possession of a condom (which is legal) they are arrested for loitering or prostitution.

The courts in Queens are dealing with an incredible number of Trans women who are jailed on a daily basis. They are locked up with male prisoners, although they are self-identified as women, where they are subject to rape and brutality by prisoners and guards. If their cases are not heard immediately, they are shipped to Rikers Island prison, where they can be “lost” for months unless they have a lawyer or friend standing up for them.

It gets worse. Many Trans women are told that they will not be arrested in exchange for performing sexual acts with the police. This is the crudest type of extortion and blackmail: either have sex with me or to go jail. A man who forced himself on a woman saying he would give her freedom in exchange for sexual favors could be arrested for rape. But cops in Queens walk free. As one Trans women put it: “In Queens we are still living in the Dark Ages.”

When a New York attorney who defends Trans women and sex workers was asked if it was safe at anytime for a Trans woman to be in public as a woman, her answer was no. The police still do arrest “men” for dressing as women—something which was supposedly abolished in New York City decades ago. As one Trans woman put it: “It is time for Trans people to unite and fight for their rights just as Gay people did when Gay activity was forbidden.”

—Natalia Spiegel

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