Transgender New Yorkers Rally To End ‘Stop And Frisk For Trans Women’
With roses in their hands and tears in their eyes, a group of trans New Yorkers and their supporters gathered Tuesday morning in Midtown to demand action from Albany ahead of today’s Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Their plea: pass a bill, currently sitting in the Senate rules committee, that would repeal the so-called “walking while trans ban,” an anti-prostitution section of the state penal code that activists say the NYPD abuses to profile black and Latinx trans women. The vaguely-worded section allows police to arrest and detain anyone they suspect is “loitering for the purpose of engaging in a prostitution offense,” which officers have interpreted to mean anything from wearing a short skirt to waving at a car while standing on the street.
“We are here to honor the lives of the trans siblings we have lost this year,” said TS Candii, a trans activist and the MC of the gathering, “and speak out on the continuance of violence that that black and Latinx transgender people continue to experience in progressive New York State.”
For fifteen minutes, Candii read out names and short remembrances for the 22 known transgender Americans slain in 2019. Members of the crowd behind her held photos of each, laying down their paper and a red rose when Candii read the corresponding name. Among the victims listed was Layleen Polanco, the 27-year old who died in solitary confinement Rikers this June after experiencing multiple seizures. She was being held on $500 bail due in part to a years-old prostitution charge.
“One of her last conversations was with her sister, about not being able to get a job,” said Tahtianna Fermin, a former sex worker and friend of Polanco’s. “We get interviews but don’t get hired, causing us to become survival sex workers. It puts us at risk for arrest, assault, and murder.”
Speakers including Fermin described near-constant harassment from the NYPD based on their appearance as trans women of color. Several said they have been arrested under the current statute, which they characterized as “stop-and-frisk for trans women.” According to figures from the New York Department of Criminal Justice Services, 152 people, overwhelmingly women, were arrested under the statute in 2018; 49 percent were black and 42 percent were Latinx. Last June, the NYPD announced that it would narrow enforcement of the statute.
The repeal bill is part of a push by activists and lawmakers to decriminalize sex work statewide; introduced alongside it last legislative session were a bill to vacate criminal records for sex trafficking survivors and a package decriminalization bill. Both are currently awaiting review by the Senate Rules Committee.
Senator Brad Hoylman, a sponsor of the repeal and vacature bills, also spoke at the rally, pledging to get the former passed in the upcoming session. “We ran out of time last year,” he told Gothamist, “but I think that when my colleagues look at this and see a penal statute that allows such subjectivity for the arresting officer, they’ll see how unfair it is.”
When asked whether he will also push for the package, he said he supports “the concept” of decriminalization but would not commit to the current bill. “My goal is to get this bill across the finish line, and then we can look at the wider issue,” Hoylman said.
Tonight at 6 p.m., the New York Transgender Advocacy Group and Gays Against Guns will hold a vigil at the Christopher Street Pier, to remember the lives lost this year. After the vigil, the groups will lead a march to the Stonewall National Monument.