The New York Police Department patrol cars boast the slogan “Courtesy, Professionalism, and Respect” — but as we all know, that doesn’t always apply to everyone. Last February, the NYPD announced a plan to arrest fewer sex workers and intensify their focus on pimps and solicitors. But a new article from the Cut alleges that in practice, trans women — especially trans women of color — are still subject to stigma and disproportionate levels of arrest.
Emma Whitford’s “When Walking While Trans Is a Crime,” published this Wednesday, opens with the story of Raquel (a pseudonym): a 23-year-old trans woman from the Bronx who says she was arrested for sex work while walking innocently through East Harlem. Raquel told the Cut that a man approached her while she was walking down 128th Street to meet her sister to ask if she was working. Although she rejected him twice, the man eventually asked her what $20 could “get” him. When she told him to leave her alone a third time, Raquel says, she was arrested.
Whitford contrasts Raquel’s experience with the NYPD’s announcement that they would refocus their efforts against pimps and solicitors, not sex workers. Data shows that the program worked overall: arrests of sex workers have declined across the city. But many trans women, particularly trans women of color, are still being arrested for sex work, even those who are not sex workers: “Just because of the simple reason that you are trans, you are doing sex work," LGBT Justice organizer Bianca Garcia told the Cut. Whitford argues that transphobia amongst officers is to blame — between 2010 and 2015, she noted, 856 LGBTQ New Yorkers filed complaints alleging that officers used slurs like “queer,” “homo,” and “tranny” while on duty.
The Legal Aid Society agrees. They recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of Tiffaney Grissom, another trans woman who has been arrested multiple times for loitering for the purpose of sex work. “Whether you are ‘ho-ing or not ‘ho-ing,” Grissom said, “even if you look like you might be trans, you are going to jail.”
Read the full article here.
Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Francois Marcotte
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Victoria Albert is a Boston-born graduate journalism student. She covers reproductive justice, health policy, and feminism, and has written for In These Times and Alternet. She tweets at @victoria_alb3.