In May 2008, SRLP Staff Member Gael Guevara spoke to the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism and Police Brutality. The Rapporteur’s job is to report to the UN General Assembly on racism in the U.S. Other allied folks who were also there represented from Domestic Workers United, People’s Justice Coalition, Justice Committee and INCITE!
Hello my name is Gael Guevara and I work for the Sylvia Rivera Law Project in New York City. We are a free direct legal services organization for transgender, intersex and gender non-conforming people who are low-income and/or people of color. We focus our work on low-income and people of color in our community because we know that racism and lack of economic opportunities in our communities poses a major obstacle from transgender and gender non-conforming people in obtaining legal and other services. Transphobia is systemic through many government, private and public agencies that provide public accommodations and services for our communities making transgender and gender non-conforming people disproportionately poor, homeless, unemployed, not able to attend or maintain going to school in a safe environment, in foster care, with high rates of HIV positive people (63% among SRLP’s clients), without any medical care and exposed to police profiling, harassment and brutality and with high numbers within the criminal and juvenile justice system.Many Transgender people get harassed and arrested by police on a daily basis just for being transgender. For example; for using the “wrong” bathroom, lacking matching ID documents, or are often falsely arrested for soliciting for sex work whether or not they are engaging in sex work. The majority of arrests are often for charges related to survival crimes such as; sex work, drugs, and theft due to lack of opportunities and resources.Our community often feels hopeless and unsafe when it comes to interacting with the police. They often face either being falsely arrested or blamed for the incident for which they had originally called in for which happens often around incidents of domestic violence and other types of harassment and violence. These calls are not taken seriously and laughed at when reported. Police often don’t enforce thorough investigations of these incidents and often classify them as “accidents” or justify them by saying the victim must have been at fault.I wanted to highlight an example of a case of one of our clients who was visiting a McDonalds in midtown Manhattan one day. Her name is Cristine, she’s a Latina transwoman and she is also diabetic. She walked in with a few friends to grab something to eat and go to the bathroom because she needed to take her medication. While in one of the stalls taking her medication the store manager started banging on the door with a metal pipe, yelling at her offensive transphobic remarks. He pushed through the stall door beating Cristine over head, face, arms and legs leaving bruising, scratches and two broken teeth. When her friends called the police for help, the police came in and arrested Cristine. They didn’t ask her what had happened and why she was being arrested. The store manager went free and was not arrested. All of this, despite the fact that New York City has a non-discrimination law that prohibits discrimination based on someone’s gender identity or expression, police still don’t know what the law is.This leads to the over-representation of transgender and gender non-conforming people in prisons and jails. Exposing them to high levels of violence and harassment in the hands of other prisoners and especially from correctional officers. Transgender and gender non-conforming people are not recognized and therefore their experiences become invisible. They also have little recourse or means of making these incidents of institutional emotional, verbal, and physical violence public. We work to address and make visible these injustices that transgender and gender non-conforming people face both outside and inside the criminal justice system.
We demand the end to the profiling and criminalization of the lives of transgender and gender non-conforming people.
We demand that all available services and resources are open to all people regardless of their gender identity or expression.
We demand that the NYPD be accountable for incidents of violence and human rights violations that transgender and gender non-conforming people experience.
And we demand the full respect of the human rights of all transgender and gender non-conforming people in NYC and around the world.