Back in March, El Diario La Prensa reported that transgender women often face harassment from police, who assume they’re prostitutes. Last week the publication profiled Lorena Borjas, who has started a fund to provide transgender people in Queens, especially immigrants, with financial and legal aid after being arrested. Below is the article by reporter Zaira Cortés, translated from the Spanish version in El Diario La Prensa.
Transgender women who are unable to pay for bail after being arrested will be able to receive financial and legal assistance from the Lorena Borjas Community Fund, an initiative launched because of a rise in police harassment in Queens, according to activists.
Lorena Borjas, a transgender Mexican woman who has been an activist in the area for more than 25 years, said that in the last two years, transgender women have been the victims of police hostility in some Queens neighborhoods, and particularly in Jackson Heights.
Borjas, 52, said that transsexuals living there don’t feel free to walk in the streets for fear of being arrested solely because of their appearance. Borjas stressed that these women are charged with prostitution if a police officer finds more than three condoms in their purse.
“Healthcare authorities distribute condoms and they want people to protect themselves,” Borjas said, “but the police assume that a transsexual with contraceptives is a prostitute.”
To address the situation, Borjas began a fundraising campaign to bail out women who get arrested. She explained that the project will not only assist Latina transsexuals.
“This initiative will support the entire LGBT community, no matter what someone’s nationality is,” she said.
Borjas said that besides providing legal aid, the fund will cover bail set by the New York City Police Department and by immigration authorities. Two law schools in Long Island and Brooklyn are handling some of the cases.
“We want to prevent women from getting deported, since being transsexuals and minorities makes us more vulnerable,” she said.
Borjas turned to various pro-immigrant advocacy groups to collect donations, and she organized events, shows and raffles, eventually raising thousands of dollars. In the future, she hopes to expand the fund’s resources to support transsexuals in other boroughs.
Borjas works with the AIDS Center of Queens County and said that in the coming weeks, she will open an office for the Lorena Borjas Fund in Jackson Heights.
Borjas is known for her activism in the transgender community, especially in Woodside, where she organizes groups that advocate for LGBT rights. She also works with Trans Latinas, a collective of transsexual Latinas that strive to create more tolerance within the Latino community and among the authorities.
In a notice of a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Lorena Borjas Community Fund held on April 27 at The Center, the organization’s website offers more information on the initiative:
LBCF Fund is a volunteer-run project created to institutionalize the support that Lorena has provided for years. The LBCF Fund supports low-income gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and gender non-conforming immigrants avoid the collateral consequences associated with criminal convictions, jail time and court appearances.