To Stop Harrassment of Transgender People, NYPD Changes Guidelines

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced yesterday that the NYPD’s Patrol Guide has been amended to give transgender and other gender non-conforming New Yorkers more respect, reported Gay City News‘ Paul Schindler. This comes just days before a silent march on Father’s Day that will protest stop-and-frisk and include representatives from across the ethnic and LGBT spectrum. In a written release announcing the reforms, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly is quoted as saying:

“The changes to the Patrol Guide are significant, affecting more than 12 separate Patrol Guide provisions. The changes range from establishing search procedures for transgender arrestees to requiring officers to address arrestees by their preferred name. Senior members of my staff worked closely with representatives from the LGBT community to draft these changes, and I applaud their work.”

In a media release, the New York City Anti-Violence Project, a group that advocates to end violence against the LGBT community, described the amendments to the Patrol Guide, Gay City News reported.

Police officers are required to recognize and address individuals according to that person’s gender identity and expression, regardless of their sex assigned at birth or indicated on their identification documents. Discourteous or disrespectful remarks regarding gender identity and expression and sexual orientation are prohibited, as are personal searches aimed at determining an individual’s gender. Individuals who are searched have the right to request the gender of any officer doing so, and if refused have the right to a documented explanation.

Individuals in NYPD custody will be held in sex-segregated facilities according to their gender identity, unless there is a concern for that person’s safety. In that case, the individual will be held as a “special category prisoner,” but they cannot be cuffed to rails, bars, or chairs for unreasonable periods of time. Across the nation, transgender prisoners are often denied incarceration in a facility matching their gender identity, but are considered unsafe in those housing members of the gender they were assigned at birth. As a result, they can find themselves in solitary confinement under dire conditions.

The AVP release made clear that “there remains work to do” –– first and foremost, effective implementation. The group also endorsed legislation pending before the Council that would increase protections against police profiling based on categories including gender identity and expression and sexual orientation.

Gay City News got reactions from LGBT leaders and advocates, and interviewed Quinn for an article which will appear in their June 20 LGBT Pride print issue.

An article published last week in El Diario La Prensa by reporter Juan Matossian explains more about the treatment that transgender people have faced in New York. Make The Road New York, an immigrant advocacy group, recently held a gathering in which transgender Latinas shared their experiences of being harassed by the NYPD, ending with a march through Queens. This is not the first time the publication reported on this topic. The article is translated from Spanish below.

A group of Latina transsexuals marched through the streets of Queens to protest their treatment by the NYPD. (Photo by Humberto Arellano / EDLP)

Members of the transgender Latina community of Jackson Heights say they have been victims of increasingly harsh harassment at the hands of NYPD police officers using the practice of “stop and frisk” — more so than other groups that police have targeted.

On June 7, more than a dozen transsexual Latinas explained their experiences in detail at the headquarters of Make The Road New York. They said that besides racial discrimination, they have also been victims of sexual harassment, physical abuse, derogatory comments, and arrests where they were falsely accused of prostitution.

Divay Méndez, a 44-year-old transsexual Mexican woman, described how one night in 2008, she was arrested while buying tacos, simply because she had condoms with her.

“They accused me of being a sex worker, but I was only carrying the condoms in my purse to protect myself from AIDS,” said Méndez. “They handcuffed me, threw me on the ground, and they tore off the wig that I was wearing in order to degrade me.”

The transgender Latina community warns that when police arrest women for prostitution, even if evidence can’t be found to press charges against them, victims could experience “serious harm.” Since the Secure Communities program recently became law in New York, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials can automatically check people’s immigration status simply by arresting them – even if it is unjustified – possibly leading to their deportation if inconsistencies are discovered.

Some of the women who shared their stories also complained that police insulted them and touched their genitals to check their gender.

Marcia Fuentes, a transgender woman from El Salvador, described how a police officer, also Hispanic, insulted her after violently emptying the entire contents of her purse onto the ground. “He yelled, ‘If I see you again, I’ll beat you until my foot is stuck up your ass,’” Fuentes said.

She continued: “They threaten me all the time with things like: ‘Go home and tell your girlfriends that they should also stay out of the street or else we’ll arrest them.’”

Activists are demanding, among other things, that a bill sponsored by City Councilmember Jumaane D. Williams be passed, which regulates “stop and frisk” to include language to not only prohibit racial discrimination, but to condemn homophobia and transphobia as well. Another major concern of activists is the passage of a “no condoms as evidence” bill to protect people from being arrested on suspicion of being sex workers for merely carrying two or more condoms with them.

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