Defense Classes After Transgender Death

The Center for Anti-Violence Education's Gabriella Belfiglio leads the self-defense class in Harlem. (Photo by Shana Childs via The Uptowner)

Gabriella Belfiglio (right) of the Center for Anti-Violence Education leads a self-defense class at the Ali Forney Center, an LGBT support space in Harlem. (Photo by Shana Childs via The Uptowner)

The Ali Forney Center, a Harlem-based LGBT refuge, offered a free self-defense class after the attack on Islan Nettles last month. The beating of the transgender woman, who ultimately died from her injuries, is the latest in a year that the LGBT community in New York has seen a spate in brutal attacks, including the death of Mark Carson in Greenwich Village back in May.

In response, public officials joined the Park Slope-based Center for Anti-Violence Education in offering self-defense trainings around the city at the beginning of the summer. The organization is also behind the classes in Harlem, which come at a point in the year where hate crimes against LGBT people have totaled 77, according to The Uptowner‘s Shana Childs.

The 90-minute class saw about 25 people in attendance, with instructors bringing up issues pertinent to the LGBT community, such as defending against attacks perpetrated by groups of people.

However, it’s not just bias attacks that have LGBT Harlemites concerned. Like many longtime residents of the Manhattan neighborhood, they’re worried about housing and health care.

(…) Soraya Elcock of Harlem United, which provides HIV/ AIDS patients with health care and housing, identified lack of affordable housing as one of the single most important issues facing LGBT people of color in Harlem.

“Our ability to provide housing has changed due to gentrification and rising housing costs,” said Elcock, referring to the neighborhood’s changing demographics. “People who have historically lived in Harlem should be able to live there now.”

The Center for American Progress has reported that financial instability contributes to greater homelessness among transgender people of color.

On a similar note, one New Yorker suggested that the attack on Nettles comes as a result of the changing landscape of neighborhoods like Harlem.

“I think that this could be related in part to gentrification,” said André St. Claire, a gender non-conforming Brooklyn resident who learned about the session at last month’s Harlem vigil for Islan Nettles. “People tend to lump us together with elite new residents, even though a lot of us have been here.”

St. Claire added that certain transgender individuals have it harder than others.

“One day I can look completely like a woman and on other days not so much,” said St. Claire. “But many transwomen of color don’t have the same options and I think it makes them more vulnerable to not just violence, but discrimination as well.”

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