This month marks the 48th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Over the past five decades, the queer movement has seen some progress. The Supreme Court has ruled that anti-sodomy laws are unconstitutional and that gay people have a constitutional right to marriage. Yet working-class and poor queer and trans people of color in New York City still face unsurmountable obstacles to living their lives to their fullest potential.
A 2012 report by Make the Road, an immigrant rights organization based in Queens, found that 59% percent of transgender Latinas in Jackson Heights were stopped by police, compared to 28% of non-trans people surveyed, and that 46% experienced physical violence by police. In the last decade, New York City advocates have fought to stop the use of condoms as evidence of prostitution. This practice has led to countless stops and arrests of trans women of color, who are disproportionately profiled by the police to be engaging in sex work.
Circumstances are further complicated by the fact that many participate in sex work for basic survival. Many trans women are fired from their jobs or never hired for failing to “pass” as cisgender by white, heterosexual, cisgender standards. As a result, we are seeing an NYPD practice of officers targeting, arresting, and in some cases assaulting trans women of color for existing while trans. Forty-eight years after the Stonewall Riots, little has changed for low-income transgender women of color in New York City. They face similar issues with police violence, employment opportunities, and access to gender affirming healthcare.
Queer and trans people of color have birthed the modern day LGBT movement—Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, and Miss Major, for example, are trans women of color who were crucial to the Stonewall Riots and to the movements that came after it. The Riots were a response to the NYPD’s practice of arresting drag queens/kings and transgender people for not wearing the articles of clothing that belonged to their assigned sex at birth. Sex working Black and Latinx trans people often faced the brunt of this policing.
OUTLaw, the Law School’s LGBTQ affinity group, will co-host a panel with other student groups that focuses on police profiling of trans women of color as sex workers. The panel will take place at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, September 26, in Vanderbilt Hall, Room 206, and is based on a Legal Aid and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP lawsuit suing the NYPD for its discriminatory policies.
Panelists will include Cynthia Conti-Cook, staff attorney at Legal Aid Society; LaLa Zannel, Lead Organizer of the Anti-Violence Project; and Bianey Garcia, Transgender Immigrant Project Organizer of Make the Road New York. Gabriel Arkles, staff attorney at the LGBTQ Project of the ACLU, will moderate the panel.
It is up to all of us—LGBTQ people, people of color, and all our allies—to defend the legacies of the queer and trans people of color who fought for our freedom almost five decades ago. It is equally important to fight for the queer and trans people of color who are fighting today for respect, dignity, and the opportunity to thrive.