Good riddance to a bad law: How women like me were victimized by New York's 'walking while trans' law
Good riddance to a bad law: How women like me were victimized by New York’s ‘walking while trans’ law
By Norma Ureiro
You can read the article in its original form at the NY Daily News.
For decades in New York, trans women of color have been profiled and targeted by police for the way we dress and for our mere existence. A notorious statute that criminalizes “loitering with the intent for prostitution” has allowed law enforcement to profile and criminalize Black and Brown transgender women for expressing their gender in public. We have fought hard to repeal this law, known as the Walking While Trans Ban, for years. Today, the state Legislature will finally pass our bill, allowing trans women like me to feel a little safer to walk down the street.
Repealing the Walking While Trans ban is a crucial step toward stopping interactions with police and reducing the criminalization of our community. In 2018, 91% of those arrested under this penal code were Black and Latinx people and immigrants. Police have used it to criminalize and dehumanize us across the city — making assumptions about our behavior based on how we look or what we’re wearing.
One night several years ago, I was walking with my boyfriend and police officers stopped us. The officers did not believe that we were a couple, even after we showed them that we had tattoos of each other’s name. They arrested me for “loitering with the intent for prostitution.”
Repeated harassment and cruel interactions with the police often made me afraid to leave my house or even walk in my neighborhood.
Unfortunately, my story is not unique. My friend Mayra is also scared to leave her apartment, after several incidents when the police have harassed her. One time an officer told her to go home or get arrested. When Mayra goes out at night with her husband, even if it is just to the grocery store, she always carries a photo of their marriage certificate. Why? So that, if she gets stopped by the police when she’s with her husband, she can prove that they are married and not be arrested under the “loitering with the intent for prostitution” statute.
No one should be put in handcuffs simply for walking down the street with their partner or friend, or harassed for the way that they dress. But that’s what has happened regularly to trans women of color across New York City. What’s more, unjust arrests like these create huge obstacles for us when we try to access housing or get a job. They can even have a negative impact on our immigration status.
The legislative victory happening today was only possible because we came together in the fight for justice — lobbying legislators, getting petition signatures from our neighbors, and taking to the streets. We applaud lead bill sponsors Sen. Brad Hoylman and Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and legislative leaders Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Carl Heastie for making sure the bill passed. We now urge Gov. Cuomo, who has said he supports repealing the Walking While Trans Ban, to sign this into law immediately.
The bill should be signed in the precise form passed in the Legislature, which includes the sealing of previous records that contain this penal code. It is critical that the legislation signed includes this measure so that community members who have survived harassment and profiling by the police will not be barred from accessing housing services or have difficulty when applying for a job in the future.
In the face of discrimination and criminalization, trans women, gender non-conforming, non-binary, intersex and queer communities came together to lead this historic fight. As we look into the future and await the governor’s signature, we must keep on organizing to stop the criminalization and violence against trans women.
Ureiro is a member of Make the Road New York.