Advocates and elected officials speak about repealing Walking While Trans

On Aug. 31, 2021, NYC Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson joined birth justice advocates and healthcare leaders to announce more than $400,000 in City Council funding to combat high rates of infant and maternal mortality in the Bronx.
New York City Council/ William Alatriste

For far too long, transgender women of color have been arrested for how they look, where they are and who they are congregating with. But recently people have decided that enough is enough.

A bill was introduced last year by Councilwoman Carlina Rivera and supported by gay Senator Brad Holyman, which would repeal section 240.37 of the New York Penal Law, loitering for the purpose of engaging in a prostitution offense. While it failed in the Codes Committee, it has now regained traction due to activism of the Repeal the Walking While Trans coalition and in June, the Women’s Caucus and the LGBTQ Caucus sent a letter to the Public Safety Committee demanding a hearing for a change in the law.

On Thursday, a virtual press conference took place featuring advocates and Council Members Vanessa Gibson and Farah Louis, who co-chair the Women’s Caucus, Rivera and Councilman Danny Dromm, co-chair of the LGBTQ Caucus.

“We cannot allow this to continue to happen,” said Juliana a transgender activist. “We cannot allow the police to continue to harass us because of the way we are dressed.”

Juliana recalled an incident where she was walking in Queens with fellow transgender friends and a cop asked them for ID. The officer told her she should not be there because it was known for sex work. While she said she was just out with her friends, he told them move along.

Under the law, a woman can be improperly arrested and detained simply because a law enforcement officer views her clothing or appearance as indicative of a purpose to engage in prostitution. Since its inception in 1976, cisgender and women and transgender women have been targeted.

In 2018, there was a 120 percent increase in arrests, with 47 percent of all arrests across New York State happening in Queens. According to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, in 2018, 91 percent of people arrested under the statute were Black and Latinx people and 80 percent identified as women.

In June, two Black transgender women were killed.

A screenshot of the presser

Gibson said these stats are alarming and things must change. People should not be targeted for how they dress or who they associate with, she stressed.

“Black and brown women deserve to walk the streets safely,” Gibson said. “Without trans women of color there would be no Stonewall uprising. This journey is painful. It’s not easy to repeal laws.

Dromm, who is openly gay, spoke about an incident he experienced as a teen.

In 1972, at the age of 16, Dromm was arrested for prostitution because of how he looked in the street. At that time it was common for young men to get jammed up for their appearance.

But the councilman said enough is enough.

“Our trans community has been left behind,” Dromm said. “It’s long past due that this legislation pass the city council and the state legislature passes the ban on walking while trans. Now is the time to stand up and say we’re not going to take it anymore.”

The virtual presser was quite emotional for advocates Victoria Bell and Elisa Crespo. Bell teared up as she recalled many years ago she was assaulted and a cop aid it was her fault. She noted that it was very hard for her to talk about what she has gone through.

Crespo said she has had the NYPD point their guns at her and has often been mistreated by the police. She is disappointed the legislature didn’t include this repeal in the recent criminal justice reform, but hopes the law changes soon.

“I think 240-47 is a very archaic law,” she said. “It’s a law that’s allowed the police to harass Black and brown trans women and it must be repealed.”

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