Fight for transgender rights

A new report by Amnesty International focuses on police mistreatment of the LGBT community.

Published November 17, 2005 8:50PM (EST)

Today, in honor of Transgender Remembrance Day, -- which was initiated in 1998 after the murders of Rita Hester and Matthew Shepard -- Women's eNews looks at a recent Amnesty International report that claims abuse and mistreatment of transgendered women is widespread among police officers.

The article, by Justine Nicholas -- a freelance journalist who is herself transgendered -- tells of women like Maria Lopez, a 20-year-old AIDS activist from Queens, N.Y., who was arrested for loitering one afternoon while waiting to catch a bus in Greenwich Village. Police allegedly approached Lopez with "catcalls and whistles," forced her into a police van and strip-searched her. Then, Lopez says, after being transported to Rikers Island for prison intake, she had to undergo a medical exam in front of 20 male corrections officers.

Lopez's story is just one of 23 testimonies collected in the Amnesty report. Others say they were "subjected to taunts about their sexuality and their transgender identity" and were "threatened with violence, or even death."

The Washington-based National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reports that "11 percent of the 810 documented LGBT crime victims in New York City in 2003 were transgender women, even though they are estimated to be just 1 to 2 percent of the overall LGBT population."

Lopez tells Nicholas, "There's nothing telling cops they can't behave [this] way," and "blames the ordeals of transgender women at the hands of police" on "poor oversight and training." The New York City police department said that it "treats all people equally," but did not offer an official response to the report.

Amnesty International USA executive director William F. Schulz, Nicholas writes, "said the Amnesty study found that police departments routinely profile transgender women as sex workers. As a result, they are often arrested and detained on vague quality-of-life or nuisance charges. In the absence of specific guidelines, law enforcement officers arrest and detain people on loitering charges 'simply for standing in one place for too long, according to Schulz.'"

Lopez's own experience may be living proof. "The cops wanted to know what I was doing there at that time of day," she tells Nicholas, even though it was "in the middle of the afternoon, in broad daylight."

By Sarah Karnasiewicz

Sarah Karnasiewicz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Until recently, she was senior editor at Saveur magazine; prior to that she was deputy Life editor at Salon. She has contributed to the New York Times, the New York Observer and Rolling Stone, among other publications. For more of her work, visit and Signs and Wonders.

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