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Struggle for Justice

Demanding Justice for Trans Women

Across the state, when transgender people come into contact with the criminal justice system, they are often abused, harassed, and held in jail and prison facilities inconsistent with their gender, even though state law prohibits this kind of discrimination.

In 2019, we filed two lawsuits to help put an end to this outrageous behavior.

We filed on behalf of Linda Dominguez, who left a bus stop and cut across a park to get to her Bronx home; though others were doing the same, Linda was singled out and arrested. Linda, who doesn’t speak English, didn’t understand why she was stopped. At the precinct, an officer finally spoke to her in Spanish, and Linda explained that she is a transgender woman and had legally changed her name. Despite her total cooperation, the arresting officer cuffed Linda in a cell separated from other people using pink handcuffs. No other person wore them.

The officers repeatedly and mockingly called Linda by her old first name. They made gestures at Linda while joking, laughing, and shooting her disgusted looks. Even when Linda was brought to court the next morning, she still didn’t understand why she was there.

The charges against Linda criminal trespass and “false impersonation” —a crime that requires a person to have knowingly misrepresented their actual name with intent to prevent the police from discovering their identity—were dropped in August of 2018. But her experience left her traumatized and afraid of the police.

The NYPD has known about incidents like these for a long time. In 2012, it issued a series of patrol guide provisions establishing basic protections for transgender people who come into contact with the police, including a specific provision prohibiting officers from charging trans people with false personation based on naming confusion. But in 2017, the NYC Department of Investigation found that the NYPD’s steps to prevent abuse of transgender people were woefully inadequate.

In another traumatizing nightmare, military veteran Jena Faith spent four weeks awaiting trial in the Steuben County Jail. She was initially housed in the jail’s women’s facility, until officials suddenly transferred her to the men’s facility, despite the fact that she is a woman.

During the weeks that Jena spent as a woman in a men’s jail, she was routinely targeted with physical and verbal harassment from other incarcerated people and guards. On her first day, a fellow incarcerated person started touching her body and blowing kisses at her.

She was moved, but a new harasser found her. Though known to be violent, guards told him to stop harassing her only once, despite repeatedly hurling threatening transphobic slurs at her. The guards also started calling her “mister” and “a man,” and jail officials also denied her doctor-prescribed hormone therapy, leading to hot and cold flashes, nausea, and stomach pain.

Jena spent the rest of her days in the men’s facility feeling sick and scared to leave her cell. Since she was released, Jena continues to suffer through sleepless nights and night terrors because of what she went through.

These experiences are all too common for trans people around the country and in New York. This problem is widespread in part because the state has not made clear to jail and prison officials that the laws protecting trans people apply when they are incarcerated.

In January 2019, the NYCLU and the ACLU filed a lawsuit on Linda’s behalf for malicious prosecution for targeting her with a bogus criminal charge because she is transgender. The abuse and harassment Linda endured also violated state and local civil rights laws and made clear that the NYPD has failed to take reasonable measures to train and supervise its officers when interacting with transgender people.

In September, we filed a lawsuit on behalf of Jena, together with the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund. It argues that what happened to her is a violation of numerous state laws designed to protect the rights, dignity, and humanity of trans people.

We continue to press state lawmakers to pass legislation that helps to clarify and protect the rights of incarcerated LGBTQ people. Our lawsuits reflect our aim that law enforcement and corrections officers are using good practices when it comes to the transgender New Yorkers they’re sworn to protect.

Photo: Linda Dominguez was singled out from a group of bus riders and charged with criminal trespass for crossing through a park to get home, as well as “false personation.”

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In early 2019, the NYCLU celebrated New York’s passage of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), a crucial legal protection for all transgender New Yorkers. Read more about why GENDA matters and our ongoing work to protect the rights of all LGBTQ New Yorkers.