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Decriminalizing Transgender Existence

Policing is a heated topic, especially given the exacerbation of issues like brutality and abuses of power coming to a head in the past few years. With social media giving everyone a platform and the ability to record interactions between police and citizens, people are increasingly aware of issues with misconduct and actions that are questionable at best and illegal or deadly at worst. It's not surprising that for many transgender people, the police present risks that others may not face.

It is no revelation that transgender people face harsher interactions with police that other groups of people. For example, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs published a 2013 report stating: “Transgender people of color were 6 times more likely to experience physical violence from the police compared to white cisgender survivors and victims”. That same report also highlighted that: “Transgender people were 7 times more likely to experience physical violence when interacting with the police compared to cisgender survivors and victims”. These statistics highlight an area that desperately needs attention, but what is being done about it?

Walking While Trans

Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

Trans people are often targeted by police for a variety of reasons, but one particular reason was the subject of the 2021 push to repeal the anti-loitering “Walking while trans” law. This law originated in 1976 to combat loitering for the purposes of prostitution, but recently it was used at police discretion to arrest trans people for things like dressing “provocatively”, carrying condoms, and just walking with their partner. NBC covered the story of Bianey García who was arrested for the previously mentioned reasons under the walking while trans law. Garcia also happened to be a woman of color and an immigrant, which heightens reasons for apprehension given the statistics of police interactions with trans women of color and the additional intersection of citizenship status. The repeal of the walking while trans law offers a little more protection to trans people being able to live their lives, but there is still work to be done.

Another area of concern with transgender people and policing is sex work. An article from Vox in 2020 pointed out that due to economic instabilities, sex work is a survival tactic for some trans people. This leads to additional risks of police brutality for trans people of color, given that despite strides to decriminalize sex work, it still remains a criminal subject and is often judged at the discretion of the police. This layer adds an additional level of concern because according to the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE): “…a majority (57%) of transgender people are afraid to go to the police when they need it”. Not being able to call for help when and if you need it is an additional risk to existence as a trans person that needs to be resolved.

Things are changing slowly in some areas, and advocacy groups are actively fighting to repeal or implement legislation to protect trans people and hold people in power accountable. NCTE is currently working on and publishing research like Failing to Protect & Serve to show the disparities trans people face in order to foster positive change. Activism and research like this can help to better understand issues and raise awareness about the steps that need to be taken to decriminalize transgender existence.

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