As It Happens

N.Y. paves way for 'healing' by ending its 'walking while trans' ban, says advocate

T.S Candii says she hopes nobody will have to suffer trauma like hers again now that New York state has repealed its so-called "walking while trans" ban

T.S Candii says she was assaulted by police officers who arrested her under the now-repealed statute

T.S Candii is a transgender activist and sex worker in New York City, and a leader of the Repeal the Walking While Trans Ban coalition. (Submitted by T.S Candii)

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T.S Candii says she hopes nobody will have to suffer trauma like hers again now that New York state has repealed its so-called "walking while trans" ban.

New York on Tuesday passed a bill to repeal statue 240.37, which outlawed loitering for the purposes of prostitution, from the state's penal code. 

According to state data, the law was used disproportionately against women of colour. Transgender women, in particular, say police used it as an excuse to harass them just for going about their days.

"No one [should] be charged with prostitution for simply just walking down the street," Candii, a leader in the Repeal the Walking While Trans Ban coalition, told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"Just to say that I'm happy that the law is finally repealed and records will be sealed is an understatement. And though our trauma won't go away, in this moment, knowing that no one will ever be profiled or experience trauma like mine again because of the law will for sure help me and many of us move forward with our healing."

'Rounding up so-called undesirables'

The statue dates back to 1976 during an era when Candii says state officials were passing policies aimed at "cleaning up the streets."

"This often meant using the carceral state to remove Black bodies from spaces, even Black bodies that were not engaged in illegal activity, so that those spaces will become more palatable for tourists and white New Yorkers," she said.

"In the 1990s, this was redeployed to target the LGBTQ youth of colour to discourage their presence in gentrifying neighbourhoods like West Village. They justify it as rounding up so-called undesirables."

Candii stands with state legislators urging lawmakers to pass legislation to protect sex workers in New York and repeal a loitering law known as 'walking while trans' during a rally at the state Capitol in June 2019. That law was officially repealed on Tuesday. (Hands Pennink/The Associated Press)

Candii says she was among the many trans women victimized under the statue. 

Two years ago, when she was new to the city, she alleges NYPD officers detained her in the guise of 240.37, and forced her to perform sexual acts. 

She never reported it, she says, because she knows it would have been pointless for a Black, trans sex worker to go up against officers of the law. 

"It was most definitely traumatic," she said. "No one will believe you."

The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Candii's allegations or the statute's repeal. 

Moments like this is what our ancestors fought for.- T.S. Candii, Repeal the Walking While Trans Ban coalition 

Another person arrested under 240.37 was 27-year-old Layleen Xtravaganza Cubilette-Polanco, who died from a seizure after a year in solitary confinement on Rikers Island in 2019. She was arrested on misdemeanor assault and prostitution charges and was unable to pay the $501 US bail.

Cubilette-Polanco's family sued the city and negotiated a $5.9 million settlement in August 2020. A few months prior, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that 17 correctional officers would be disciplined for their role in her death. 

Cubilette-Polanco's sister, Melania Brown, was among those who fought for the statute's repeal.

"Although this does not ease my pain, because my sister should have been here with me, I'm happy that her name is not going in vain, and it's going to save many other girls from being profiled," Brown told BuzzFeed News. "It should never have taken this long for this law to pass."

80% women, 91% Black and Latino

Candii and Cubilette-Polanco's stories are just two of many.  According to New York State's Division of Criminal Justice Services, 91 per cent of people arrested under the statute in 2018 were Black and Latino, and 80 per cent identified as women.

In 2016, the Legal Aid Society sued the NYPD over the statute on behalf of eight plaintiffs who were arrested under the law. Five were transgender. 

In testimony collected for that lawsuit, one officer said that he was trained to look for women "with Adams apples, big hands and big feet," according to the text of the repeal. 

Candii says she's heard of trans women who were arrested because they were wearing a skirt in public, or waving down a taxi, or walking hand-in-hand with their husbands and partners. 

Candii says the repeal would not have been possible if not for the work of Black and brown LGBTQ advocates who came before her. (Bryan R. Smith/Reuters)

"New York today corrects an injustice in our penal code that has permitted law enforcement to arrest transgender women — namely those of colour, along with immigrants and LGBTQ youth — simply for walking down the street and the clothes they wear," Democratic Sen. Brad Hoylman, the lead sponsor of the bill to repeal the statute, said in a press release.

"Thanks to the hard work and determination of the LGBTQ community — in particular, transgender and gender nonconforming New Yorkers who bravely shared their stories — New York has repealed this statute once and for all."

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed Holyman's bill into law on Tuesday after it passed through both houses of the state legislature.

"Repealing the archaic 'walking while trans' ban is a critical step toward reforming our policing system and reducing the harassment and criminalization transgender people face simply for being themselves," Cuomo said.

"New York has always led the nation on LGBTQ rights, and we will continue that fight until we achieve true equality for all."

Candii, meanwhile, says none of this would have been possible if not for the work of the trans and LGBTQ activists of colour who worked alongside her, and those who came before her. 

"I want to say thank you for the struggle," she said. "Today, a Democratic legislator, and under the leadership of Black and brown women and men, repealed a law that was created by white male Republicans.

"Moments like this is what our ancestors fought for."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with T.S. Candii produced by Niza Lyapa Nondo.

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