NEW YORK CITY — The NYPD released new patrol guidelines Tuesday following escalating complains from transgender New Yorkers about being discriminated against and harassed by police.
The new guidelines “make clear that discrimination, harassment or disparaging comments based on actual or perceived gender is defined and prohibited." The rules explicitly prohibit cops from making "discourteous or disrespectful" remarks about a person's sexual orientation or gender identity while they're being stopped or searched.
The guidelines also prohibit officers from conducting searches in order to determine a person's sex — a widespread practice, advocates have charged.
“For far too long transgender and gender non-conforming people have experienced harassment and discrimination at the hands of the police,” said Sharon Stapel, executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, an advocacy group that has reported an increase in harassment cases as stop-and-frisks have soared.
In addition, the new guidelines require that individuals in police custody be allowed to choose the gender of the officer searching them and be placed in cells with members of the gender they represent.
"The changes to the Patrol Guide are significant, affecting more than 12 separate Patrol Guide provisions,” Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.
The announcement comes after a series of rallies and forums during which members of the LGBT community accused police of targeting transgender and other gender non-conforming people, subjecting them to unwarranted arrests and invasive and unnecessary stop-and-frisks.
“Since Stonewall, there’s always been profiling of our community," said Collette Carter, co-director of the Audre Lorde Project, a center for LGBT people of color, who said transgender people are among those most likely to be stopped-and-frisked, especially in neighborhoods like Jackson Heights, which has a large LGBT community.
“If you present differently, then you’re going to be on that list," she said. "It puts them right at the top of the pool, along with, of course, black and Latino men.”
Amelia Vega, 28, a male-to-female transsexual and former sex worker who runs a weekly support group for transgender women at the AIDS Center of Queens County (ACQC) Woodside, said that she has been stopped "many, many times" by police and that the experiences were distressing.
Several years ago, she said she was waiting at the 71st Street train station in Jackson Heights when police approached her and asked for ID, which no longer matched her name or gender.
“You’re a f---ing man! You’re not a woman! You have two cojones," she claimed officers shouted at her before placing her under arrest.
Former Jackson Heights showgirl Whitney Badillo, who said she was stopped along Roosevelt Avenue at least four times over the past five years, complained that police often think transgender women are engaging in prostitution, even when they're running errands or out with friends.
“I would just be walking or coming out of a club on Roosevelt Avenue when the cops would stop me,” she said, claiming she was searched while being taunted over her sexuality.
“They call you names, humiliate you, ridicule you,” the former dancer said in Spanish. “It’s been horrible.”
Salma Gomez, 43, who sells Mary Kay beauty products, said she was once stopped by police after being approached by a guy at a grocery store who started flirting with her.
She turned him away and started walking back home when, she claimed, cops rolled up on her, threw her groceries on the ground and searched her for condoms, which can be used as evidence of prostitution.
“I was just buying groceries,” said Gomez, who joined a march against the alleged discrimination in Jackson Heights last week.
The LGBT community plans to continue to protest the NYPD’s policies, including stop-and-frisk, with a silent march on Father's Day, June 17.
Opponents of stop-and-frisks plan to introduce new legislation in the City Council Wednesday afternoon that would create more independent oversight over the NYPD.