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Transgender Woman Files Lawsuit Against NYPD, Claiming Abuse

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CREDIT: Flickr / damselfly58

Temmie Breslauer’s seemingly minor arrest last month for using her father’s discount subway fare card quickly turned into a nightmare. Instead of citing and releasing her, a lawsuit filed on her behalf claims that the New York Police Department chained her in an uncomfortable position for over 24 hours, denied her use of bathroom facilities, and harassed her with slurs—all because Breslauer is a transgender woman.

The alleged mistreatment is only the latest story of police officers abusing and harassing trans people, and particularly trans women. From the Stonewall riots to Occupy Wall Street, trans people have been singled out for police violence and brutality; even when legitimately arrested, they are often subject to mistreatment in police custody.

A scathing Amnesty International report [PDF] in 2005 found numerous reports of “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of LGBT individuals,” and faulted U.S. authorities for both failing to prevent widespread abuse at the hands of the police, and falling behind the rest of the world in advancing LGBT rights. 

“Many transgender people are fearful of spending time in detention because they are often at heightened risk of torture and ill-treatment at the hands of both guards and other inmates,” the Amnesty International report reads.

Many transgender people interviewed for the investigation reported being housed in cells according to the sex they were assigned at birth, putting them at risk of assault by other detainees; they also reported verbal abuse and both physical and sexual assault from officers.

Breslauer alleges that the same thing happened to her.

When she was arrested, she says, she gave the desk sergeant a note from her doctor explaining her transition and asking that she have safe access to gender-appropriate facilities. Instead, the officers allegedly sat her on a bench six feet in front of the men’s detention cell and chained her arm above her head in an uncomfortable position. The lawsuit says she was forced to sit there for 28 hours, all while enduring verbal abuse from male detainees and from police officers, who reportedly called her a “he-she” and a “faggot” and asked about her genitalia and sexual practices.

This lawsuit is the second high-profile report of alleged abuse of transgender detainees in four months. In October, transgender advocate Justin Adkins was arrested at an Occupy Wall Street protest. He told Bilerico that he was painfully handcuffed to a pipe, rather than housed in a cell, and that police officers mocked him for the 8 hours of his detention.

There has been a long campaign against NYPD discrimination and harassment of transgender people, including a list of demands given to the department in 2009 by a number of advocates [PDF]. All of them have pointed out this: When an institution ostensibly there to protect and serve instead becomes a force of brutal discrimination, it frequently targets those least able or likely to protest the abuse. Those people, in turn, are victimized by the institutions that are supposed to keep them safe.

It’s worth remembering that police brutality against sexual and gender minorities sparked the Stonewall riots and birthed the Gay Rights Movement. Breslauer’s lawsuit is proof of the distance yet to go. 

Shay O'Reilly is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @shaygabriel.

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