#CLOSErikers and #BeyondRosies Statement

on the Death of Layleen Polanco Xtravaganza

Layleen Polanco Xtravaganza, a member of New York City’s historic House of Xtravaganza, is the tenth trans woman reported dead in 2019. We mourn and are outraged by this loss of life. At least nine other people have died on Rikers since Mayor de Blasio has been in office due to  circumstances of abuse & neglect. It is a matter of life and death for New York City and State to recognize and meet the specific needs of LGBTQ communities as they lead efforts for justice, equity, and human rights. The human dignity, safety, and lives of trans people must be prioritized in our city. Trans people and especially Black and brown trans women including immigrants are being dehumanized, harmed, and killed with impunity. We are in solidarity with Layleen’s family and community in demanding answers from New York City and the Department of Correction. Given the DOC’s documented abuses at the Rikers jail complex and at the Rosie M. Singer jail – we demand an independent investigation be conducted immediately.

Directly impacted people have insisted that the closure of Rikers is urgent, and the #BeyondRosies campaign has called on the City and State to facilitate the expedited closure of the Rose M Singer jail – a place where women have long been subject to unchecked abuse – by 2020. We demand that every measure must be taken to divert as many human beings from jail as possible as outlined in the #CLOSErikers campaign’s #buildCOMMUNITIES plan. New York City must immediately invest in programs and services, prioritizing investments outside of the criminal legal system, that support and promote the safety and wellness of all marginalized people, including trans people and people of all genders. LGBTQ people and specifically, gender non-conforming and transgender people of color, suffer a great deal of trauma in their own homes and communities due to root issues that go unaddressed in truly meaningful ways such as: bullying and stigma in public spaces; economic instability and joblessness; lack of workplace safety and health; housing instability and homelessness; mental and physical health issues stemming from systemic harms and injustices. When Trans and GNC people are criminalized, subjected to a brutal and unjust pretrial system, and jailed – it only adds more harm, barriers and suffering. We call on NYC to prioritize solutions to address the root causes of public health and economic justice issues for the trans and gender non-conforming community, completely distinct from incarceration, and on the community’s own terms.

As the #CLOSErikers & #BeyondRosies campaigns continue to demand urgent closure of the Rikers Island jail complex including the Boat, we believe New York City must:

  • Immediately implement pretrial reforms passed in the state budget, rather than wait until January 2020
  • Eliminate city year sentences by funding alternatives to incarceration to scale; end the criminalization of sex work; end broken windows policing which allows daily harassment and criminalization of the most vulnerable New Yorkers; ensure people with serious mental health needs are treated in healthcare settings,
  • Ensure supportive and diversion programs are funded to scale now, prioritizing the most vulnerable communities
  • Create permanent housing units & subsidies for women, women with children, and LGBTQI+ people to increase their safety and stability in the community
  • Invest in youth leadership training, Rites of Passage/identity development (inclusive of LGBTQ and gender non-conforming youth) and other non-traditional programs that support youth to have a voice in community institutions.pp
    • For these programs to be most effective, they cannot be subject to the requirements of the Department of Youth and Community Development’s current COMPASS programs, which allocate a maximum cost-per-participant that is insufficient for running quality programs.

In 2018 New York City took a minimum first step toward protecting LGBTQ people under DOC custody, becoming compliant with the law (PREA) and ending an exemption from NYC Commission on Human Rights rules that was extended to DOC – something that trans and gender non-conforming people fought for. What the City must do and needs to do to truly protect vulnerable trans and GNC community is to stop criminalizing this most vulnerable population – this is the resounding call of Stonewall and the resounding call of communities year-round that is amplified during Pride Month – we need action now.