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Today is Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Trans Activists Charge Harassment in New York City

Police selectively requiring ID at public bathrooms at Christopher St. riverfront

[NEW YORK CITY] - A group of transgendered activists are charging that city parks police are requiring transsexuals to show identification that proves their gender before they are allowed to use the public bathrooms in Hudson River Park at Christopher Street.

"Prohibiting people from using the restroom associated with the gender they live in is illegal," said Dean Spade, the founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project at the Urban Justice Center. "Additionally what is going on with the cops here is they are targeting just people who are gender-different, who they somehow believe aren't gendered with the bathroom they are coming out of or going into."

Spade, a transgendered attorney, said reports of such proofing started immediately after the park officially opened in early June. He knows of five people who were required to present identification.

Melissa Sklarz, a member of the Parks Committee on Community Board 2 and a transsexual, had to show identification to a female parks officer on the evening of June 6.

"I went into the ladies room and she called me out of the bathroom and I was sort of stunned," Sklarz said. "She asked to see ID. I'm not a mind reader, but I've got a feeling she was proofing me for gender identity."

Sklarz heard of others, who may be the same people that Spade referred to, who had to show identification on June 7 and 8.

"Over the weekend a series of young people from the piers were proofed," she said. "I have a very strong opinion that [the police] are not allowed to do this."

An amendment to the city human rights law that was enacted last year bans discrimination based on gender identity or expression and the police appear to be requiring identification only from transsexuals, according to Spade.

"They are only stopping people who they perceive to be transgendered," he said. "There is no legal basis for cops to ID people trying to use the bathrooms and it is illegal based on the human rights law... This park has reopened and we want this park to be a safe place for transgendered people to use. We won't accept being harassed when we try to use spaces that should be accessible to everyone."

The activists have contacted the Hudson River Park Trust and the city Commission on Human Rights in an effort to resolve the situation. Calls seeking comment from the city parks department and the trust were not returned.

Bathrooms can present a problem for transgendered people who may be stopped or questioned by others who feel they are in the wrong toilet.

"I think that the bathroom harassment generally is universal," Spade said.

Police can also get into the act. Spade was arrested last year by a Port Authority police officer while using the men's room at Grand Central station.

"I entered a restroom, a cop followed me into the restroom and asked me to show ID," he said. "I explained that I was in the right restroom."

When two friends came to his assistance, the officer detained them and, finally, arrested all three of them.

"The cop was really being aggressive," Spade said. "We tried to leave and he pushed us against the wall... We spent 23 hours in jail and ultimately the charges were dropped because there was no legal basis for our arrests."

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