Trans Women Want Cops to Stop Prostitution Crackdowns

A protest against crackdowns on alleged transgender prostitutes
A protest against crackdowns on alleged transgender prostitutes
Courtesy Byron Jose

A coalition of activist groups is asking the Los Angeles Police Department to back off of its operations against transgender women suspected of prostitution. Those crackdowns usually happen in Hollywood, along Santa Monica Boulevard.

An umbrella group that includes the TransLatin Coalition, Familiar: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Sex Workers Outreach Project — Los Angeles and the National Lawyers Guild recently sent a letter to Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Attorney Mike Feuer, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and Hollywood area City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, asking them to stop targeting transgender women for arrest.

"There are better ways to invest in the lives of transgender people," the authors state. "We call on the city, instead of criminalizing transgender sex workers, to invest more resources to creating housing, services and jobs for transgender people."

The groups joined forces after some social service providers were contacted by LAPD. Transgender activists say the department was asking the providers to show up and offer services following a planned crackdown on alleged transgender prostitutes in Hollywood on Oct. 21.

The transgender rights organizations staged a demonstration and press conference outside LAPD's Hollywood Division, and the crackdown never took place. A police captain apologized for not consulting with the community before organizing the operation, according to Bamby Salcedo, president of the TransLatin Coalition. LAPD sources declined to comment.

"We want to see how the city is investing in trans people instead of arresting trans people," Salcedo says.

The groups argue in their letter that the law is "being selectively and disproportionately enforced against transgender people." The U.S. Department of Justice has found that some police departments profile transgender women as prostitutes. And because they're twice as likely to be unemployed, transgender people are 10 times more likely to be engaged in sex work, according to Lambda Legal. The crackdowns mean transgender people have their right of free expression and their right to be free of gender discrimination violated much more frequently than others, the groups say.

"The police find busting poor and trans women on the street ridiculously easy work," says Claire Alwyne of the Erotic Service Providers Union in San Francisco.

The union is one of a number of groups supporting a lawsuit against San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, a former LAPD assistant chief. It essentially challenges the constitutionality of the state prostitution law. The action, now before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, also is backed by the ACLU, Lambda Legal and the Free Speech Coalition.

Alwyne says, "Women of color and trans women are arrested [at] three to four times times the rate of naturally born women."

A protest outside LAPD's Hollywood Division station
A protest outside LAPD's Hollywood Division station
Courtesy Carmina Ocampo

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