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Got Rubbers? Police May Hold It Against You

March 1, 2012

Got Rubbers? Police May Hold It Against You

About 10 years ago when I was organizing with FIERCE! in New York City, one of the members of the organization, a young Black transgender woman, was arrested for "prostitution" while she was working as an outreach worker for an HIV prevention organization. She told us then that many transgender people had experienced being "stopped and frisked" by police officers, and if you had condoms on you, they would charge you with prostitution. She said that people in the community believed this was an intentional, yet unwritten practice.

She may have been correct.

The New York Times reported today that a bill in New York State would make this practice, called "condoms as evidence," illegal. They write "Assemblywoman Barbara M. Clark, Democrat of Queens, and State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, Democrat of Brooklyn, have sponsored a bill to keep the possession of condoms from being used in criminal court as evidence of prostitution. The bill was first introduced in 1999 and has been re-introduced every year since, but has consistently died in committee. This year, its backers express optimism."

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One of the things that may make this bill gain traction this year is that there is much more scrutiny from community activists on the issue.

Streetwise and Safe, a NYC based, youth LGBTQ organization had been organizing against this practice. Tree Alexander, SAS Facilitator (and former Housing Works staff member) said in a legislative memo "I was appalled when I found out that the very same packet of condoms I gave someone [as a prevention worker] can be used as evidence-or should I say was used as cause to arrest her for prostitution. How can we protect ourselves when we are afraid to carry the protection?"

Of course, district attorneys are fighting this bill being passed. But those of us who work in AIDS prevention and treatment, and on LGBT justice issues know how important it is for street-based prevention workers to be able to give people what they need to reduce potential HIV infections.

"Sylvia Rivera Law Project is thrilled about introduction of bill A1008/S323 that will ban the use of condoms as evidence of engaging in sex work, said Pooja Gehi, Staff Attorney at Sylvia Rivera Law Project. "Over the past decade SRLP has witnessed low income transgender individuals get profiled and targeted by the police on a daily basis. The condoms -as-evidence law encourages unlawful pre-textual police stops and searches while simultaneously discouraging safer sex practices and harm reduction efforts. In response to the HIV epidemic our communities have mobilized to create outreach based infrastructures to encourage increased health and safety. The practice of policing the possession of condoms discourage informal organizing practices and also criminalizes outreach workers."

Human Rights Watch is working on a report on this issue, which is happening all over the country. If this has happened to you, or someone you know, HRW wants to hear from you. Email Megan McLemore at mclemom@hrw.org.

Follow the Update blog on Twitter @housingworks.



  
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This article was provided by Housing Works. It is a part of the publication Housing Works AIDS Issues Update. Visit Housing Works' website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
 
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Quiz: Are You at Risk for HIV?
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