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On LGBTQ Youth, Condoms and Police Stops

A Conversation With Youth Leader Mitchyll Mora of New York City's Streetwise and Safe

December 17, 2013

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Where do you pass them out?

We pass them out when we do outreach at events, and at "know your rights" trainings that we do throughout the city. Pretty much anywhere we go, we're giving them out. We're really proud of our condom cases.

I remember when I first saw one, I said, "This is perfect. It's genius!"

And it's cute. You want to have that on you, and show people; and, hopefully, that's starting conversations outside of us from SAS talking to someone.

Have you gotten anecdotal reports back that it's been helpful to youth in real-life scenarios?

We've definitely had those stories. It's also a lot of information to remember; but with the condom case, people walk away with the really basic stuff they need. We have other materials, but just because of the format of the condom case, it's helpful because you can go back to it.

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It's like a cheat sheet, basically.

Yeah.

What other projects is SAS currently working on?

I myself am working on a Department of Justice-funded research project in partnership with the Urban Institute, looking at LGBTQ youth between the ages of 13 and 21 who have experience in the sex trades, or have been profiled by the police as having experience in the sex trades. As a part of that, I head up the work we do around youth in the sex trades, generally -- and making sure that the experiences of youth that have experienced homelessness or sex trades are a part of these larger policing conversations.

SAS was also part of getting the transgender patrol guide changes in the city. There are now new boxes on the forms that get filled out during a stop. For instance, you have a legal name, but you may also have a preferred name. Police officers are supposed to refer to you by that name, or they're supposed to refer to you by the pronouns you've indicated. These are things that you can ask police officers to do, and they're supposed to respect that and do it. They lay out basic human-interaction stuff. Before, there was no framework for police officers to even address transgender or gender-nonconforming folks. But we're not seeing changes -- or at least in what we're hearing from youth.

The changes are not being implemented or enforced very well?

To penetrate the NYPD to get any information is crazy! We don't know what kind of training is being done. But we're creating a tool that's going to be accessible for youth to understand those patrol guide changes, and then be able to advocate for themselves in their interactions with police. Especially if you're being put into the system; you can ask to be a special-category prisoner, and they have to put you in your own cell. There are all these kinds of ways and provisions to be safe. But people don't know how to do that, because it's all legal and sounds all weird.

One of the reasons why this has become a focus for us right now is that we know people may be aware of the changes, but not actually know what the changes are.

So, it's sort of like harm reduction, essentially, for police stops of trans and gender-nonconforming youth, so that they know that this is what is expected of the cop who's dealing with them?

Yes, definitely.

One more question: What message would you want to send to New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio regarding LGBTQ youth of color? What do you want his first action to be to benefit young LGBTQ people?

We need housing. There's such a profound lack of adequate housing for youth, in general, in this city -- but especially for LGBTQ youth, who make up a large number of the homeless youth population. I would say that 40 to 60 percent of the homeless youth population in New York City is LGBTQ identified. I would say we need voluntary housing. That's the only thing I can say truthfully, based on what I hear every day from the youth I've interviewed in the study. There's such a lack of funding for housing. I spoke at a City Council hearing around this issue specifically, on behalf of youth with involvement in the sex trades, and experience with homelessness, and that correlation.

It's frustrating that every year we're just fighting for the same amount of funding; and there are only 250 beds, fewer than 250 beds, reserved for youth in the city every night, with a homeless population of 4,000-plus on any given night in New York City.

I also think that, when it comes to LGBTQ youth: We really need to start thinking about alternatives to Child Protective Services, and really listen to youth when they run away from home, when they're not living at home, when they're doing the things they need to do to survive -- instead of policing folks and trying to control their bodies. LGBTQ youth are naming what they need every day, and they're saying they need housing, and ways to get adequate incomes, and livable wages. I hope that's a priority when it comes to this next mayor.

I hope so, too. Is there anything else that you want to add before we wrap up?

I want to ask that folks really tune in to Communities United for Police Reform to watch what rallies are going on, or who we're asking people to call. These reforms are really important to LGBTQ youth. SAS and other organizations were part of supporting the bill to end discriminatory profiling, and raising the experiences of queer folks of color as a part of these larger campaigns around profiling -- that while we experience policing like our peers, on the basis of our race or ethnicity, sometimes our experiences look different -- and making sure that sexual harassment, physical abuse and all of these actions that are carried out with homophobic and transphobic underpinnings, or explicit homophobia and transphobia, are part of that conversation.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Olivia Ford is the executive editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.


Copyright © 2013 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.
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