Activists protest mistreatment of transgender people in D.C.

November 17, 2011

Xion Lopez came out as a transgender woman in August. Since then, the 20-year-old Northeast resident said, she has feared for her life.

“Every morning before I walk out of the house, I pray for safety,” she said at a Thursday rally outside the U.S. Attorney’s Office in downtown Washington, where she and about 35 other activists demanded that the District do more to protect transgender people from what they call a recent surge in violence and police bias against them.

Since July, at least 20 transgender women have been assaulted in the city, said Jason Terry, a volunteer from the DC Trans Coalition who testified Nov. 2 before the D.C. Council about police response to hate crimes.

Lopez’s friend Lashay Mclean, 23, who also identified as a woman, was fatally shot in the city’s Northeast in July. Police said two people walked up to Mclean, a.k.a. Myles Mclean, and another person, and one pulled out a semiautomatic handgun and shot McLean.

In September, Gaurav Gopalan, 35, an aeronautical engineer and theater director, was found dead in Columbia Heights while dressed in women’s clothing, although some of his close friends did not identify him as transgender. The death was later ruled a homicide by the D.C. medical examiner’s office, which cited “blunt-impact head trauma.” Neither slaying has been solved.

In their demands presented Thursday to the D.C. police department, the U.S Attorney’s Office and officials including Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), activists sought better ways of tracking crimes against transgender people. They also want police to receive mandatory training on legislation, including the D.C. Human Rights Law, and more efforts to investigate crimes targeting the transgender community.

The District has some of the country’s most extensive laws aimed at protecting the rights of gender-minority groups, Terry said. “It’s just not being implemented.”

Police sometimes fail to document incidents of violence with enough detail to successfully investigate a case, said Ruby Corado, who has worked on transgender rights issues in the District since 1992.

In a written response to the activists’ demands, Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said she meets monthly with members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. On Wednesday night, the police department hosted the first of several planned open houses so members of the community could meet with officers within the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit.

She said, however, that “no members of the GLBT community showed up. This has to be a partnership where efforts are made on both sides.”

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