In the midst of month-long Pride celebrations, LGBT groups across the city mobilized for End Stop and Frisk: Silent March Against Racial Profiling, which brought thousands of New Yorkers into the streets for one of the biggest marches in decades challenging racial profiling. Our participation in this historic march is not just a question of expressing solidarity with communities of color who are experiencing discriminatory and abusive policing in New York City -- we are part of communities of color and have always been, and from Bayard Rustin to Miss Major, from James Baldwin to Sylvia Rivera, to Audre Lorde, we have been outspoken members of movements to challenge profiling and police abuse.
Gay men of color, along with women and transgender people of color, are among the black and Latina/os disproportionately subjected to more than 685,000 stops and frisks by the NYPD last year. I know, because I am one of them.
Sometimes our experiences are no different than the rest of our communities. For instance, I was first stopped and frisked just months after I moved to New York as I was riding my bicycle in Fort Greene, as part of the NYPD's "quality of life" policing. The second time I was stopped, police rummaged through my bags of recently washed clothes as I was on my way home from a laundromat in Bed-Stuy. This time, presumably the goal was finding weapons or drugs. But, as in 99.9 percent of stops conducted by the NYPD last year, no gun was found among my clean boxer briefs.
At other times, our experiences are marked by homophobia and transphobia in addition to racism and policing of poverty. This past December, my friends and I were stopped, questioned, and searched in Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem -- not on the pretense that we had weapons or contraband -- but because we were three black gay men in a park. The fact that we were dancing to Beyoncé was presumably enough to give rise to reasonable suspicion that we were engaged in unlawful sexual activity. Luckily, after a little harassment, we got off without being groped, sexually assaulted, or falsely arrested.
But many LGBT youth of color I have talked to, worked with and loved, haven't been so lucky. The hundreds of youth who attend Streetwise and Safe's (SAS) LGBTQ-specific "know your rights" trainings share countless stories of being stopped and frisked, profiled and falsely arrested, along with a general fear of leaving the house, or of carrying condoms, or dressing a certain way, or going to school because of daily stops, homophobic harassment, transphobic abuse, gender searches, and sexual advances by NYPD officers. Their experiences are often not that different from that described by my hero James Baldwin who once wrote of being stopped and frisked in Harlem:
"When I was ten, and didn't look, certainly, any older, two policemen amused themselves with me by frisking me, making comic (and terrifying) speculations concerning my ancestry and probable sexual prowess, and for good measure, leaving me flat on my back in one of Harlem's empty lots."
Along with other members of communities of color, LGBTQ youth of color seek the freedom that has been denied to hundreds of thousands of people of color through around the clock police patrols, police violence, racial, gender, homophobic profiling and stop and frisk -- a practice that Baldwin argued "brought every black person in New York a little closer to the madhouse and the grave."
But we need not go to the madhouse any longer. Instead, this past Sunday, we marched to the mayor's house.
We stopped marching to the drum of the NYPD and marched for a truly safe city. Because a city where gay men are routinely stopped and even arrested based on the assumption that we must be engaged in "lewd" conduct is not a safe city. A city where LGBT people are afraid to carry condoms for fear that they will be used as evidence that they were engaged in prostitution is not a safe city. A city where lesbians are slammed up against cars, groped and threatened with sexual assault to turn them straight is not a safe city. A city where women of color are sexually harassed by cops during stops is not a safe city. And, a city where transgender women can't walk down the street without being profiled as being engaged in prostitution or without being harassed for having an id with the "wrong" gender on it is not a safe city.
This is why SAS is a proud member of Communities United for Police Reform. This is why SAS supports the historic Community Safety Act, which would unequivocally say for the first time in New York City that people can't be stopped, frisked or profiled based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, or their race, age, gender immigration or housing status.
This is why I marched on Father's Day, along with LGBTQ youth of color from SAS, FIERCE, GLAAD, the Audre Lorde Project, Make the Road New York, and other LGBTQ people of color who are challenging discriminatory policing practices in our communities.
Chris Bilal is is an organizer and youth leader with Streetwise and Safe (SAS). SAS is a proud member of Communities united for Police Reform (CPR), and partners with GLAAD to raise the voices of LGBTQ people of color in the movement against Stop and Frisk.