Three years ago, Bianey Garcia was on 86th Street in Jackson Heights with her boyfriend. It was late at night, and they were holding hands and kissing. A van slowly pulled up next to them, and they quickly realized it wasn't any regular van: Garcia says that eight police officers got out and pushed her to the ground, and one of them snatched her purse. "Some condoms spilled out," she says, adding that the police officer told her, "You're a fucking prostitute. You're doing sex work." She was not, but was arrested anyway.
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Garcia, 23, who has long dark hair and a hesitant smile, is a transgender woman. And her story is hardly unique among transgender people in New York City, who are routinely profiled and wrongfully arrested for prostitution or loitering for the purposes of prostitution, and often plead guilty out of fear of abuse in jail while awaiting their court date. "Even if you don't work in prostitution, they think you are one," says Garcia, now an organizer at Make the Road New York, a community support and outreach non-profit based in the Bushwick area of Brooklyn. "I felt so very scared. I pleaded guilty so I could go home."More »