Safety for LGBTQ Survivors of Violence During COVID-19 Requires Shrinking the NYPD

Safety for LGBTQ Survivors of Violence During COVID-19 Requires Shrinking the NYPD

What Budget Justice for LGBTQ Survivors Looks Like and How to Get There

The combination of the COVID-19 health crisis and police violence against Black people has put many LGBTQ and HIV-affected people, especially Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, at greater risk for infection than the general population, and in even greater financial precarity than times of relative economic prosperity. 

The New York City Anti-Violence Project serves low-income LGBTQ and HIV-affected people (including the unhoused and homeless); transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) people and youth; undocumented immigrants including those seeking asylum; people of color (including Black and Latinx New Yorkers who have some of the highest COVID-19 related fatalities in the city); individuals who are incarcerated or entangled in the criminal legal system; sex workers; and those at the intersections of these identities. 

During this crisis as needs deepen for communities of color, Mayor de Blasio has proposed  a budget for New York City that drastically cuts millions of dollars that should go into services and resources for communities of color, while leaving the New York City Police Department (NYPD) virtually untouched. 

We know there is a better way forward during this moment of crisis: New York City must defund the NYPD by at least $1 Billion and reinvest that funding in health care, housing, education, and workforce development programs that affirm LGBTQ and HIV-affected people’s sexuality and gender identities.


New York City’s fiscal year for 2021 starts on July 1, 2020 and ends June 30, 2021. The budget will be finalized over the coming week by the City Council, and our communities are fighting to ensure that funds are redistributed from the NYPD to services. 

The New York City Anti-Violence Project, as a member of Communities United for Police Reform (CPR), is calling for a budget that includes significant cuts to the NYPD’s nearly $6B budget in order to protect and strengthen crucial services, programs and infrastructure the actually keep LGBTQ survivors safe and secure in the COVID-19 crisis. 

Black LGBTQ survivors are most affected by state violence and police violence. Black and working class and poor LGBTQ and HIV-affected survivors of color include people with prior arrests and records, people with unstable immigration status, people who work in illicit street economies for survival, including sex work and those who sell and/or use illegal substances. These LGBTQ people are disproportionately criminalized, arrested, and/or detained. Policing does not create more safety for survivors, but instead, often leads to more trauma and harm. 

The uprisings led by Black people and Black LGBTQ people and survivors have created the conditions for a transformative shift in the way we envision safety, and have drawn attention to the ways in which Black communities in particular are under attack by state violence. The City can use this opportunity to invest in real safety for Black LGBTQ communities and LGBTQ communities of color instead of continuing to pour billions into policing and corrections. The City’s budget is a moral document, and those with budgetary power must reflect the priorities of our communities instead of protecting powerful interests and property over people. 


As an organization that serves and works to empower LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities, we’ve heard first-hand experiences of the harms of increased policing. The community we serve has historically been profiled and targeted by law enforcement, and we believe in a different approach to create safety, one that doesn’t include policing as the means to achieve safety. We need an adopted budget that prioritizes the safety of all New Yorkers, especially Black LGBTQ survivors of violence, and therefore a budget that defunds the NYPD. 

We demand the following cuts, aligned with CPR’s #NYCBudgetJustice Campaign: 

  • #DefundNYPD by at least $1 billion in the FY21 expense budget – and for those monies to be redirected to core needs in Black, Latinx and other communities of color. This means the following cuts should be considered: 
    • NYPD hiring freeze – Many City agencies are facing hiring freezes in FY21, but there is no freeze proposed in the executive budget for policing.
    • Cancellation of cadet classes – There is no justification for cadet classes when schools are understaffed in nurses, guidance counselors, and social workers.
    • Cuts to NYPD’s expansion into non-police activities/social services – Cuts should prioritize getting cops out of schools, homeless outreach, mental health response, the new “youth initiative”, and social distancing outreach/enforcement. 
    • Cuts related to abusive policing – The NYPD routinely keeps officers who have brutalized and even unjustly killed New Yorkers on payroll for years after incidents without any movement on disciplinary processes.
    • Cuts to other non-essential areas, including NYPD public relations/media budget and expansion of costly (& legally dubious) surveillance infrastructure. 
  • Require increased NYPD budget transparency – by including transparency-related terms and conditions in the budget that is passed for FY21. The NYPD’s budget is arguably the most secretive and opaque of any New York City agency. 
  • Block increases of any NYPD expense budget lines in FY21 – and deny and cancel any new policing-related initiatives in the NYPD expense budget, other agency expense budgets, NYC general fund budget and in the capital budget plan. 

We recommend investment in the following areas:

    • Increased funding to community-based organizations that promote the safety of LGBTQ people of color through discretionary funding. This includes increasing funding of the Hate VIolence Prevention Initiative, with a priority on funding community based organizations focused on non-carceral solutions like community-based reporting, outreach and bystander/upstander intervention, counseling and support services, and restorative approaches to healing the impacts of hate violence in communities.
    • Increasing funding to programs that serve LGBTQ youth of color. This includes fully funding DYCD’s Summer Youth Employment Program as well as Unity Works, a workforce development program announced in October 2019 that would support deep investments in workforce development for LGBTQ runaway and homeless youth.
    • Increase funding for TGNC immigration legal direct services. There is a lack of free legal services providers that are affirming of TGNC people, and understand the complexity of TGNC peoples’ immigration cases. These organizations have seen an increase in their client loads of TGNC people seeking immigration legal services over the last several years. Council Members have been provided with plans for funding five organizations to serve this community, which has been especially hard-hit by COVID-19.


  • Provide LGBTQ people, and people all around New York City, housing with dignity: increase the value of rental vouchers, fund supportive housing at the model level set by State policymakers, and ensure creation of LGBTQ and especially TGNC-affirming supportive housing service providers. COVID-19 emphasized the need to stop warehousing populations and provide private settings, for homeless peoples’ dignity; to guard against the violence that homeless people, and especially homeless LGBTQ people face in the shelter system; and also provide for improved public health. Unfortunately, current rental vouchers provided by the City are not equal to the Fair Market Rent (FMR) for apartments in the NYC metropolitan area. Given the increased homeless rates faced by LGBTQ people, especially TGNC BIPOC, the City has an obligation to house people, and it can provide more deeply affordable housing that is both linked to supportive affirming services by (1) funding rental vouchers for a one-bedroom apartment at $1,951, at all vouchers at FMR; (2) raising the budget for supportive housing scattered site locations to the rates set by the State’s NYC 15/15 program; and (3) ensuring that there are supportive housing providers who are particularly affirming of LGBTQ and (given their especially high homelessness rates) TGNC people.
  • Fund worker coops, which allow under-resourced and highly-discriminated against people an opportunity to create their own jobs. NYC has some of the most advanced infrastructure for creation of worker cooperatives in the US. Worker coops, where workers both work, own, and manage their companies, are a great model employment and resource-allocation model for people–such as BIPOC TGNC people–who lack resources and are frequently targets of employment discrimation. This can be accomplished by fully funding the existing Worker Cooperative Business Development Initiative. Worker coops are also a means of spreading knowledge about business development and ownership to youth and adults alike, and thus is a means of meeting a need that the City has yet to fulfill: programming to connect adult TGNC people with jobs.
  • Assistance for undocumented workers. The LGBTQ community includes undocumented workers, and we need to push every opportunity to provide resources to our community. Undocumented people are blocked from receiving public benefits, whether due to legal limitations or strong disincentives (e.g., recent public charge rule changes). Thus, we join a call to provide cash assistance to every undocumented worker who lost a job during the COVID-19 crisis.



The unprecedented economic and health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has put ordinarily marginalized communities into even greater precarity. LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities are disproportionately represented in informal and gig economies, including sex work and other illicit work, because of the discrimination they face in mainstream employment. 

  • Contact your City Council Member today and demand that they commit to $1 billion in cuts to the NYPD budget for FY21.
  • Look up your City Councilmember here: and then check to see where they stand here on the #DefundNYPD Public Commitment Tracker. 
  • Call, tweet, or email them before June 30 to let them know where you stand as their constituent.


For 40 years, the New York City Anti-Violence Project has worked to empower lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) and HIV-affected communities and allies to end all forms of violence through organizing and education, and supports survivors through counseling and advocacy. AVP is the largest anti-LGBTQ violence organization in the country. We are deeply trusted within the LGBTQ communities and by survivors of violence, and we have earned that trust by showing up for our community day in and day out.


Take Action To Demand #Justice4Layleen

One year ago our community lost Layleen Polanco, a 27-year-old Afro-Latinx trans woman, who was pronounced dead in a solitary confinement cell at Rikers. We mourn the loss of Layleen, a sister, daughter, mother, friend, and community advocate. We are angry and stand with her family as they seek justice for her death.

AVP demands #JusticeForLayleen. We demand that:
  • The State Legislature pass HALT Solitary Confinement Act and end solitary confinement in New York City jails.
  • The State repeal #WalkingWhileTrans ban
  • The State stop implementation of 2020 bail reform rollbacks
  • The Bronx DA issue a public apology for dead-naming Layleen Polanco in a press release announcing the decision not to pursue criminal charges of officers in connection with Layleen’s death
  • Fire correction officers involved in Layleen Polanco’s death in solitary confinement at Rikers Island
Take action to demand #Justice4Layleen:
  • Contact, call or tweet at your state senator (@NYSenDems) and assembly member (@NYSA_Majority) to 1) pass #HALTSolitary Act to restrict solitary confinement’s use in New York State, and 2) stop implementation of 2020 bail reform rollbacks.

  • The #WalkingWhileTrans repeal has the votes needed to end Stop and Frisk of trans and gender non-conforming people. Contact, call or tweet at your state senator (@NYSenDems) and assembly member (@NYSA_Majority) to pass the bill to make it law in New York State.

  • Contact or tweet at Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor), contact your New York City Council Member, and/or contact or call the Board of Corrections (212-669-7900) to demand that they end solitary confinement in City jails immediately.

  • Tweet (@BronxDAClark) or call (718-590-2000) the Bronx DA Darcel Clark to demand she issue an apology for dead-naming LayleenPolanco in a press release announcing her decision not to pursue criminal charges of officers in connection with Layleen’s death

  • Contact or tweet at Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) and or contact, call (718-546-1500), tweet at Department of Corrections (@CorrectionNYC) to release publicly the names of and immediately fire correction officers involved in Layleen Polanco’s death in solitary confinement at Rikers Island.One Year of #Justice4Layleen

Letter to Gov. Cuomo and NYS: IPV Orgs Against Rollbacks

Dear Governor Cuomo and New York State Legislature,

As organizations that serve hundreds of thousands of survivors of domestic and intimate partner violence (IPV) in New York State, through counseling, support and legal services, and advocacy, we join the growing call of voices opposing rollbacks on bail reform. Contrary to the arguments of those who invoke intimate partner violence to push back against bail reform, rollbacks will not make survivors of violence safer. In fact, rollbacks will harm marginalized survivors of violence.

We are concerned that during this time of the COVID-19 crisis, some New York State elected officials are attempting to push through rollbacks when our communities really need support and resources. This is especially concerning as we know that during such crises, IPV incidents often increase. And yet, while the criminal legal system is often invoked as an ‘answer’ to dealing with IPV, for marginalized Black, latinx, immigrant, low-income and/or LGBTQ survivors, their status as survivors makes them more likely to become entangled in the criminal justice system.

This is because mandatory arrest laws and poor primary-aggressor assessments by law enforcement mean that survivors are often arrested instead of – or in addition to – the person engaging in abuse. A national study showed that a fourth of survivors are arrested or threatened with arrest during an IPV incident or report. In New York City, the majority (66%) of IPV survivors who were arrested alongside or instead of their abusive partner were Black or latinx.

Black, latinx, immigrant, low-income, and/or LGBTQ survivors of IPV are also more likely to have had encounters with the criminal legal system before, during, and after surviving violence. According to a study by the Department of Justice, 77 percent of those incarcerated in women’s jails were victims of IPV. As there are no “perfect survivors” of violence, low-income Black, latinx, immigrant, and/or LGBTQ survivors of IPV include people with prior arrests and records, people with unstable immigration status, people who work in illicit street economies for survival, including sex work and those who sell and/or use substances. These survivors deserve support and resources, not criminalization and incarceration, which rollbacks only exacerbate.

Bail rollbacks will harm marginalized IPV survivors. We ask that you reject rollbacks on bail reform, and work with us to find more ways to invest in measures that will actually help survivors of intimate partner violence live in safety and dignity. This includes increasing the State’s social safety net by investing in safety planning resources, emergency shelter, long-term housing and services for trans and gender non-conforming people, expanding protections and resources for non-citizens, passing laws like Good Cause Eviction and Home Stability Support, and repealing discriminatory policies like the ”Walking While Trans” loitering law. It means pushing to cancel rent and utilities and other financial burdens on low-income Black, latinx, immigrant, and/or LGBTQ people of color that exacerbate power dynamics in IPV situations.

These are the kinds of social safety net resources and services that survivors of IPV need, especially during a crisis like the COVID-19 outbreak. New York State Legislators, we urge you to stand alongside survivors of intimate partner violence and anti-IPV advocates and push against rollbacks to bail reform.


The New York City Anti-Violence Project
Women’s Community Justice Association
STEPS to End Family Violence – a Program of Rising Ground
Black Lives Matter Hudson Valley
New Hour for Women & Children —LI
Girls for Gender Equity, Inc. (GGE)

Letter to New York City and State: #Justice4Layleen Demands

AVP Contact:
Audacia Ray, Director of Community Organizing and Public Advocacy, 212-714-1184 x 18

Media Contact:
Eliel Cruz, Director of Communications, 212-714-1184 x 26

Dear Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio,

We, the undersigned organizations have come together in response to the tragic death of Layleen Xtravanganza Cubilette-Polanco who died while being held on $500 bail in the Rose M. Singer Center at Rikers Island on June 7, 2019; she is one of 10 Black transgender women to die from individually targeted or state-sanctioned violence so far this year. After the historic commitments made by New York State to end cash bail and New York City to close Rikers Island, her death is unconscionable. Layleen’s death is the result of delayed changes to the criminal legal system and the terrible convergence of city and state carceral policies that disregard the humanity of trans women of color and criminalize their survival.

The New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP) is currently working closely with Polanco’s family and demand action from both the city and the state so that Polanco’s family can get answers about the circumstances of her death and seek justice, and to ensure that the conditions that led to her death are remedied. We ask you to take immediate steps to see that the following happen.


On the city level:

  • The Chief Medical Examiner’s Office must expedite the results of Layleen Cubilette-Polanco’s autopsy. They initially told Layleen’s family they must wait up to 12 weeks for answers about the cause of her death. This is unacceptable for any family.
  • New York City Council must pass Intro No. 1535-A and the Mayor must sign it into law immediately. This local law will establish a task force to review the Department of Correction’s (DOC) policies related to the treatment and housing of transgender, gender non-conforming, non-binary (TGNCNB), and intersex individuals in DOC custody.
  • New York City must commit to massive, citywide decarceration that significantly reduces the number of people in jail, divests from incarceration as a solution, and reinvests resources in the Black and Latinx communities most harmed by over-policing and incarceration.
  • In the wake of Polanco’s death, Rikers has reported that it has emptied the women’s solitary unit; it must remain empty until all the jail facilities on Rikers Island are closed. The DOC must stop isolating TGNCNB people in de facto “solitary confinement” while claiming it’s for their own safety. Solitary confinement isn’t just a designated space within a jail, it is the intentional isolation of a person away from general population.


On the state level:

  • New York State must pass HALT Solitary Confinement Act to end the torture of solitary confinement, including ceasing the operation of the restrictive housing units where Polanco was detained.
  • New York State’s newly passed bail reform legislation goes into effect on January 1, 2020 but District Attorneys and judges can and should stop setting bail immediately. Polanco would not have been held on bail in 2020, and she should not have been held on bail this year. The State must also go further. Although New York’s elected leaders committed to the complete end of money bail, the legislation passed in April did not eliminate money bail on all charges. New York State must commit to the next stage of bail reform to end money bail and protect pretrial liberty for all people, regardless of charge.
  • New York State must pass legislation that decriminalizes sex work, and must cease operating the court-mandated services of the Human Trafficking Intervention Courts, which pose as a compassionate alternative to incarceration but keep survivors of violence court-involved and vulnerable to re-criminalization. Polanco missed court dates as part of this alternative to incarceration and was detained as a result. The provision of services should not be mandated and must not lead to incarceration.


Finally, New York City and State must invest significant resources in the health and well-being of trans, gender non-conforming, and non-binary (TGNCNB)  Black, Latinx, and people of color. This requires a multi-pronged approach, including: funding health care programs and utilizing regulatory power to guarantee affirming care related both to medical transition and all care unrelated to transition; creation of housing that is safe and affordable for TGNCNB people; employment programs for TGNCNB people of all ages, and other economic justice programs.

Addressing the needs of Black, Latinx, and people of color TGNCNB communities is an ongoing conversation that has to center their voices. We hope that the Mayor’s Office and the Governor’s Office will schedule meetings with impacted communities in order to move forward on more inclusive policy and legislation


The New York City Anti-Violence Project


Sylvia Rivera Law Project

Association of Legal Aid Attorneys LGBTQ Caucus

The Bronx Defenders


The Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center

The Legal Aid Society

Transgender Law Center

Make the Road New York


Peter Cicchino Youth Project (PCYP) of the Urban Justice Center

Girls for Gender Equity

Desis Rising Up & Moving



Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund


Global Action Youth Project


The LGBT Community Center

NYC Jails Action Committee

Center for Constitutional Rights

Brooklyn Defender Services

Decrim NY

Black & Pink