As arctic air descended on New York the evening of February 12, a crowd numbering several dozen gathered at the corner of 125th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue to show support for Jennifer Louise Lopez, a transgender rights activist who was assaulted by another woman shouting anti-trans slurs on the uptown D train two weeks earlier.
“This type of violence happens all too frequently, and it cannot happen,” said Jaron Benjamin, the vice president for community mobilization and national advocacy at Housing Works, an AIDS services group.
Pastor Vanessa Brown of the Rivers of Living Water ministry, an LGBT African-American Christian congregation, said, “We will not relive what we went through for the past decade,” and then spoke about the all too common violence aimed at transgender men and women, including the 2013 slaying of Islan Nettles roughly 20 blocks away.
On bitter February evening, dozens unite to say, “Trans lives matter,” “Whose subway?, Our subway”
Benjamin and Brown were speaking out about an attack on Lopez at about 10 p.m. on January 30. According to Lopez, who is the founder and director of Everything Transgender in NYC, she sat down next to another woman as she rode the D train north between 59th and 125th Streets. Suddenly, the other woman looked at her and shouted, “You’re a man,” before punching her in the eye.
Several men, Lopez said, held her attacker off (as the cell phone video she captured below shows), but when Lopez exited the train at 125th Street the woman followed her, and when Lopez re-boarded the train, she was still being tailed.
Lopez said she cannot be sure that the men who restrained her attacker were not companions of the woman. Others on the train, she said, largely ignored the assault and the ensuing commotion.
After her attack, Lopez sought emergency treatment at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital, where, she said, she was seen for only 10 minutes and not given “a proper exam.” Only during a second emergency room visit elsewhere the next morning did she learn that the retina in her left eye was at risk for detaching. Though the condition was treated, Lopez said she is not yet out of the woods and needs several more weeks of healing to be sure there is no permanent damage.
During the rally, she held out her eyeglass frames, which were missing both lenses and one of the stems when she recovered them after her attack.
Asked how she is feeling two weeks after her attack, Lopez told Gay City News, “Emotionally I am just trying to recover. I am still afraid to go on the subway. This is the first time I have been back at this corner since that night.”
Though the NYPD this past week classified the attack as a potential hate crime, Lopez said it took her going to the media more than a week after the crime to get police attention. Though she was informed that the department’s Hate Crimes Task Force is now on the case, as of February 12, no one from that unit had contacted her directly, Lopez said.
Cecilia Gentili, a trans* health program coordinator at Apicha, an AIDS and health services agency, echoed Lopez’s anxieties about travel on the city’s mass transit system.
“I ride the subway in fear,” Gentili told the crowd.
Others who turned out to support Lopez included Cristina Herrera, a transgender HIV prevention coordinator at the LGBT Community Center, Carmen Neely, the president of Harlem Pride, Manny Rivera, who heads up the LGBTQ Task Force at Harlem’s Community Board 10, and John-Martin Green, founder of the Gatekeeper’s Collective, which aims at “igniting the power of black same-gender love (SGL).” Neely, Rivera, and Green also represented the New York City SGL/ LGBTQ Coalition, a convening of black and Latino leaders in the city. Harlem Democratic district leader Dan Clark and a representative of Borough President Gale Brewer were also on hand.
According to Lopez, the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers program has established a $2,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of her assailant. Anyone with information can contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477), nypdcrimestoppers.com, or by texting 274637 (CRIMES) and then entering TIP577.