Articles / Bathrooms / Violence

Anybody but Christine Quinn for Mayor

Some trans activists fight for easy name and gender changes on official documents. Some fight for access to responsible, professional medical care, or for hormones and surgery to be covered by insurance or government programs. My main goal is for us to have access to bathrooms and changing spaces without getting the shit beaten out of us. And that’s why I’m asking you not to vote for Christine Quinn for Mayor of New York City.

A trans woman walks into a McDonald’s and asks to use the women’s bathroom. While she’s in there, someone yells at her “I’m going to kill you, faggot.” She goes out of the bathroom, and discovers that it was the store manager yelling at her, and he hits her with a lead pipe. One of her friends calls the police, but when they come they arrest the trans woman instead, on accusations from the store manager.

Maybe this sounds like something that happens in Texas, or Wyoming, but in 2006 a woman, Christina Sforza, claimed that it happened to her right here in New York City, across from the Empire State Building, in the City Council district of Christine Quinn. Trans community leaders and Amnesty International took the story seriously.

The Sylvia Rivera Law Project put out an alert on October 11, 2006, and I contacted Quinn shortly after that. She did not have a public email address, so I contacted her through a form on her Council website. I got no response for two weeks, until I got a broadcast email from Quinn’s office about a New Jersey Supreme Court decision on gay marriage. Frustrated, I replied to that email, only to get an auto-reply telling me to fill out the form. I filled out the form again, and got an email from Quinn’s chief of staff saying, “I would love to hear more so that I could have a staff member work with you.” Encouraged, I wrote back with more details.

The Amnesty report says, “Christine Quinn, New York City Council Speaker, reportedly intervened in October 2006 and Christina Sforza was finally able to file a criminal complaint.” I don’t know what this intervention is, but apparently nothing has come of it.

Since then, I have heard nothing from Quinn’s office on this issue. I have, however, gotten regular email updates:

  • 1 criticizing the arrests of “young transgender individuals” in the Port Authority bus terminal bathrooms
  • 1 supporting birth certificate gender changes
  • 1 supporting streamlining transgender marriage bureaucracy
  • 1 inviting me to a “Trans Reality Panel” sponsored by the Empire State Pride Agenda
  • 1 supporting GENDA, the state Gender Non-Discrimination Act
  • 8 annual invitations to the Council LGBT Pride ceremony
  • 1 inviting me to my neighborhood LGBT-inclusive Saint Patrick’s Day parade
  • 3 on hate crimes attacks on gay men
  • 1 on free self-defense trainings
  • 5 on Hurricane Sandy (including 1 on a “LGBT Day of Action” for Sandy victims)
  • 1 inviting me to a hearing on the experiences of LGBTQ youth in the juvenile justice system
  • 1 praising a speech by Hilary Clinton on LGBT rights
  • 1 on a LGBT Advisory Committee to the NYPD
  • 1 on LGBT rights in Uganda
  • 1 on LGBT rights in Russia

Every so often over the past seven years, I’ve tried to think of some reason for Quinn’s silence on this issue. Did her staff find some reason to doubt Sforza’s story? Was there something else that made Sforza a difficult victim to champion?

It doesn’t matter. We’ve heard Sforza’s story, and we know that trans people do get attacked in bathrooms – as we saw on video in Maryland in 2011.

I was deeply unsettled to hear Sforza’s story. It could have been me. I’ve been in that McDonald’s. When we hear reports of a horrific attack that could have happened to us, we want to know that justice is being done. Even if someone found out that Sforza made up the whole thing, it would still have been very reassuring to have a statement from McDonald’s that that kind of behavior is not tolerated from their employees. I would feel much better to hear from the NYPD that they take our rights seriously and will protect us if someone tries to punish us for peeing.

I would like to know that someone on Quinn’s staff took my safety in her district as seriously as they do someone’s birth certificate or marriage license, or the rights of people on the other side of the world. All the ceremonies and parades are meaningless if we can’t use the bathroom without the fear of being beaten.

When Quinn was first elected I was excited at the news of our first out lesbian city council member. I knew she cared about lesbian rights, and I hoped that that would carry over to transgender rights. I was disappointed.

This is why I will not vote for Christine Quinn if I see her name on a ballot, and why I’m asking you to vote for anybody but her on September 10. We can do better.