AIDS Issues Update Blog

Dispatches from the fight against homelessness and AIDS


Posted by Tim Murphy , August 28, 2013


People gather at the vigil Tuesday for Islan Nettles, pictured on poster. (Photo by Teresa Gutierrez via

Tuesday evening, hundreds gathered in Jackie Robinson Park in Harlem to remember Islan Nettles, a 21-year-old Harlem transgender woman who died last week after being brutally attacked by young men August 17 in front of a Harlem police station. Harris Wilson, 20, was arrested in the case and faces an assault charge, reports NY1. Charges against him could be increased if a grand jury finds him guilty of a hate crime.

Nettles’ attack is the latest in what appears to be a sharp increase in assaults on LGBTQ New Yorkers so far this year.

At the vigil Tuesday, Nettles’ mother, Delores Nettles, told the crowd, according to NY1, “I appreciate what everybody has done and came out and showed so much love for my baby, ‘cause that night, when my baby got murdered, nobody showed my baby that love. But they’re showing it now.”

Attendees included mayoral candidates Christine Quinn, Bill Thompson, Bill DeBlasio and Anthony Weiner. According to the website Colorlines, “Thursday’s vigil was organized by Nettles’ mother, Delores Nettles, and several New York City LGBT organizations, including Harlem Pride, Gay Men of African Descent, and NYC Black Pride. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and several City Councilmen were also involved.”

Transgender New Yorker Laverne Cox, who recently has gained attention for her starring role on the new Netflix women’s-prison series Orange is the New Black, also spoke at the vigil.

According to New Yorker Sean E. Coleman, a self-described “male of trans experience” and founder and head of the Bronx LGBT group Destination Tomorrow, Cox spoke powerfully about the fact that Nettles’ death was an issue that affected not only her family but the entire NYC transgender community. “This could’ve been any one of us,” noted Coleman. Coleman said he was one of several transgender people at the vigil, who in his estimation made up about 70 percent of the crowd, who were upset that the transgender community was not included in the planning of the vigil.

According to the Huffington Post, some transgender attendees shouted out in anger when Nettles was referred to as “he” by a non-transgender speaker. Later, reported HuffPo, when Cox got up to speak, she said: “I know there are lots of people out there who are upset that she’s been called by the wrong pronoun. That hurts me, too.”

Coleman said that the transgender community was planning its own vigil for Nettles and would release the time and place shortly.

He also said that his group and another Bronx group, CK Life, headed by Kim Watson, were planning an open forum September 19 at 6pm at Hunter College’s Silberman School of Social Work to discuss transgender issues in NYC. Those interested should contact Coleman at

Sharon Stapel, executive director of the Anti-Violence Project, also questioned the NYPD’s recent report that there has been a 70 percent spike in antigay hate crimes.

“It might mean not that violence is actually up,” she said, “but that the NYPD is categorizing more assaults as hate crimes.” Stapel said that until May, when a spate of high-profile anti-LGBTQ attacks took place (including the fatal shooting in the Village of Mark Carson), AVP’s incident numbers for 2013 were roughly equal to last year’s.

According to both Coleman and Stapel, a major part of preventing ongoing violence against LGBTQ people was to both enforce existing hate-crime laws and to pass continuing anti-discrimination laws, such as GENDA, which has been pending in the New York State legislature and would extend nondiscrimination protection in labor, housing and other areas to transgender people (as well as for gay people, for whom the protection already exists).

“A state that can’t pass GENDA is sending a specific message” that discrimination and violence toward transgender people is okay, said Staples.

GENDA will come up for a vote in Albany again this fall, and Housing Works will demand that Senators Skelos and Klein allow GENDA to come to a full floor vote during next year’s legislative session to finally get it passed. We urge readers to let New York State lawmakers know that discrimination or violence against transgender people is unacceptable. Those who would like to join Housing Works in the fight to extend civil rights to transgender New Yorkers can contact Carmelita Cruz, HW’s director of policy and organizing for New York State, at

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