November 20, 2019 / 1:17 PM / 24 days ago

U.S. activists set aside day to remember transgender victims of violence

NEW YORK, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Layleen Cubilette-Polanco had experienced some rough patches in her 27 years but had tried to change course, seeking to switch out of previous jobs as a go-go dancer and sex worker for employment in places like McDonald’s and Walgreens, her sister said.

She never completed that journey. Cubilette-Polanco died in June of complications from epilepsy in New York’s notorious Rikers Island jail where she spent her final two months, unable to make $500 bail.

On Wednesday, transgender advocates across the country will pause to commemorate people like Cubilette-Polanco for the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Vigils will draw attention to at least 22 transgender people, almost all of them black women, who have been killed so far in 2019. A similar number have been killed in each of the past seven years, as tracked by the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ advocacy in the United States.

The campaign will make special note of Cubilette-Polanco. Though she was not a homicide victim like the others, her story illustrates the insecurity of trans women of color, who are more likely to be unemployed and lack access to healthcare.

After a youth spent helping others, whether rescuing stray animals or bringing home runaway kids needing a place to stay, she decided to start helping herself, sister Melania Brown said.

“The last couple of months of her life, she wanted the change. She wanted to get a real job. She wanted to fulfill herself in society, and society let her down,” said Brown, who believed that discrimination never gave the Dominican-born U.S. citizen a fair chance in the job market.

Once active in the House of Xtravaganza underground ballroom scene under the name Layleen Xtravaganza, Cubilette-Polanco was arrested in April on charges of misdemeanor assault and theft over an altercation with a taxi driver. Bail was set at $500 due to a 2017 prostitution arrest, local media reported, citing arrest records.

She lived with epilepsy and schizophrenia, according to a federal lawsuit her family filed against the city’s Department of Correction.

“Layleen suffered a seizure while in her cell and died as a direct and proximate result of the city’s, its agents’, and its employees’ refusal to provide Layleen with a reasonable accommodation for her disability,” the lawsuit said.

The Human Rights Campaign has recorded at least 157 homicides of transgender people since 2013, nearly all of them women of color. (Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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