En Español Know Your Rights
Source: New York Blade
Subject: Immigration
Type: Media Coverage

Tranny Derails MTA

Helena Stone spoke and the MTA listened. Stone, a 70-year-old transgender woman who works at the Grand Central Station terminal, filed a complaint with the City’s Metro Transit Authority (MTA) in late January, after she had been harassed and arrested three times by MTA police officers. Each time, she was apparently singled out for being trans. 

Stone refused to plead guilty to any of the charges filed by the MTA police. “I certainly didn’t come to work here looking for a fight, but I’m not going to back down from this one now that they’ve started it,” she said at a demonstration held last Tuesday, Feb. 28.  

The next day, Stone’s lawyer, Michael Silverman of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, said he received word that the charges had been dropped. “The community spoke out loudly against discrimination and the MTA responded appropriately. We couldn’t have asked for a better outcome,” said Silverman. 

Stone has been a Verizon employee for 37 years and was reassigned to Grand Central Station, where she repairs pay phones, in August of 2005. “The harassment started slowly and then began to mount,” Stone said. “At first, they would constantly demand to see my Verizon identification pass, even when I was in public areas of the station.” 

On September 29, Stone was riding up an escalator with her morning coffee when one MTA officer trailed behind her and another waited for her at the top. When she reached him, the officer asked to see her identification. Stone showed her ID and, “out of the blue, he placed me under arrest,” she said. After being cuffed, Stone called the police “terrorists” and was charged with disorderly conduct. 

The second incident took place on December 17, according to Silverman, when the same officer who arrested her previously barged into her office in a remote area of Grand Central, grabbed her arm and started yelling, “You want to hit me? Wouldn’t it be nice to hit me?” He called her a “freak” and a “weirdo” and “the ugliest woman in the world” then threatened, “If I ever see you in the women’s bathroom, I’m going to arrest you.” He marched her through Grand Central in cuffs, jailed her, and she was not released until her Verizon supervisor arrived. 

On January 12, 2006, the same officer burst into the women’s bathroom Helena was using and arrested her with the help of two other officers. “I tried to explain to them that I was allowed to use the restroom under the New York City Human Rights Law, but they arrested me anyway,” said Stone, referring to the NYC law passed in 2002. “Since my transition, it is no longer safe or practical for me to attempt to use the men’s room. It is also contrary to my gender identity and my sense of who I am,” she said.  

Stone began transitioning to a woman about 10 years ago and says she has never had problems with women complaining about her presence in a women’s bathroom. In order to avoid further harassment, she had been urinating and defecating into a cup in her office.  

When Stone and Silverman filed a complaint with Internal Affairs of the MTA Police on February 6, officials said they would open an investigation. But they stopped short of assuring Stone she could use the bathrooms without being harassed. Silverman says he never received a response to the complaint they filed with the MTA.  

Silverman and Stone also filed a complaint with the City’s Commission on Human Rights on Friday, February 24, charging the MTA and MTA Police with discrimination. Silverman had still received no response from the MTA by the time of last Tuesday’s press conference. But the following day, MTA spokesman Tom Kelly said all three charges against Stone had been dropped on Monday, February 27. Kelly also said Stone could use the bathroom consistent with her gender identity without further harassment. The story was picked up by the Associate Press and ran in almost every major New York news outlet, including The New York Times, New York Post, Newsday, NY1 and Channels 2, 4, 9 and 11. Silverman said MSNBC also invited them to be interviewed. 

Though Kelly labeled the issue “resolved,” Silverman said Stone had not yet dropped the charges filed with the Human Rights Commission. “We just want to ensure that we reach some kind of a final written agreement with them that can put all of this behind everyone,” Silverman said. “And at that point, we would ask the Commission on Human Rights to dismiss its complaint.” He said that agreement would promise that all transgender people could use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity and that the MTA train its staff appropriately to prevent future harassment. 

No disciplinary action has been taken against the three officers. The MTA’s Kelly said a more thorough investigation has been opened. 

The Protest was organized by GLOBE (Gays and Lesbians of Bushwick Empowered) at Make The Road By Walking.