Things That Matter

NYC Determines Layleen Polanco’s Death Might Have Had To Do With Her State In Solitary Confinement

As PRIDE month comes to an end, we say goodbye to one of our trans sisters who was taken from us far too soon.

Bedecked in vibrant rainbows to celebrate the vivid woman they’ve lost, hundreds of mourners paid their last respects to Layleen Polanco. The transgender woman was found dead in Riker Correctional Center at the beginning of June. Since then, activists in the LGBTQIA+ community have come forward demanding Justice for Layleen.

Further information about Polanco’s last days are finally shedding some light on her death.

Twitter / @NationalBailOut

On June 7, 2019, the 27-year-old was found unresponsive in her cell. According to the the New York City Department of Corrections, attempts were made to resuscitate Polanco. Unfortunately, she was soon pronounced dead after she was discovered. Though there is no cause of death as of yet, the DOC has gone on record as saying that her death was not “the result of violence or foul play.”

That’s all the information we had about Polanco’s passing until earlier this week. The City of New York has recently disclosed that the trans woman was being held on $500 bail because of charges stemming from 2017. The incident involved a minor charge for prostitution and low-level drug possession.

According to reports, Polanco missed a court appearance for an unrelated charge that happened in April 2019. A warrant was issued for her arrest and Polanco was unable to post bail. Due to this, she was remanded to Rikers Correctional Center. As if this information isn’t troubling enough, we have also learned that Polanco spent her last 9 days of life in solitary confinement.

The information we’ve been given about Polanco’s time in Rikers reflect a woman in the midst of struggle.

Twitter / @ilmeeyat

According to her Rikers’ record, Polanco spent eight days in the prison’s hospital during the first part of May. The reason why is unknown to us because of patient confidentiality laws. However, we do know that Polanco was disciplined for fighting soon after she left hospital services.

Her punishment for this was to be moved to a restrictive housing unit that segregated her from the general population. Aside from the daily three-hour group therapy sessions, the rest of her time would have been served in complete isolation.

Correction Commissioner Cynthia Brann released a statement about Polanco’s death. It reads in part:

“This is a tragic loss and we extend our deepest condolences to her family. We are conducting a full investigation as the safety and well-being of people in our custody is our top priority.”

Polanco’s death has spurned activists, community members, family, and friends to protest the criminal and prison systems.

Twitter / @WhereIsMUNA

Protesters have gathered in NYC throughout June, calling for justice for the late woman. Polanco was a member of the House of Xtravaganza, one of New York’s iconic ballroom scene institutions. Her ballroom community and family have been some of the loudest voices calling for change in the wake of her death.

One of the demands coming from these protests is the closing of Rikers Correctional Center. The facility has had issues housing trans individuals in the past and Polanco’s death is the final straw for prison activists. Criminal justice reform advocates have long been pushing for Rikers’ closing. A November 2018 testimony to the New York City Council also found that the physical and mental needs of trans inmates aren’t always met at the facility.

Additionally, activists have called for the decriminalization of prostitution and minor sex crimes. This is a direct result of Polanco’s prostitution charge. Had she not been arrested in 2017 for prostitution, she never would have been in Rikers, to begin with. If her bail hadn’t been so expensive, Polanco would still be with us. This was all avoidable.

The struggle for Justice for Layleen is far from over. Still, we won’t forget and we won’t give in. Justice for this trans woman is justice for all trans women. We won’t stop until we have it.

Mexican Artist Transforms 1,527 Deadly Guns Into Life-Giving Shovels To Plant Trees

Things That Matter

Mexican Artist Transforms 1,527 Deadly Guns Into Life-Giving Shovels To Plant Trees

botanicocln / veri_fp / Instagram

A Mexican artist and activist embarked on a project to gather as many firearms as he could from Culiacán, Mexico, the city with the highest death by gun violence rate in Mexico, and transform them into shovels that would instead plant trees. Artist Pedro Reyes, a Mexico City native, has long been using his art to illustrate how evil can be transformed into good, with the right perspective. While the United States has, by far, the highest number of firearms per capita (120.5 per 100 persons), Mexico ranks 60th in the world. Pedro Reyes wanted to do his part in getting the deadly weapons off the street.

Reyes set out in Culiacán, Mexico, to trade civilian’s weapons for coupons for electronics, and residents traded 1,527 weapons.

Pedro Reyes’s project, known as “Palas por Pistolas” publicized the gun exchange on television ads and through local media.

Credit: bintazd / Instagram

 All of this was made possible by the botanical garden of Culiacán, which has been commissioning artists to perform social impact interventions for years. Reyes made a proposal to the garden to organize a city-wide campaign for a voluntary donation of weapons. The commission was able to pay for television advertisements and liaise with local media to promote the project. Soon, the whole city knew that residents were invited to give up their guns in exchange for a coupon. Those coupons were then traded at a local store in exchange for domestic appliances and electronics.

Of the 1,527 weapons collected, 40 percent were automatic weapons, “exclusively” used for the military.

Credit: molaaart / Instagram

The second phase of the project was put on public display. All 1,527 guns were taken to a military zone and were crushed by a steamroller in a public act. Then, the pieces were taken to a foundry and melted down to its original form. Once again, the same metal that was transformed into guns became a ‘blank page,’ available to transform into absolutely anything. Reyes worked with a major hardware factory to create molds that would create exactly 1,527 shovels. 

Since they’ve been repurposed, 1,527 trees have been planted.

Credit: molaaart / Instagram

The shovels have been on display at a variety of art institutions. Admirers could read an inscription of the shovel’s origin story on the handle. Later, children and adults alike would feel the weight of what was once a gun in their hands as they dug up dirt to plant new life. Trees have been planted at the Vancouver Art Gallery, San Francisco Art Institute, Paris’s Maison Rouge, Lyon Biennial, Marfa, Texas, and Denver, Colorado.

“This ritual has a pedagogical purpose of showing how an agent of death can become an agent of life,” Reyes said of the project. 

Credit: botanicocln / Instagram

Like every other Reyes project to date, the gift is a change in perspective. For whoever might have been injured or died at the hands of those 1,527 guns, as many trees have been planted in their honor. Reyes breaks down the concept of a gun to what it is: human intention and scrap metal. With a simple shift in intention, that metal has created lasting memories for children and created oxygen-giving life on this planet.  

Since “Palas por Pistolas,” Reyes has also installed “Imagine,” a similar concept that instead turns guns into musical instruments.

Credit: Pedro Reyes

In April 2012, Reyes was given the opportunity to transform human intention once again. “I got a call from the government who had learned about Palas por Pistolas,” Reyes said. “They told me a public destruction of weapons was to take place in Ciudad Juarez and asked me if I was interested in keeping the metal, which would otherwise have been buried as usual. I accepted the material but I wanted to do something new this time. 6700 weapons, cut into parts and rendered useless, were given to me and I set out to make them into instruments.”

“A group of 6 musicians worked for 2 weeks shoulder-to-shoulder turning these agents of death into instruments of life.”

Credit: Pedro Reyes

Reyes said it was far more challenging than simply turning the metal into shovels. The metal had to create sounds. “It’s difficult to explain but the transformation was more than physical,” Reyes writes. “It’s important to consider that many lives were taken with these weapons; as if a sort of exorcism was taking place the music expelled the demons they held, as well as being a requiem for lives lost.”

Living in a community free of guns ought to be a human right. Many liberties that we enjoy today were considered utopian, and the first step taken into that direction was to Imagine.” Reyes continues to draw attention not only to where guns are used, but where they are made. It is an industry and one he continues to reclaim for life.

READ: Mexicans Are Questioning Their Government’s Decision To Release El Chapo’s Son After A Massive Gun Battle

Hillary Clinton’s Recent Comments About The Trans Community Highlight That She Was Never Woke As She Wanted To Be

Things That Matter

Hillary Clinton’s Recent Comments About The Trans Community Highlight That She Was Never Woke As She Wanted To Be

hillaryclinton / Twitter

In her decades-long political career, Hillary Clinton has proven to be slow on the pickup of her understanding of the LGBTQ+ community. Throughout her terms as First Lady, senator, secretary of state and presidential candidate, Clinton has jumped into the tepid waters of political conversation when the tides are low and the political risk factor had waned away.  While Clinton and her husband had at one time actively pursued the gay community in the 90s as an interest group during her husband’s political campaigns, she did little to stand beside the rainbow when it came to bigger civil rights issues such as same-sex marriage.

In a recent interview with the U.K. newspaper The Sunday Times, Clinton proved that her lackluster approach to supporting and understanding the LGBTQ+ community prevails. 

Speaking to the Sunday Times about, Clinton described topics related to the trans community as something she is only “just learning about.”

In her interview with The Sunday Times, a media outlet that has often been slammed for its transphobic coverage and mistreatment of trans employees, Clinton claimed that she has only just learned about the concepts of being trans. 

“Errr,” Hillary said, according to the news piece “I’m just learning about this. It’s a very big generational discussion because this is not something I grew up with or ever saw.” She added, “It’s going to take a lot more time and effort to understand what it means to be defining yourself differently.”

The reporter interviewing Clinton drew upon the former presidential candidate’s response to ask more questions that had pretty leading statements. At one point the interviewer suggested that  “a lot of British feminists of Hillary’s generation have a problem with the idea that a lesbian who doesn’t want to sleep with someone who has a penis is transphobic,” and that these “British feminists” are “uncomfortable with people who are physically male” being in the same spaces as trans women in single-gender spaces.

In response, Clinton said that she “absolutely” felt as if “there is a legitimate concern about women’s lived experience and the importance of recognizing that, and also the importance of recognizing the self-identification [of transgender people]… This is all relatively new. People are still trying to find the language for it. I think in the right mindset this can be understood, but it’s going to take some time.”

She went onto further state she felt as if people need “to be sensitive to how difficult this is. There are women who’d say [to a trans woman], ‘You know what, you’ve never had the kind of life experiences that I’ve had. So I respect who you are, but don’t tell me you’re the same as me.’ I hear that conversation all the time.”

Clinton’s comments closely mirror her responses from last month, in which she said that trans rights are “very big generational discussion.” 

In a recent interview with The View, Clinton described her decision to remain married to Bill Clinton despite his humiliating affair in the 90s as one of the gustiest moves she’d ever made. She later expounded on this saying that other gutsy decisions she’d seen others make included being in interfaith and interracial marriages and raising trans children. “Sometimes when your child has an issue—I had a friend who, a few years ago, called up and said, ‘I don’t know who to talk to about this, but my little girl wants to be a boy. What do I do?'” She recalled. “Several of us—we didn’t know what to do, we’d never had a friend who faced that before—and several of us kind of read everything, talked to people, and gave her advice. And it was really gutsy of her to say, ‘Okay, I’m going to respect the feelings of my child, as hard as it is for me to understand this.’ So, I think when the question was asked personally—everyone faces a moment of decision. And you have to reach deep down inside and decide what’s right for you to do. Hopefully, it’s reached with love and understanding, but it’s gutsy.”

Clinton’s response underlines a misunderstanding about the trans community and parenting. Truly it is a reminder that being accepting of your child and their identity is just the most basic aspect of parenting. 

Now Conservative media outlets have capitalized on Clinton’s comments to justify attacking the trans community. 

This is particularly concerning how easily conservative outlets have spun news stories in their favor and the fact that Clinton continues to espouse transphobic beliefs.

Now Conservative media outlets have capitalized on Clinton’s comments to justify attacking the trans community. 

This is particularly concerning how easily conservative outlets have spun news stories in their favor and the fact that Clinton continues to espouse transphobic beliefs.