Deja Lynn Alvarez told OUTPour: “Being a trans woman is illegal in most of America’s eye, then you add the criminal-justice system. There will be no justice!”
I believe if you want to understand our criminal-justice system, all you need to do is look at trans women of color.
Trans women of color are at the center of white supremacy, male misogyny and the war on drugs. There is no marginalized group in the history of the United States that can say it experiences all three simultaneously. Helping us explore this topic of LGBTQ incarcerations is none other than Philadelphia’s Alvarez.
Continuing to honor the great women in Philadelphia, Alvarez — a candidate for Philadelphia City Council — takes time out of her busy schedule to sit down with OUTPour and share her thoughts on the social determinates that put trans women at a higher risk for incarceration, and how she had to give two Philadelphia police officers a lesson in empathy.
It’s important to know the Council hopeful is no naïve shampoo girl when it comes to politics and advocating for disenfranchised people in Philadelphia. Alvarez’s career spans two decades, working at agencies such as GALAEI. However, it is her work with trans women who are reentering society after being incarcerated that she finds the most rewarding.
Alvarez recalls when there was a new appointee in charge of Philadelphia’s Vice Unit and how he reached out to her to ask her perspective on the city’s trans sex workers. Alvarez thought this would be a great opportunity to show the officer what trans women deal with all the time.
During their ride along Old York Road, she vividly recalled it was cold and rainy. As they began to approach a group of trans women, according to Alvarez, the officer said, “See, Deja, they are out here having a good time.”
Shocked that the officer would compare trans women doing sex work to being in a club, Alvarez knew she had to explain that these women weren’t out there because they wanted to be, but because they had to be.
Alvarez understood that to ensure the police can have honest conversations about LGBTQ folks, she needed to create a safe environment for them to talk about their feelings. Once the officers feel safe about discussing their prejudices, that’s when she uses their words as a teachable moment. This includes telling the stories of trans violence in our prisons and how officers of the law can no longer turn a blind eye to these injustices.