NJNP Testimony Against DC’s “Drug Related Nuisance Abatement Act of 2017”

Testimony Submitted by Emmelia Talarico

Steering Committee Chair and Organizing Director, No Justice No Pride

My name is Emmelia Talarico and I am the Steering Committee Chair and Organizing Director of No Justice No Pride. Thank you for this opportunity to address the Committee on the Judiciary & Public Safety.

No Justice No Pride (NJNP) is a collective of organizers and activists from across the District of Columbia that exists to fight for the most marginalized members of DC’s trans and queer communities. Through our Trans Justice campaign, we focus on fighting for a city where trans communities live free from violence, with the resources and autonomy necessary to build the futures we choose.

I’m here because our membership is deeply concerned about the proposed Drug-Related Nuisance Abatement Amendment Act of 2017. In its current form, DC’s Nuisance Abatement Amendment Act has already been used to remove innocent individuals — who represent no threat to the community — from their homes. Expanding this law to apply to tenants, and adding a punitive $10,000 fine is a dangerous move that’s at odds with efforts to support the most DC’s most vulnerable residents.

For trans folks, particularly trans women of color, work is hard to come by. Estimates put the unemployment rate for DC’s trans community at 50%. Pushed out of jobs, or denied jobs because of discrimination, many trans folks are forced into underground economies.

I am a trans woman of color. And I have been a sex worker. Sex work is work. It is not a nuisance. At times, it is the only thing that helps put a roof over our heads and food on our tables. Laws that criminalize sexwork, and force us to do this labor in the shadows, make us unsafe, contributing to the astronomically high rate of violence against trans women.

Today, I don’t have to depend on sex work to make a living. But like many trans women, I am still profiled as someone who may be engaging in sex work — even when I’m minding my own damn business. To some people, my existence is a nuisance in itself. Too often, people in our community call the police on trans women, just for being in a public place.

This law’s reliance on vague definitions of what does and does not have an “adverse impact” on the community makes this law vulnerable to biased misapplications. Things like pedestrians feeling “increased fear” near a property, “increased volume of pedestrian or vehicular traffic,” and “bothersome solicitations,” can all be used to substantiate allegations.

Transphobia is real and has consequences. Allowing folks to project their feelings of fear and hate onto trans folks through this law is dangerous. We are profiled. We are looked down upon. And we are are not welcome in many communities. As this law stands, it is already ripe for misuse against trans communities, Black and Brown communities, and especially those who belong to both. Making this law more punitive as part of a knee jerk reaction to problems that can be solved in a smarter, less reckless manner puts trans people, people whose livelihoods depend on sex work, and Black DC residents struggling to stay in the District, at significant risk.

My community is disappointed that the city council is even considering this law. At a time when there is tremendous energy for the city to fully fund the NEAR act, at a time when the council is waking up to the reality of the discriminatory effects of punitive laws that target sex workers, this law is a step in the wrong direction.

I hope that you will hear me, and vote against this dangerous piece of legislation. I hope that you will consider bringing about justice for my community by bringing Council Member Grosso’s legislation to decriminalize sex work to a hearing.

Trans folks are not going to go away. DC has the highest rate of residents who identify as trans in the entire country. Make no mistake, this law will only give folks more ammunition to disenfranchise, criminalize, and dispossess trans people and their common right to dignity as individuals seeking to exist and thrive. It’s time for DC to show up for its trans community. Bring the sex work decriminalization bill to a hearing. And don’t let this bill — that will only make things worse for us — become law.

Thank you.