Police report that a transgender woman was sexually assaulted inside a public bathroom at New York’s historic Stonewall Inn on Saturday night.
The 25-year-old victim, not yet identified, was using a single-occupancy restroom at the bar when a man allegedly came in, telling her that he just needed to “wash his hands.” He reportedly locked the door behind him and forced himself on her—proceeding to grope her and then rape her. The alleged incident transpired around 11:40 p.m.
Following the attack, the victim told police that her assailant fled. An hour after leaving the bar, she returned to phone 911 and was rushed to Lenox Hill Hospital, located near Stonewall in Greenwich Village. The historic bar, the site of the 1969 protests that helped spawn the ’70s gay liberation movement, earned “landmark” status last year.
The Special Victims Division of the NYPD is investigating the case. Security photos from the scene indicate that the suspect is a Latino male in his 30s. According to a report from New York’s CBS 2, “he has dark hair, a goatee and was last seen wearing a shiny gray suit and pointed shoes.” Police further describe the attacker as around 5’10” and weighing roughly 250 pounds.
This incident occurred at a pivotal moment in the national discussion over trans bathroom use. In North Carolina, legislators passed a law on Wednesday, March 23, essentially requiring that transgender residents use the bathroom that corresponds with the sex they were assigned at birth. It also voted down local nondiscrimination ordinances in the state requiring equal protections for LGBT people.
But North Carolina’s bill is one of a number that seek to restrict the restroom access of trans people. Nine other states, including Illinois, Kentucky, and Missouri, have their own bathroom bills pending. A great deal of this legislation is based on the myth that transgender folks pose a danger to others using public bathroom facilities, which has been widely debunked by experts.
Instead, trans people are far more likely to be the victim of violence, harassment, or discrimination when using the restroom than a cisgender (non-trans) person. In a 2013 study from UCLA’s Williams Institute, 70 percent of trans respondents reported a history of negative experiences in public bathrooms.
Two years ago, a transgender woman was attacked in a restaurant bathroom in Washington, D.C.’s DuPont Circle. In 2011, 22-year-old Chrissy Lee Polis was beaten by two teenagers while attempting to use the bathroom at a McDonald’s outside of Baltimore, Maryland. A video of the attack went viral, in which the restaurant employee filming the incident appears to be laughing.
The incident at Stonewall Inn is yet another of these horrific incidents. In a statement, City Councilman Corey Johnson told CBS 2 that he’s appalled by the attack and will help fight to bring the assailant to justice. “New York City has zero tolerance for sexual assault, and this crime will not go unanswered,” he said.
NYC’s LGBT Caucus added that they were “outraged” by the violence but commended the city’s response. “We applaud the NYPD for its swift action in seeking the suspect and urge anyone with information about this crime to come forward immediately,” the group wrote in a statement.
As of March 2016, New York City prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity in all public restroom facilities. This year, Mayor Bill De Blasio signed an executive order allowing trans people to use the bathroom “that most closely aligns with their gender identity or expression.”
It’s estimated that 25,000 transgender people reside in the New York metropolitan area.