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Layleen Cubilette-Polanco Found Dead at Rikers, Family Demands Answers

Layleen Polanco

Activists are planning a rally on Monday for Layleen Cubilette-Polanco, also known as Layleen Xtravaganza, who was found dead while imprisoned at Rikers Island. Polanco, who was a member of the house-ballroom community was known for walking the category of realness at balls.

According to the New York Post, Polanco was found unresponsive in her cell at the Rose M. Singer women’s facility on Friday. Medics attempted to revive her for about an hour before she was declared dead.

“Any death in our custody is a tragic loss, and we are looking into how this happened,” a Department of Corrections spokesperson said. Polanco was a trans woman and was reportedly being kept in a housing unit meant to reduce violence against trans and gender nonconforming people.

Polanco was imprisoned after getting into a fight and later sent to Rikers — according to records she was arrested on April 13, according to a GoFundMe account set up by Polanco’s sister. She was due to be released Thursday, June 13. The GoFundMe, which was set up to help with funeral costs, has surpassed its goal of raising $9,000. Nearly $12,000 has been donated as of Monday morning.

“This tragic loss of yet another member of the trans community comes just days after the start of Pride season,” organizers of a rally scheduled for Monday wrote. “There is no pride to be had while trans folks continue to face an epidemic of fatal violence.” Polanco is the 10th reported death of a trans woman this year. At Brooklyn Pride, Black Trans Media made space for all 10 of these women, writing their names on a banner.

“We demand a full investigation into the death of Layleen Polanco Xtravaganza and transparency with [the] community,” they wrote. The DOC previously said they were investigating the death but has not announced a cause of death.

Co-sponsors of the rally include New York City Anti Violence Project, Lambda Legal, Translatina Network, Decriminalize New York, New York Trasngender Advocacy Group, Transgender Law Center, Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Voices 4, New York City Anti-Violence Project, Gay Men’s Health Crisis and more.

“Just days ago Mayor de Blasio dedicated a monument to pioneering transgender activists, telling the trans community that ‘we are sending a clear message: We see you … and we will protect you.’” Polanco’s family wrote in a statement that called for answers. “The City failed to protect Layleen, and now it is trying to sweep her death under the rug. We will not allow it.” According to the family, the DOC and medical examiner have misgendered Polanco in her death.

Rikers Island, which is currently on a 10-year plan to closure projected to end in 2027, has been a focal point of activists that have pointed to its long line of scandals involving inmate death, safety concerns, and corruption.

The rally will be held at Foley Square in New York City from 6PM to 7PM.

*This story has been updated as the rally location was changed. 

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