Activists Demand Justice for Layleen Polanco, a Black Trans Woman Found Dead in a Rikers Island Jail Cell

Layleen Cubilette-Polanco
Layleen Cubilette-Polanco
Screenshot: ABC News

A 27-year-old black trans woman, Layleen Polanco, also known as Layleen Xtravaganza, was found dead in her jail cell on Rikers Island last week, and the LGBTQ community and her family plan to rally today to demand justice in her name.


Polanco was arrested in mid-April for allegedly assaulting a cab driver in Harlem and having a controlled substance; she was jailed in New York City’s notorious Riker’s Island Jail for nearly two months, most likely because she could not afford bail to be released.

Out magazine reports that Polanco was found unresponsive in her cell at the Rose M. Singer women’s facility on Friday afternoon. Medics attempted to revive her for about an hour before she was pronounced dead. Polanco was reportedly being kept in a housing unit meant to reduce violence against trans and gender non-conforming people
The Department of Correction is promising a full investigation and its commissioner, Cynthia Brann, released the following statement, according to ABC News: “This is a tragic loss and we extend our deepest condolences to her family.”

Although the New York Medical Examiner is continuing to work on determining the how and why of Polanco’s death, members of Polanco’s family and the LGBTQ community plan to rally outside 100 Centre Street, New York’s Criminal Court building, on Monday from 6-7 p.m. EST to demand justice for their fallen sister.

Polanco, also known as Layleen Xtravaganza, was a member of the house-ballroom community House of Xtravaganza and was known for walking the category of realness at balls, according to Out.

What is real is that Layleen Polanco is the tenth black trans woman who is dead in 2019. What is real is that Riker’s Island—set to be shut down in 10 years—is pure trauma for poor people of color in New York City. What is real is that Layleen was far too young to die.

“This tragic loss of yet another member of the trans community comes just days after the start of Pride season,” organizers of Monday’s rally wrote in a statement. “There is no pride to be had while trans folks continue to face an epidemic of fatal violence.” 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,” continued the statement.


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

Layleen’s sister, Melania G Cubilette, has established a GoFund Me to pay for Polanco’s funeral costs. As of press time, it has raised more than $12,000, exceeding the initial goal of $9,000.


God bless your life, Layleen.

Ms. Bronner Helm is the Senior Editorial Director at Colorlines. Mouthy Black Girl. Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Fellow. Shea Butter Feminist. Virgo Sun, Aries Moon.


Once You Pop, You Can’t Stop

Rikers should’ve been shut down and cash bail should’ve been outlawed a long time ago. RIP. Cuomo needs to get off his ass and do something.