New York’s five boroughs are experiencing an increasing number of hate crimes  targeting the LGBTQI community. In the first half of 2017 alone, at least three gay men and one transgender person were murdered in the Big Apple, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP). LaLa Zannell is one person who’s working to change that.

“Many people are surprised at the violence that still happens. It’s still not a safe world, even in Manhattan,” says LaLa, Lead Organizer at the New York City chapter of NCAVP. These crimes range from attacks by strangers to violence in intimate relationships. “People don’t realize that gay men can experience domestic partner violence, sexual harassment and assault – and that it still happens a lot,” LaLa says.

LaLa first came into contact with the NYWF-funded nonprofit as a client, and immediately felt an affinity for the counselors who worked there, “They really cared. They were so kind and gentle, and they gave me options based on what I wanted to do, not just what they wanted me to do.”

Victims of LGBTQ violence have a unique range of concerns based on their living situations, immigration status and personalities. While  an outsider’s first impulse is often to involve police in domestic situations, it may not be practicable – and it may even cause more harm than good, for victims in the LGBTQ community.  “I didn’t want to call the cops — and AVP supported me in that. They respected the fact that I’m the expert in my own life,” LaLa says.

By now providing services to people with similar experiences, LaLa strives to provide the same kind of individualized, non-judgmental support AVP has always provided. The New York office now offers a 24-hour bilingual hotline, staffed by one dozen trained volunteers, and a rapid incident response team that’s ready to take appropriate action whenever violence is reported.

But AVP does more than react to ongoing threats. It helps clients rebuild their lives with career counseling, legal services and advice on how to obtain health insurance. It also provides a space where people can participate in weekly support groups that build a sense of safety, self-esteem and empowerment.

LaLa’s work also takes her directly into the community, working hand in hand with political figures and members of different neighborhoods to raise awareness and educate the public about the problems facing their Transgender/Gender Non-Conforming (TGNC) neighbors. To help make New York City more welcoming, LaLa works with city council members across the city to talk about issues in such areas as employment, education, housing, health care, policing and immigration. This makes them more aware of disparities and the lack of supportive resources in various neighborhoods.

Equally important, LaLa leads efforts to gather the hard data that’s needed to support outreach and public policy efforts. For example, “there was a lot of research done about employment for TGNCs in places like D.C. and California, but there wasn’t much here in New York City.” That’s why LaLa recently spearheaded the first trans discrimination survey in New York City, which will document disparities in city employment and workplace experience. “We ask if you have been mis-gendered, if you’re able to use the restroom of your choice, and whether your supervisor supports you when problems arise,” LaLa says. Attended by members of the LGBT City Caucus, the meetings successfully led to a project brief later used at budget hearings and other forums.

As an experienced public figure who has spoken at the White House and testified before Congress, LaLa is especially concerned about passing on important knowledge and communication skills to the future generation of leaders. LaLa is especially proud of an NYWF-funded TGNC Leadership Academy that recently trained 10 individuals to add their voices to the anti-violence movement and to educate the public about how to support its efforts. Training includes a workshop that teaches survivors of violence how to use their stories as a tool for healing and empowerment. After completing the program, participants were offered paid internships, some of which led to full-time jobs.

“The Leadership Academy is dear to my heart, because I’m not only empowering my identity, but I get to help push and challenge other folks to be thought leaders and political leaders. They learn how to run meetings, do policy work, campaign work and public speaking. There’s something so powerful in that,” LaLa says.

The NYWF also supports LaLa’s hope for transgendered people and CIS women to build networks and connections toward toward a much-needed culture shift. “I really appreciate that NYWF is willing to have those hard conversations with us. They have included us and encouraged us to move to the forefront and take on leadership roles. That is amazing to watch and see.”

Working with the NYWF has further reinforced LaLa’s belief that LGBT and CIS groups have a lot to offer and teach each other. “I see a whole generation of folks who are willing to open their minds to a world in which there will always be different folks, and to understand and respect it.” LaLa adds that CIS people who decipher and challenge trans-phobia will discover that they have strong allies in the LGBT community and “we can collectively work together to challenge the system.”


This is the sixth article in our new series, IN FOCUS: Eye on Changemakers, a collaboration between Women’s eNews and The New York Women’s Foundation (NYWF) to shed light on some of New York City’s most inspiring women-led non-profit organizations dedicated to empowering women and girls of diverse racial, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds.

Catherine Ward is a contributing writer and editor at Women’s eNews. She has written for Woman’s Day, The New York Times, Reader’s Digest, Writers Digest and Poets & Writers, and has provided article, presentation and speechwriting services to corporations such as Pepsi and Ernst & Young. Recipient of numerous grants to lead creative writing workshops in the tri-state area, she is a published poet and translator, and author of, The Resilient Writer: Tales of Rejection and Triumph (Persea Books, 2005).