Metro Weekly

Trans Community Center Vandalized for Fifth Time

The building's pipes were completely removed from the ground in latest incident, causing flooding and racking up thousands in repair costs.

InTRANSitive’s community center damaged pipes – Photo: Courtesy Rumba Yambú

An Arkansas trans advocacy group’s community has been vandalized for at least the fifth time in the past year.

The repeated attacks come as Arkansas lawmakers continue to spout anti-transgender rhetoric and push anti-LGBTQ policies.

The most recent of these was an executive order by Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders that refuses to recognize transgender identity as valid and restricts access to single-sex spaces based on a person’s assigned sex at birth.

The Little Rock-based InTRANSitive has seen repeated acts of vandalism against its community center since opening in December 2021. The vandalism appears to have increased as the organization has become more visible, with its members and staffers speaking out against proposed laws targeting transgender people.

Beginning last year, someone damaged the pipes outside of the building at least four times, according to Rumba Yambú, founder and executive director of InTRANSitive.

Solar-powered security cameras have disappeared, and plants in the yard have been damaged. Two weekends ago, the same pipes that were previously damaged were completely ripped from the ground.

InTRANSitive’s community center damaged pipes – Photo: courtesy Rumba Yambú

The first four times the pipes were damaged, the group spent between $900 and $1,200 each time on repairs.

The most recent action cost $1,400 to fix the pipes and another $900 to install a protective cage over them. InTRANSitive is fundraising to cover the cost of repairs because Yambú had to pay for them using a credit card.

Yambú also said they expect the group’s water bill to be much higher due to flooding caused by the pipe damage.

Yambú said the FBI is aware of the vandalism and reached out to the community center to have an in-person meeting about the repeated incidents of vandalism, even though Yambú said they did not file a report with the FBI.

A spokesperson for the FBI told NBC News that the law enforcement agency “is aware of the situation,” but declined to comment further about whether an official investigation has been launched.

Yambú said the center did not report any incidents of vandalism to local police because the members of the trans community have frequently faced police harassment.

Yambú also said Little Rock Police Department officers repeatedly patrol in front of the center — which hosts a weekly support group meeting for transgender teenagers — and have tried to enter the premises while asking how many children are inside, a question that echoes conservative rhetoric that casts trans advocates as “pedophiles” and “groomers.”

That rhetoric has become especially sharp since Arkansas passed a law that punishes those who attempt to assist trans minors in accessing gender-affirming health care treatments. (The law has since been declared unconstitutional by a federal judge.)

Arkansas lawmakers have also passed a law restricting what restrooms and locker rooms can be used by transgender individuals in public schools.

The state also bars transgender athletes from competing on sports teams and in leagues that don’t match their assigned sex at birth.

Like the ban on gender-affirming care, those laws have also spurred anti-trans rhetoric, especially on social media, and have made transgender individuals feel as if they are being targeted or looked at with suspicion.

Mark Edwards, a spokesperson for the Little Rock Police Department, told NBC News that the department only has three incident reports from the community center’s address, and only one of those occurred after InTRANSitive set up shop in the current space. In that May 2023 incident, he said, someone called 911 and when police got there, officers didn’t speak with anyone.

Edwards also rebutted Yambú’s assertion that police have harassed those at the center, saying there’s no record of them entering the premises beyond the three times listed in various incident reports.

“If we’ve driven in the area, it’s because we patrol the area,” he said. “There are thousands of businesses we patrol, and there are some businesses we do the same patrolling, they say they’ve never seen us. Unless there’s an incident report number that I can actually go to and look at, it’s kind of hard to comment.”

Yambú acknowledged that some people on social media have suggested that the act was unrelated to the group’s work, but they disagree, noting that the building purposely does not have a sign bearing the group’s name, which would appear to support the idea that the building was targeted by someone with knowledge of the center’s existence.

Flooding caused by InTRANSitive’s community center damaged pipes – Photo: courtesy Rumba Yambú

Yambú said that every time the center is vandalized and forced to close, it makes it difficult to carry out its daily work, including providing free food to community members each Tuesday, a space for people without affirming homes or families to congregate for a few hours, free HIV testing, and assistance to people navigating the immigration process.

“We just can’t afford to be closed for too long,” they said. “It just puts a pause on everything that we do and all the people that we serve.”

While Yambú wants to raise funds for better lights and security cameras, they say that even greater security measures are unlikely to deter future acts of vandalism.

“The more work that we’ve been doing, the more visible that we’ve been in [legislative] sessions, the more our name is getting out there, the more that this is happening,” they said.

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