Report Outlines Discrimination, Abuse of LGBT People In Judicial System

BTL Staff Report

A newly released 84 page report, ÒA Roadmap for Change: Federal Policy Recommendations for Addressing the Criminalization of LGBT People and People with HIV,Ó is one of the first reports of its kind to offer comprehensive federal policy recommendations to address the cycles of criminalization and discriminatory treatment faced by LGBT people and people living with HIV, saying LGBT and PLWH Òface sweeping discrimination at all stages of the criminal legal system.Ó

The report, co-authored by the Center for American Progress (CAP), the Center for HIV Law and Policy, and Streetwise & Safe, had input from more than 50 organizations working on LGBT and criminal justice policy and Òprovides an extensive outline of policy measures that federal agencies can adopt to address discriminatory and abusive policing practices, improve conditions for LGBT prisoners and immigrants in detention, decriminalize HIV, and prevent LGBT youth and adults from coming in contact with the system in the first place.Ó

ÒThe policing of gender and sexuality pervades law enforcement and the operation of courts and the penal system, often in tandem and in service of racial profiling, targeting of homeless and low-income communities, and mass incarceration of people of color,Ó says Andrea Ritchie, coordinator of Streetwise & Safe and co-author of the report. ÒAddressing discriminatory policing and punishment of LGBT people, and particularly LGBT people of color, should be at the center of the administrationÕs LGBT and criminal justice policy agendas. These are LGBT issues because they affect LGBT lives.Ó

According to the report, 73 percent of all LGBT people and PLWH recently surveyed had face-to-face contact with police during the past five years. For LGBT people of color, more than one-third of these interactions featured some form of harassment or abuse. Five percent of the respondents also reported spending time in jail or prison, a higher rate than that of the nearly three percent of the total U.S. adult population who are under some form of correctional supervision Ñ jail, prison, probation or parole Ñ at any point in time.

CeCe McDonaldÑa transgender woman who was released from prison earlier this year after serving 19 months in a menÕs prison for defending herself against a racist and transphobic attack Ñ contributed the foreword to the report. She wrote, ÒPolice officers use many stereotypes of black trans people to dehumanize me, such as assuming that I am a sex worker.Ó She goes on to say, ÒPeople of color and trans people are seen as Ôunfit for society,Õ and are therefore targeted by our justice system.Ó

ÒLegal equality has not translated into lived equality for LGBT people, especially poor people and people of color,Ó said Dean Spade, co-author and visiting professor at Columbia Law SchoolÕs Center for Gender & Sexuality Law. ÒThere is still little justice for LGBT people such as CeCe McDonald and countless others who are driven into the criminal legal system by pervasive poverty and systemic discrimination in the distribution of life chances.Ó

ÒThe United States arrests and prosecutes more people on the basis of their HIV status than the rest of the world combined,Ó noted Catherine Hanssens, founder and executive director of The Center for HIV Law and Policy and also a co-author of the report. ÒThe policies that drive these arrests spring from profoundly phobic misconceptions about the actual routes, risks and consequences of HIV transmission and federal health officialsÕ refusal to promote frank, accurate information about sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.Ó

The report, which took 18 months to produce, consists of six main sections Ñ Policing and Law Enforcement, Prisons, Immigration, Criminalization of Youth, Criminalization of HIV, and Drivers of Incarceration. The recommendations in each section are very specific, drawing from historical context and providing solid solutions to existing issues like this example from the Drivers of Incarceration section:

(Health and Human Services) should develop anti-LGBT discrimination guidelines for substance use treatment programs and ensure that no one is denied access to treatment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and that residential substance use programs receiving federal funds are respecting the gender identities of their participants.

For more information, check out the full report online at

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