Many LGBTQ people – especially those who look like they are bucking dominant gender norms – are frequently the targets of discrimination and violence, including at the hands of police. TruthOut reports that “Transgender and gender nonconforming individuals already experience devastatingly high rates of poverty, homelessness, discrimination and violence, and advocates say that police often make matters worse.
“In 2012, transgender people in the United States were three times more likely to experience physical violence at the hands of police than non-transgender people, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP). Transgender people of color experienced police violence at more than twice the rate of white transgender people, and transgender woman were more likely to suffer violence at the hands of police than anyone else.
“Transgender, gender nonconforming and LGBTQ people are also less likely to report violent and other crimes, due to fear of police. In 2012, 48 percent of survivors of anti-LGBTQ violence who went to the police reported police misconduct, and nearly 27 percent said police attitudes were hostile, the NCAVP reports.Make the Road New York surveyed residents in the Jackson Heights neighborhood, where Natasha was arrested, and found that 54 percent of all LGBTQ respondents and 59 percent of transgender respondents reported being stopped by police compared to 28 percent of straight, cisgender residents. Transgender residents routinely described being profiled as sex workers and arrested by police while doing routine daily tasks.
“For years, community groups across the country have been challenging police departments to stop their officers from criminalizing and profiling transgender women for being who they are in public. Vague prostitution statues in cities across the country allow police wide discretion in determining “reasonable suspicion” and “probable cause” for searching and arresting suspected sex workers, and transgender women often find themselves in handcuffs for simply “walking while trans” or “walking while woman.” A 2005 Amnesty International review of police brutality and profiling directed toward LGBTQ people in the United States found “a strong pattern of police unfairly profiling transgender women as sex workers.”Police, advocates say, often target transgender women for arrest based on how they look. In Jackson Heights, police routinely picked up transgender women and later justified the arrests because the women were carrying condoms, according to Make the Road New York.Andrea Ritchie, an anti-profiling advocate and attorney who represents transgender clients who have been allegedly profiled and abused by officers of the New York Police Department, told Truthout that the use of condoms as evidence of prostitution is a good example of “reasonable suspicion” becoming blatant discrimination. “When was the last time you were arrested for carrying condoms?” she asks.
“The international human rights group Human Rights Watch identified a similar problem among sex workers in New Orleans, where over half of the participants in a 2013 survey who said they had experienced police harassment for carrying condoms were transgender women. While the group found little evidence that condoms were used as evidence in prosecution, dozens of participants reported carrying fewer condoms due to fear of being harassed or threatened by the police, and 30 percent of participants reported having unprotected sex due to fear of carrying condoms in a city with one of the nation’s highest rates of new HIV infections.Local laws in New Orleans that criminalize “loitering for prostitution” are so vague that they allow police to arrest people for where they are walking or standing, what they are wearing or what they have done in the past, according to HRW. The group found that New Orleans cops used the law to target transgender individuals, who “described a community under siege from police.” The police, they told researchers, subject them to harassment, abuse and demands for sex in exchange for leniency. Louisiana’s archaic “crimes against nature” laws, which criminalize activities ranging from oral sex to sodomy, have allowed police across the state to harass andunlawfully arrest the broader LGBTQ community as well.”
“We’ve heard stories of transgender youth, young women of color, being stopped [by police] and given no reason for being stopped,” says Wesley Ware, an organizer of the New Orleans LGBTQ youth organization BreakOUT! who provided Truthout with the testimony before the New Orleans City Council included in this story. “Youth report being asked for sexual favors and being excessively profiled on through actual incidences of violence.”