It's a sad well-proven fact that the criminal justice system overwhelmingly targets low-income individuals and people of color. But the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community also faces disproportionate discrimination and incarceration rates. This issue worsens with LGBT people of color and those living in poverty.
As a new report points out,
A gay teen is forced [out] of his home by his parents because of his sexual orientation and is harassed and arrested by the police for sleeping on the street. A black transgender woman is arrested under suspicion of prostitution just because of her gender identity. A bisexual parolee can't find a home because she's not legally protected from housing discrimination and she also has a criminal record. A lesbian woman in prison is assaulted by a correctional officer. A transgender woman who is an undocumented immigrant is placed in a men's facility, in isolation, simply because she is transgender.
The report—Unjust: How the Broken Criminal Justice System Fails LGBT People
—co-authored by the Center for American Progress
and the Movement Advancement Project
, looks into the experiences of many LGBT people—a community that, the report finds, is overrepresented in the criminal justice system.
According to the National Inmate Survey, in 2011-2012, 7.9% of individuals in state and federal prisons identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, as did 7.1% of individuals in city and county jails. This is approximately double the percentage of all American adults who identify as LGBT, according to Gallup (3.8%)
Sixteen percent of transgender and gender non-conforming respondents to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey indicated they had spent time in jail or prison, with higher rates for transgender women (21%) and lower rates for transgender men (10%). Comparatively, about 5% of all American adults will spend time in jail or prison during their lifetimes.
LGBT youth seem to have it the worst with roughly 20 percent of teens in detention identifying as LGBT or gender non-conforming, while, overall, only about 7 percent of American teens identify as LGBT or gender non-conforming.
Discrimination and stigma in society, workplaces, families and communities force LGBT people into unstable situations that leave them vulnerable to encounters with law enforcement and criminalization, the report says. For instance, LGBT youth are often pushed out of their homes and schools because of family rejection, and they more than likely will end up homeless.
Also, there's a lack of federal and statewide protections for discrimination in the workplace and housing against LGBT adults. The problems add up, leaving LGBT people at a higher risk of becoming homeless and/or relying on "survival economies" that puts an even bigger target on their backs.
For example, one in five (20%) of transgender people in men's prisons in California had been homeless just prior to their incarceration.
Once in the system, the discrimination and abuse continue. LGBT people are often placed in solitary confinement and transgender people are put in facilities that do not match their gender identity. (Read about Nicoll
, a Guatemala transgender woman who was incarcerated in an all-male detention center). The report says that about 28 percent of LGBT people in prison were placed in solitary confinement, compared to 18 percent of heterosexuals.
"Fixing" America's criminal justice system means fixing it for everybody, including nine million LGBT people across the nation. A "fix" would also mean thinking more broadly about what we can do at all levels to reduce discrimination and increase opportunity and equality—so that LGBT people, people of color, and other frequently marginalized populations can live more safely and securely with the understanding that law enforcement and criminal justice systems exist for protection, not discrimination.
For more, check out the report