Washington, D.C. Bathroom laws targeting transgender people contribute to a pattern of criminalizing individuals solely based on their gender identity, according to a landmark report released today. The report offers a snapshot of how the U.S. criminal justice system fails transgender people, targeting them through police profiling and harassment and subjecting them to abuse and violence in prison and detention facilities.
Unjust: How the Broken Criminal Justice System Fails Transgender People examines how transgender and gender non-conforming people face high levels of discrimination in many areas of life putting them at risk for economic insecurity, homelessness, and reliance on survival economies. Combined with policing strategies that profile and target transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, the result is high rates of criminalization of transgender people. For example, a shocking 21% of transgender women have spent time in prison or jail, compared to only 5% of all U.S. adults. And one in five ( 22% ) of transgender people report being mistreated by police.
Once within the criminal justice system, transgender people are often discriminated against, verbally and sexually assaulted, refused adequate medical care, and treated with utter disregard for their identity and dignity.
The report was co-authored by the Movement Advancement Project ( MAP ) and the Center for American Progress ( CAP ), in partnership with the Advancement Project, Forward Together, JustLeadershipUSA, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the National Center for Transgender Equality, and the Transgender Law Center. It is available online at www.lgbtmap.org/criminal-justice-trans . The report is a companion to a broader report, Unjust: How the Broken Criminal Justice System Fails LGBT People, available at www.lgbtmap.org/criminal-justice .
"Anti-transgender bathroom bills effectively criminalize our full participation in public life," said Sarah McBride, Campaigns and Communications Manager for the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress. "These bills push transgender people into the shadows. If you can't use the bathroom without fear of discrimination or violence, it becomes much harder to go to work, go to school, or access the public marketplace. Legislation like North Carolina's H.B. 2 expose transgender individuals, particularly transgender women of color, to harassment - from both the public and law enforcement — merely for participating in daily activities."
Among the variety of laws that disproportionately impact transgender people:
Bathroom Laws: Over the past year, cities and states have debated, and in some cases passed, laws criminalizing transgender people for using the restroom that matches the gender they live every day. In the 2015-2016 legislative session, at least 20 states proposed legislation restricting restroom access for transgender people.
HIV Criminalization Laws: Transgender people are among the groups most affected by the HIV epidemic. People living with HIV, including transgender people, face a patchwork of outdated and reactionary laws that penalize behavior by people living with HIV, even if those behaviors carry no risk of transmission or unintentionally expose others to the virus.
Criminalization of Sex Work: Faced with discrimination at school and work, high rates of homelessness, and limited access to meager safety net supports, some transgender people engage in sex work to earn income or trade for housing. Because transgender people, particularly transgender women of color and undocumented transgender immigrants, may be disproportionately represented among individuals engaged in sex work, they are frequent targets of laws criminalizing prostitution and related offenses. Police generally have wide discretion under these ordinances, and they often arrest individuals for vague violations such as "loitering with intent to solicit."
"From a young age, transgender people, especially transgender people of color, are vulnerable to mistreatment, rejection, harassment, and discrimination. If transgender people enter the criminal justice system, they can be subject to a devastating cycle of abuse, and face significant challenges to rebuilding their lives," said Ineke Mushovic, Executive Director of MAP. "When transgender people are three times more likely to be incarcerated, and fully a quarter of those incarcerated experience sexual assault, it is time to acknowledge that serious change is needed to ensure the fair treatment, health, safety and dignity of transgender people in the criminal justice system."